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The juggernaut that the sneaker game has become has lent itself to great advances. The more popularity it garners the higher the thirst for artistry and creativity becomes. It’s gone beyond the confines of executive offices and brand design groups. Artists are taking sneakers and making them functional, wearable pieces of art. The sneaker custom game isn’t new, but in the past few years it has gained significant traction. Dan “Mache” Gamache (pronounced MOSH) of Mache Custom Kicks is the cream of the crop when it comes to sneaker customization. With NBA superstars rocking his customs, 176K followers on his Instagram, and no signs of letting up, Mache is at the apex of the game. He recently sat down with us at the VILLA and Converse Cons “Sneaker Discussion and Rare Footwear Display” to talk kicks and customs.

What brought you out to the VILLA x Converse Cons  “Sneaker Discussion and Rare Footwear Display”?

I’m here to support the Converse Aerojam release. They [Converse] had me do 9 different Aerojams to coordinate with the accounts that were carrying the shoes, and VILLA was one of the big supporters. So I’m here with Mayor and Converse to answer question and give a little insight. Should be fun.

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Customized Cons Aerojam by Mache Customs. Commissioned by VILLA.

How do you feel Mache Customs translates into the shoe game right now?

When I first started it was 10 years ago. It was a really big subculture. It was a bunch of dudes that just liked to paint Air Force 1s and Dunks. It was a form of expression. It was just what they wanted to do. It wasn’t what they wanted to do as a business. Fast forwarding a few years, I remember when I did my NERFs [Nike Lebron 9 “NERF” custom], that was a big thing. They fetched 4K on eBay. And that was kind of a turning point for customs because people were saying, “Oh shoot! We can make money off of this!” And that kind of brought them more into the spotlight for mainstream. That’s when people really started picking up the brush and trying to do their own thing…and make money off of it. And I think the influence that corporations get from Nike iD and customizers is definitely evident. Just seeing Converse reach out to me to do something to commemorate such a big rerelease, such as the Aerojam, shows that we are not force to be reckon with, but definitely respected as something that isn’t going to go anywhere for a long time.

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Mache’s display of custom kicks.

How did you get into the customs game?

I was always an artist. My grandmom was an art teacher; I learned from her. You know it was like passed down. I took art classes, I wanted to go to art school. I wound up not going to art school because my dad passed away. I ended up going to junior college where I took art classes and played baseball where I became all-state and all-region. I also got offered a contract with the Reds, which I wound up turning down to go to a bigger school. I hurt my shoulder so I finished and got my degree in graphic design. I’ve always been into sneakers. I didn’t have a lot of money coming up. So you know that was kind a way to assimilate and still blend in. I lived in a trailer but I had Jordans on. I mowed lawns all summer to get my pair of 5s. And that was my way to kind of make myself feel like I was still cool or whatever. I could have on some K-Mart jeans but I had Jordans on. I felt more confident. It’s kind of like the guys who have a Mercedes out in front of their trailers now. [laughs] You know shoes are one of those things where if you talked to a girl you might have on a busted outfit, but if you have on a nice pair of shoe they’ll respect you a little more.

No doubt…

But in terms of how I started customizing…I saw an artist by the name of C2 (C2 Customs) doing something. There was a Complex article years ago about how he had done a pair of customs. And I’ve always been a competitive dude so I said, “Man I could do that.” I took a pair of beat up Air Max 90s, some acrylic paint that wasn’t meant for that, and created some DipSet themed 90s. They were like three shades of purple [laughs]….you know that just goes to show you that time frame. I wore them to the barbershop and everybody was like, “Oh! When did they come out with them?” I told them that I did them. Then I started making them for the guys in the barbershop. They were rocking them and my name got out. The internet wasn’t popping then. The social media wasn’t there. It was still NikeTalk and ISS. And that’s where I really built a network with other customizers, and realized that other people were doing it. We were doing constructive criticisms and feeback and stuff like that. Then it just grew from that.

When you look at your sneakers they’re perfect…they don’t’ look…

Customs that don’t look custom.

Right! How did you get them to this point?

Years and years of trial and error. I could probably pay for someone’s junior college tuition with all the shoes I destroyed to figure out what the hell works, and what doesn’t. And that’s just years of practice. When I first started I thought that DipSet pair of shoes were so dope. You couldn’t tell me anything. But there were paint strokes all over the place or whatever. It’s like with everything you just find out what works. I mean I’m pretty sure I was the first one to do a custom on the Lebron 9, on the hyperfuse part. That was a big deal then because no one else had done it yet. I remember people were still sticking to the Dunks and uptowns and other leather based shoes. And I took a risk, and that was something that I didn’t know was going to work. It did and I lucked out. But down the road people were asking for Foamposites…and I wasn’t taking Foamposites for awhile. Because since it was a synthetic and it didn’t adhere right I had to figure out how the hell it worked. I had to do a little research development before I started charging people hundreds of dollars for sneakers that weren’t going to hold up.

I see what you mean…

In terms of having it look factory…that’s just because I’ve built a name. You know people know me to be doing quality work and it’s a matter of upstanding that. If I need to be a day late on an order to make sure it’s done right then I’m going to do that. And I think the customer respects that. There’s a reason why there’s a 6 month wait for a pair of shoes from me. People are asking about “Dirty Bred” customs and I don’t do them. You know let the new guy have a chance, let him do them. Let them eat, let them figure out how to make that $100. If you come to me I want you to know you’re getting an experience. Like getting a tattoo…get some personality into it. And I’ll do my best to make sure it’s something for you, something that you want to rock. Because there’s definitely a fine line between wearability and putting it on a pedestal.

Favorite shoe to customize?

It’s tough to call…it’s the shoe that works with the theme the best. You know when I first started Jordans were taboo. But that was before they retro’d every single colorway. Perfect example…the Toro 4s your wearing look just like the shoe I did for The Game a year before. Not that it cheapens the shoe, but there’s so many now that you don’t know what’s custom and what’s not. You just don’t know. It’s just not as sacred as it used to be.

What shoe do you get asked the most to customize?

Lebrons. All day. Easy. Just because it’s a readily available shoe and Lebron is so popular. But it’s definitely Lebron’s and Jordans are a close second.

What’s your favorite custom you’ve made? For someone or in general…

It’s really tough because I’m a person that loves doing artwork. So it’s like when I did a Beetlejuice themed Dunk that was more of a personal thing. You know I grew up in the 80s so I enjoyed that. That was my time, it related to me. But then you look at a kid that was born in like 1997 and has no idea what the hell that is. They go “…why the hell is that dude wearing that suit that Robin Thick wore during the VMAs on them?”. You know they don’t get it. [laughs]. But that’s just a personal thing. You wear what you like, you do what you like.

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Mayor and Mache before the symposium.

Future?

There’s a lot of cool things on the horizon. I think there’s a lot of possibilities. I’m definitely talking to some big names and players, and things like that. I’d say within the next year you’re going to see some game changers…that I can’t talk about yet. [laughs]