The ultimate commodity in the shoe game is rarity, and nothing jacks up desire more than the promise of one-of-one production. The crew at BespokeIND know all about that caper. Having recently established their workshop in Melbourne, they are already making headlines by producing hand-built sneakers with an unprecedented eye for detail. Exotic leather remakes, superb soleswaps and all-new designs built from the ground up – this is a one-stop shop of limitless creativity. We sat down with Damian Sim to find out where BespokeIND is going next.
How do you define BespokeIND? Are you cobblers, shoemakers or customisers?
We’re a bespoke atelier, focusing on shoemaking, but we’re capable of working on anything with a stitch. I like to think we’re bringing the handmade craft of the old days back into sneakers, which hasn’t really been done before. We don’t limit ourselves to just footwear though. Watch straps, knife rolls, handbags, wallets – we’ll do anything our clients want. If they have an idea we can make their dream a reality.
What are the challenges of reworking sneakers as opposed to more traditional footwear?
To start with, the processes are totally different because you’re dealing with EVA and polyurethane soles versus stacked leather, nails and wood. It is a similar artform I suppose, but you’ve got six to eight panels on a dress shoe compared to maybe 30 different panels on a sneaker. We’re rebuilding everything using the old-school handmade methods, but very much within the sneaker form. We allow the customer to have free reign over materials, colour blocking and stitching. If they want their kid’s name on the back of the heels, we’ll do it. We’re not competing with the large manufacturers as we strictly focus on the premium side of things.
The materials you’re using are totally insane.
We use calf suede from Europe and we go for exotic materials that aren’t used on sneakers like snapping turtle, kangaroo, ostrich, emu, lizard and snake. For inner soles, we predominately use vegetable tanned leather, which we oil ourselves in-house. It’s the same stuff they use in Italy and Portugal. Over the past few years I’ve really gotten into textile technology. We have even started to embrace vegan options like ‘Piñatex’, which is a leather derived from pineapple husk that has a grain similar to sharkskin. I’m really passionate about learning every aspect of what we do – I want to know how the materials are manufactured, what we’re actually putting our money into and what our customers are paying for.,
What motivates customers to use exotic leathers?
Sneakerheads are always trying to one-up each other. It’s basic human desire. Stunting exotic leathers like sharkskin, stingray and python gets you noticed. We’re all about the unique visual textures and suppleness that materials have to offer. We try to bring luxury to our products by using materials that work well together. Things can look cheap and tacky if not applied with consideration for the overall design.
What’s the craziest request you’ve ever received?
We were recently asked to create an Air Jordan 5 out of a legit US military uniform. The entire upper was built from scratch using the uniform, with all the badges and medals the client had received in his years of service. It was an honour – literally!
How long do you spend on each Bespoke build?
Some of the shoes we’ve done at the shop have taken upwards of a hundred hours. With the ‘Sherrin’ project we recently created with Sneaker Freaker, we used the actual Air Force 1 last, which is the internal 3D structure we base the remake on. We take the extra few steps that many other deconstructers don’t, because that’s where you can run into a lot of problems with the alignment of panels and the toe box shape.
How would you describe your business model?
There is no blueprint for what we aspire to do with our workshop and brand. There isn’t a space like this anywhere else in the world. I like to equate what we are doing here to Willy Wonka’s factory. We focus on giving our clientele the freedom to be individual, whether it’s creating a unique one-of-one concept or recreating a beloved sneaker with free reign over colour, materials and personalisation. We also offer ,super-limited runs of tribute builds and our own unique designs. While full builds are our primary focus, we also edit ‘grail’ sneakers that may need to be restored, sole-swapped or altered with the use of premium materials. If you can dream it, we can build it.
You certainly seem to love a sharply raked toe.
After many years when hype was all that seemed to matter, shape has become crucial in the market once again. Our team has collectively been into sneakers for well over half a century, so we know all about the importance of the OG shape. Sharp toe boxes are the result of how we’ve had our shoe lasts formed. We gradient-rake all our tribute silhouettes to ensure the upper is in proportion from heel-to-toe. Nike, Jordan and adidas all have their own unique forms, and if someone tries to deconstruct a sneaker without a proper last in that specific shape, they’re kidding themselves that it will look right.
How difficult is it to source shoe-making equipment these days?
It’s difficult. I had to work really hard to source the machines we have here. Finding the right people is a challenge as well, because unfortunately in Australia, the footwear industry is non-existent these days. It was big 40 years ago, but now it’s almost all been outsourced to Asia, so those skills are long gone. I hope what we are doing is a new start for an artisanal approach to resurface. In many ways, it’s actually the best time for this workshop to thrive, hopefully people value the quality work we do.
The sneaker world is certainly changing, especially the trend towards sock-fit uppers.
These ‘new age’ sneakers may be extremely comfortable to wear, but they don’t deliver the same longevity that leather offers. We will edit one-piece knitted sneakers, but we won’t build them unless the client wants it made from leather. We’re more into classic silhouettes, so instead we try to introduce comfort elements like cork filler and BASF’s Boost sheeting as seen on the adidas range. This gives you a premium upper with lifestyle comfort, without having to resort to that new age style.
Speaking of merging old and new, you’ve been going hard with the hybrid sole swaps. Are they tougher than they look to get right?
For us, the hybrid sole swap has to be aesthetically appealing first and foremost, whether or not the donor midsole is adaptable or not. However, the major challenge with all hybrid swaps, like anything within this industry, is that there is always someone it doesn’t appeal to.
Technically, they’re all about clinical preparation to ensure a super clean finish and lasting adhesion. Before attempting any hybrid swap, we always ensure we are able to hide the old factory glue lines, in order to achieve a flawless finish. There are various ways to correct this issue. For example, shaving down the midsole footbed so the upper sits lower. It sounds straightforward, but like anything with reverse engineering, it doesn’t always go to plan!
Who are your customers? Are they older sneaker gents with deep pockets?
I suppose my target audience – not to sound cocky – is people like myself. Someone that’s got all the shoes they could ever want to wear, and is looking for something on a higher level. I created BespokeIND for those people, because the resale market these days has become a business model instead of a passion. The niche hobby is gone for good, and now it’s mainstream. Which is cool, but it all counts towards boosting resale prices, and I think they’ve just blown out of proportion. Kids are dropping $2000 like it’s nothing – on a shoe that was mass manufactured, glued and fused together!
If you’re dropping that kind of money, why not aim for something unique, like what we produce here at BespokeIND? Our shoes are definitely not cheap, but the cost is reflective of the materials and the time invested to make it happen. They will last forever, but if you do have an issue, just bring them back and we can repair them.
Aside from the resale market, people seem way too motivated by the packaging these days, to the point where the box can cause more of a stir than the sneakers inside. We’ve wound it back, so that our shoes come in a nice, simple box but the effort and creativity has been channelled into the shoe. We want the quality of our work to be the focal point.
What’s your dream project?
Man, we’ve already done it with Sneaker Freaker using those Sherrin footballs to make Woody’s Air Force 1s! Hopefully we can build an all-new sneaker one day, that’s my aim. Creating the first hand-built collaboration from scratch would be amazing. Two Melbourne brands – born in Melbourne, made in Melbourne!
Any final words?
I wake up every morning and I just can’t wait to get to work. We know we’ve got a lot to prove but we’re doing everything correct and taking all the right steps. Nothing is half-assed here. Aside from that, who knows? Sky’s the limit. I feel like we’re just getting started!
Follow BespokeIND on Instagram at @bespoke_ind