Mache, the all-conquering overlord of of the sneaker customising game, took some time to speak to Sneaker Freaker and recount how his peculiar career took shape. Being an early (though initially clueless) adopter of social media surely helped, but it has been his craftsmanship, creativity and hustler's spirit to network that has really led to his work landing on the feet of the likes of LeBron James, Wale and a stack of other cashed-up sneakerheads and celebrities.
Hey man, what did you do today?
I painted shoes. [Laughs]
Do you do that every day?
Yeah for the most part, I've been pretty busy with it.
Is it just you working for yourself?
It's myself doing all the designs. I have a couple of people who help with prep and whatnot, but for the most part it's me doing all the stuff, people are buying my name so I should really be putting in the work.
Have you ever thought about training up others and expanding the business?
Oh yeah, it comes to a point where you have to figure out what's next. I can only paint for so long before I become an old man with carpel tunnel syndrome, so I have to figure out how to grow it. We're exploring ideas and stuff but right now we're kinda sticking with what works, but obviously keeping eyes and ears open to opportunities and stuff like that.
For sure, because Mache is a brand now isn't it, really?
Yeah. It's crazy to even think about it, but yeah it definitely is. People know me by Mache, then they know me by Dan.
When did you start getting into sneaker customising?
Well it was 2004 when I first started doing it and that was back in the day when the ISS forums and NikeTalk were big. What I was doing wasn't a business, it was just doing the art and expression and all that. There were a couple of people that did it but it was more of a secret society, because sneakers were subculture for the most part and that was just another facade of it, and we were just doing it to give ourselves constructive criticism. Back then it was us working on Air Forces and Dunks – no one was painting Jordans. After a while it looked like I was going to have to grow up a little bit and get a big boy job, but then what happened was it seemed like sneaker culture shifted again. NIKEID and all these other brands started doing all these customising things, and people started getting back into doing it as a business. I'm a competitive dude so I was like, 'I gotta get back into it', so I went full time four years ago and haven't looked back since. I thought, wow, this is actually something that we can sustain. We paid for our wedding through sneakers!
Congratulations on that, by the way. What is the model that people bring to you to work on the most?
It's a toss up between Jordans and LeBrons. It seems like a basketball shoe is still the most popular base, but usually in terms of Jordan, it's always whatever ones just came out. When we had threes coming out or sixes, people asked for those because they were readily available. People also ask for retros that came out years and years ago, but LeBrons and KDs come out every week in a different colourway, so there are a lot of options for people to provide for base shoes.
True. I saw pink Yeezys on your Instagram, they look pretty good actually.
Yeah, they were something else!
Did someone say, 'Can you make these red ones pink instead?'
Oh yeah, that's exactly how it was. The customer was like, 'We gotta do a pink Yeezy.' I'll be honest with you, I wasn't really a big fan of the Red October as it was, I preferred the Solar Reds or the Platinums over it, so I didn't mind doing this. I bleached the upper first to lighten it up as much as possible, then I went into dying the upper, because the mesh had colour soaked into it. For the rubber parts, I just used spray paint and then the soles we did the same thing. I just lightened the outsole and I had a glow coating over that. So it was definitely one of those 'let's see if this works' kinda deals.
You talked about social media before, you've got a massive Instagram following, bigger than any other customiser. How did you develop that?
It's crazy, honestly I have no idea. When I got Instagram I thought it was just the filter. I had no idea that it was actually a social media app, so I was just taking photos of my dog and food and then I started seeing little bubbles popping up and whatever. So I started posting more of my shoe stuff. I think that the co-signs of clients, like LeBron, certainly helped. When people that have those kind of followings genuinely want to actually shout me out – I never ask for it, I let it grow organically – that helps me a lot. So I've come to give my audience what they want, and that's pictures of shoes, not of my face.
Oh come on, what a beautiful dome it is.
[Laughs] But they would rather see the shoes. I know every time I post a custom, it's a slow and steady wins the race kind of deal. You know there are times I'll pay attention to it and will see it jump crazily. I know in the last couple of days, it jumped like 4000 followers. I've been posting different customs, not just colourways. It's funny, when I first started I was more known for doing art stuff. Like when I was featured in your magazine. God, it was when the Yeezy 1 came out, it was that issue and I remember it was me doing the College Dropout Kanye Air Force 1s back then, and now people just paint a shoe red and people go nuts for it, it's crazy.
Yeah, the sneakergame rules are constantly changing. Can you give us a kind of price range for a Mache order?
You know, the biggest thing is that it's kinda audacious to price your own work. Unless you're a dead person, it's hard to really value someone's work, so I just kind of do it like someones getting it tattooed on them – you value what the time is worth. The thing is that not a lot of people understand, you know people that don't do what we (sneakerheads) do, they forget that you actually need to factor in the time of prepping the shoe, which could take hours depending on what one it is, then the actual artwork. So if people want something basic, the price is usually reflected that way, but if you want the Sistine Chapel on a pair of Air Max, you're probably going to have to pay a down payment for a house.
What is the biggest order you have cashed in on and what was it ?
Actually the biggest selling thing was on eBay. I did a pair of the KDs, it was a one-of-one pair available to the public and it sold for $11,000. That was the biggest thing and obviously people dictated that price, not me.
What hyped that up to help it reach that figure?
A lot of that was crazy, 'cos this was back when the KD4 came out and they didn't even have a sample for it yet. The 'What The' theme was still kind of a new thing, it wasn't as played out as it is now. I remember I had taken two different KD models, different outsoles, liners and I did my own rendition of it and i actually thought it was better than the sample, and it got a lot of crazy hype for it. So we put it on eBay and the right outlets got the word out, I had a lot of support from a lot of blogs, like Sneaker Freaker. In terms of ones of my own pricing, if I'm in the high range it'll be between $1500 to $2000, but that involves a lot of work. For my basic colourways, I'm charging $350 and that's just because you're factoring in the time. But I also try to stay away from those things, just because there are so many new artists coming in and they want to get their feet wet. I like to let them kind of build their clientele and let me focus on the cool stuff. There is a reason why I feel I've got a reputation that they come to me to get something one-off, something really cool that you can't get from someone else, so that's what I try to give the customer.
Look out for more from our interview with Mache in Issue 32 of Sneaker Freaker, due out in the coming months.