There's a battle going down in the upper echelon of the sneaker world right now; athletes and rappers are dropping big dollars to outdo the footwear of their contemporaries. We learned from Ben Baller and Glover Quin the wild extent of what ballers will do to get their feet in the freshest pair, from laying down stacks for exorbitant resales to sending minions to China to sneak into factories and grab Jordans before they even have release dates. There's only one surefire way of having a sneaker that no one else has though, and that's by commissioning a one-of-one custom. There's an abundance of sneaker custom artists in the game now, with myriad skills on offer from cut-and-sew colourway replacements and graffiti spray jobs to intricate pen doodling and exotic animal skin treatments. Mache is one of the OGs in the business and is still churning out jobs on the daily. His bloated black book contains the details of some of the biggest names in music and sports who have approached him for his work and it's only getting fuller.
‘A lot of them are ultra competitive with each other,’ Mache says of his high profile clients. ‘It’s obviously in a playful manner, but I’ll get a text from an NFL player and he will show me a pair that one of his boys got and say, "Yo, we gotta beat this!” Then we get the juices going. They are just trying to one up each other, it’s kind of like who has the biggest chain, who has the craziest sneakers. They’ll want me to customise the most expensive sneaker possible. That’s when you start getting the more high-end shoes, like Balenciaga and the Louboutins.
Here, Mache shares a couple of memorable stories of how he came to know Wale and LeBron James as they sought to make big statements with their sneakers.
I did a pair of Jordan 3s for him years ago. I got backstage at a concert and it was all MMG (Wale’s label). Meek Mill was there before he was with Puma and he was wearing LeBrons and I remember I gave Wale this shoe to introduce myself and I got his info. After I got more of a name in the industry, I started getting invited to more and more events. Wale and I kept bumping into each other and after a while we got familiar ‘cos we were seeing each other at the same things and we started really talking and hanging out.
He's someone who has been a sneakerhead for ages, not just because it’s a cool thing to do. So when he's asking for colourways, he'll want, like Viotech Air Trainers on Jordans. He loves mixing SBs on different silhouettes, like he wanted Ray Gun Agassis. He wanted all these different things, so it’s cool. I can vibe with that time, that early 2000s Nike SB era. I’ve done a lot of work with him.
He had a lot of LeBrons when they were popping and he’s big with Jordans too. When his last album came out, he was big on the Jordan 3s in particular, he went to Flight Club and bought up their whole stock, he was collecting 88 pairs of the model, because that was the year it came out. So then he was going to me and JBF to get them customised.
His assistant and his mum contacted me and I was gonna do 12 pairs of LeBrons for him, his kids, his four horse men, the wife; just a whole bunch of people to celebrate his first championship win. But that was going down at the same time as the Olympics, so it didn’t end up happening.
However, a little later I did a LeBron 10 custom for someone else and I posted them up on Instagram and LeBron saw them, and he put it on Twitter and Instagram, saying ‘I need this ASAP'. He didn’t realise it was me that did them, but once he found out, the ball got rolling.
Probably two weeks before the All-Star game in 2013, he hit me up and said, 'I wanna do a one-of-one, I wanna do an Iron Man shoe.’ His favourite superheroes were Batman and Iron Man. I had already done an Iron Man on the LeBron 9, so I was like, ‘Yeah let’s do it.’
Fast forward and I’m waiting for this shoe to be sent from Nike, and literally three days before I'm leaving for Houston to see LeBron the shoe still hadn't come. I’m freaking out and I call their rep and say, 'Yo the shoes ain’t here yet, if I don't get them here tomorrow we can’t do it.’ So they freaked out and ordered another pair of the 10s, which arrived the next day. One of my buddies was like, ‘So what are you doing? Do you have a game plan?' I said, ‘No.’ He was like, 'The biggest project of your life and you’re gonna fly by the seat of your pants?' But yeah, I've always done it that way, I’ve never been one to do those Photoshop mock-ups. I just see the shoe and go with the lines and kind of dive in. I feel if you start planning it out too much, it’s not as organic and natural, it’s a little more contrived. I then presented them to him in a custom Iron Man box and he wore them during the All-Star game.