Calgary may be known for its famous Winter Olympics locale, but on the fast track to becoming the area’s best asset is the incredibly talented Shauna Luedtke and her burgeoning sneaker customizing business, Slip-Offs. Sick of rocking the same boring kicks as everyone else on the streets, Shauna’s forward thinking boyfriend spawned a beast of an idea when he asked the 23 year old graphic artist to lace his Vans Slip-Ons with a unique toe box design. Little did she know the power of the walking advertising machine her man had created. From celebrity customs, to a cameo on sneaker head Ellen Degeneres' high rating talk show, Slip-Offs have been taking the Vans scene by storm. With one offs being fiended all over the globe, Shauna is set to make history with her shoes becoming part of an exclusive ‘History of Vans’ book set to drop next year. Do we smell a collaboration? We caught up with Shauna in between her backlog of Slip-Off requests and put these questions to her.
What’s good Shauna? How is the Canadian summer holding it down out there?
My summer has been really busy! I got to go on an amazing vacation to Honolulu, Hawaii. It was so beautiful and I got to check out sweet shoe stores like Kicks HI. The rest of the summer I spent making 20 pairs of customs for a brand new store in San Diego called Milo Shoes. They carry customs from artists all over the world and I'm really excited to be working with them. Other than that the summer here in Calgary has been beautiful, but I can't believe it's almost over.
Lets start at the beginning, how did you brainstorm the Slip-Offs idea?
I actually can't take credit for the idea, the whole thing started with my boyfriend Darrell Hartsook. He came to me about 3 years ago with a blank pair of Slip-Ons and asked me to paint them. From there, I made a pair for myself, and almost immediately I was getting orders from both his friends and mine. The name 'Slip-Offs' just plays with the idea that these shoes are one-offs, and will never be duplicated.
How did you take the inspiration from the beginning and see it through to a full on business? Is this a full time gig for you or do you also have another occupation?
I never thought I was creating a business for myself when I first started. It was more of just a fun thing to do while I was going to art school. Then I started getting a lot of orders through MySpace, so I put a form on my website for people to order. Once I had a good portfolio of shoes I thought it would be good to give free shoes to celebrities like MTV host/comedian Gilson Lubin, Marie Genevieve from Project Runway Canada, and of course I sent some to Ellen Degeneres and was lucky enough for her to feature me. Now, I'm getting blogged on several websites, and I'm getting more orders than I can keep up with! I actually work full time as a graphic designer at an advertising and design company called Trigger. Graphic design is my true passion but my shoe business has allowed me to get off the computer and paint and draw which I love to do.
Do you solely work with Vans and the slip on style?
When I first started I used cheaper, knock-off versions of Vans but I found that if I was going to be spending a lot of time and effort on the shoes, the shoes better last. Vans are really comfortable and long lasting, and the slip-ons give me a lot of room to work with. I've done other styles of Vans like the Authentic, and Chukka boot, and have also worked on Chuck Taylors. Basically I can do any shoe that is canvas, but I prefer to work with Vans. I would love to work on TOMS shoes since they're also really comfortable and I really love what the company stands for.
Have you ever been approached by Vans to do any work with them yet?
Just recently I was asked to contribute to the 'History of Vans' book that they will be putting out next year. I'm making them a pair of customs that they will be shooting and placing in the 'D.I.Y' section of the book, and I feel extremely honored to be part of it. It would be a dream to one day do an artist collaboration with Vans.
What is involved in the process of turning the blank white canvas into a one of a kind sneaker?
Well it all begins with an order placed on my website. From there I email back and forth with my customer, figuring out exactly what they had in mind, or brainstorming ideas with them if they are not sure. Then I figure out what color of shoe will work best with the design and I begin to sketch the idea on the shoe with pencil. After that I either paint with acrylic paint or draw with ink to finish the shoes. Each pair is also sprayed with a sneaker protector, which keeps them clean and waterproof.
Your style can sometimes seem very simple and basic, yet at other times quite intricate and detailed. Is there any method to your madness or do you work off ideas that customers have detailed to you?
I think you'll see that most of my detailed work is done using ink. I am able to get the kind of detail you need on something like a portrait or small logo. I think that's also what makes me stand out from other customisers. I can get lots of detail on the thick, rough canvas that the shoes are made of. When a customer tells me what they want, I can usually tell what medium will work best, paint for more loose and bold visuals or ink for detailed and rendered ideas.
On your website you have a comprehensive order form that allows customers to give exact and specific details to what they want customised on their shoe. Do you ever take artistic license and add your own flair or do you stick to the strict specifics of the customer?
It really depends on the customer. Most of the orders are either really specific or really open. They have a specific illustration or photograph that they want re-created on shoes, or they trust me to come up with a design based on an idea or theme. All my customers have been really awesome in trusting my judgment.
What has been the most challenging Slip-Off you have produced to date?
I can't say that one pair has taken any longer than another, but pretty much all of my rendered ink drawings are quite time consuming. The most challenging part of my business is having to turn down bad ideas. I've had people want things like naked women, murderers, and even visuals mocking religion. I don't waste my time working on shoes that I wouldn't be proud of, so I am clear with my customers what I will and will not do. I mean, what has Tila Tequila ever done to deserve her portrait on shoes?
I know you’ve probably talked about this 100 times, but you should be insanely proud, your slip off shoes were featured on Ellen Degeneres’ talk show. Tell us how that all came about, and how your business has flourished since.
I noticed that Ellen wore sneakers on her show almost everyday, and lots of times she wore Slip-Ons and I thought it would be rad to send her a pair of mine. I noticed her close relationship with her mom and drew a portrait of her on one show and Ellen's catch phrase 'oh mama!' on the other shoe. I sent them to her just in time for Mother's Day, and the night before the show aired I got a call from one of her producers letting me know that they would be featured on the show. It was an extremely exciting couple of days. I was called by all my local radio stations, as well as the local breakfast TV show, who later invited me on their show to talk about my shoes. I was in a few newspaper articles and got tons of orders from all over the world. It was definitely worth the effort to make the shoes and I'm honored she chose to feature them.
Are you into sneaker collecting? Or are you more passionate about the artwork rather than the sneakers?
I wouldn't say I'm a sneaker-head like my boyfriend, but I do own a lot of shoes. I love the Vault shoes that Vans puts out each year, and I'm really into the new colors of Authentics. I like Dunks, TOMS shoes, Alife, and Creative Recreation. I'm also into higher end hand made shoes like Zeha-Berlin, Objects in Mirror, Opening Ceremony and Common Projects. To me Slip-Offs is about taking a good shoe, and making it personal.
What does the future hold for Slip-Offs? Do you have any game plans for the company and ideas on where you hope to see it in the time ahead?
I think it would be fun to do more work with small boutiques like Milo shoes. It allows me to do what I want on the shoes, on any size and any color. I would love to have a chance to do a collaboration with Vans, TOMS, or Converse. It would be a great way to get my designs out to more people. However I am really enjoying doing the one-off orders that I get on my website. It's such a cool feeling when you can take someone's idea and make it into something that is perfect for them. I am only one person, and I can only do so much, but I am enjoying every minute of it.