It’s not hard to clock the style of Guatemalan-American artist Joshua Vides. Blowing up the Internet with custom Air Force 1s in 2017, Vides’ signature line work has caught the eye of everyone from Tinker Hatfield to LeBron James, the latter wearing a one-of-one designed AF-1 Low during an NBA pregame warmup.
Collaborating with Takashi Murakami, BMW, Fendi and Google in recent years – he's now teaming up with New Balance and bringing his touch to the 57/40 and 327, as part of a capsule paying homage to the artist's fledgling years tagging the Inland Empire.
To celebrate his NB debut, we linked up with Joshua Vides to trace his seismic steps in the sneaker industry so far!
What was the story you wanted to tell for this collaboration?
It’s about my relationship with New Balance in general. I grew up pretty broke. My parents are immigrants, so most of the shoes we wore were Payless or Shaq shoes. We never had any name brands.
When I was 12 or 13, I was hanging around with this graffiti crew. One of the older guys was like, ‘I got some old shoes that might fit you. They might be a little too big, but you can wear them to paint. That way you don’t mess up your shoes.’ He handed me a pair of New Balance. I put them on and they were mad comfortable. I ended up wearing those every night when I went out painting, I’d hide them under my bed in a box so my mum would never find them.
So spray painting as a kid inspired the aesthetic of your 57/40 and 327?
Yeah, my New Balance sneakers were always covered in mud. We were running from cops and dogs, so it wasn’t just spray paint on the shoes. I stepped in all kinds of shit. They were working shoes. It was this secret life I had.
The key term was process. I like to think I am where I am today because I was sneaking out of the house and doing graffiti from a young age – I was learning to express myself. I’d be in the car with mum and dad and see my work and think, ‘My God, I did that.’ I created this name for myself. It’s illegal, obviously. But I’m enjoying it and gaining notoriety, it was the beginning of my journey as an artist. The collaboration is highlighting a moment in our lives when we try something different, took a risk, and it worked out.
When did you actually start painting on your sneakers? The Air Force 1 custom was obviously a huge moment.
In high school. I had friends that were skateboarding and listening to hip hop. I was watching MTV. This culture was smacking me in the face and I didn’t really know what it was, but I knew I wanted to be a part of it. Seeing the Futura Dunk come out was a big moment. He was a graffiti artist in New York. He’s not a professional athlete, why does he get a shoe? That’s when I thought, ‘Okay, I can be someone outside of an athlete and still have a shoe.'
The Air Force 1 custom was born in 2017. For me, it was about implementing everything I’d seen from people like Futura. They were doing art shows, but they were also doing Nikes and sneaker collaborations. I was just trying to get as many eyes on the Air Force 1 as possible. I just crossed my fingers and hoped I was going to end up somewhere better than I was prior to that.
Does the Internet make it easier or harder for artists to gain exposure in 2021?
It goes both ways. Look at the effect COVID-19 had on everybody – sitting on their asses with nothing to do. How many people painted on sneakers and now potentially have a business? How many people moved out of their mum’s house? People see someone like The Shoe Surgeon and become so inspired. In that sense, it’s amazing.
But on the other side, if there’s a million of the same thing, who’s really the best? The thing about the custom sneaker community is that it looks so easy. You can go buy a pair of shoes and paint them, but you can easily be in the situation where you spend $10,000 on sneakers and sell one pair.
Can you break down the design process for us?
It always starts pretty similar when I get a shoe project. My first thought is: ‘Get the shoes in my hands.' Once they’re in my hands, I get a feel of how one line connects with another. If mesh is better than leather or suede in certain areas, I paint the shoes white, and then just start drawing on them. I try to figure out which line works the best. Should I put a half-tone there? Should I put dots over here? Should this area be black or white? Obviously, the paint drips go back to my story doing graffiti as a kid, but I couldn’t just splatter a shoe and be done with it.
The 327 is actually really interesting because it’s a little more obscure. I love to wear black shoes with a white midsole and gum sole. But instead of focusing on the line work I relied on utilising glossy texture. I guess it’s a more experimental shoe. I don’t have to paint everything with my line work. I can also make a black shoe that’s more subtle for people like myself to wear, the stubborn side of me wanted to make a black shoe. The 57/40 is there to make everybody happy.
What’s next for Joshua Vides?
I guess the biggest news is that I have a Uniqlo Disney collaboration dropping, which is wild. I'll leave it with that.
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