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The rise in popularity of sneaker customisations with MattB Customs

By Danielle Wightman-Stone

Nov 9, 2022

Fashion |Interview

Image: Google x Ellesse; Matt Burgess

Personalisation in fashion has been an ongoing trend in recent years and now the sneaker industry is catching up with custom designs, as the exclusivity of a one-of-a-kind item appeals to consumers. At the forefront of this trend is Matt Burgess, a graphic designer who founded MattB Customs in 2014 and has worked with brands including Google and Ellesse, as well as celebrities such as Ed Sheeran.

What started as a hobby, so Burgess could have shoes that were unique to him, has grown into a team of 10 people working from his studio based in Manchester. His team can do everything from hand paint a design to creating custom toe and swoosh boxes, as well as add embroidered patches to everything from Nike and Adidas sneakers to Converse and Vans.

MattB Custom’s most recent collaboration was with Google and Ellesse to create a rare and unique “nameless trainer,” featuring a mixed-media custom design that merged fine art with digital culture. As well as being custom, these sneakers were also only available via posters and on social media by using the Google App to find them online, as part of Google’s campaign to demonstrate how easy it is to “Find That Thing” on the Google App using images instead of words.

To find out more about the inspiration behind the Google x Ellesse collaboration, FashionUnited chatted to Burgess over e-mail about how he launched his customisation business, what it is about sneakers that appeal to him and the current custom trends he is seeing.

Q&A with Matt Burgess of MattB Customs

Image: Google x Ellesse

What inspired you to launch a customised footwear business?

I was working a retail job at Schuh selling sneakers, but they only sell the general release stuff, and I couldn’t afford the rarer pairs. So, I started painting on my own shoes to make them unique to me. I would wear them around college and people would ask where I got them, so I made an Instagram page to show different pairs I’d created and would sell them through there.

What is it about sneakers?

People are generally a lot more precious about their sneakers because they’re worn more often than any other item of clothing. You can wear a basic outfit but dress it up with sneakers. Everyone needs to have something on their feet, so why not express yourself?

What kind of custom work do you do?

It started as just painting designs onto sneakers, but now we work in a range of mediums, like cut and sew and heat pressing vinyls. We now also work on all kinds of accessories and are open to customising pretty much anything!

Image: Google x Ellesse

Can you share an overview of the custom styles you offer?

We have a website where you can see our best-selling designs and order them in any size. We then have a ‘Create Your Own Custom’ side to the website, where you can either request a design or work with us to create your own unique 1 of 1. This can be anything from a hand-painted portrait to a simple colourway that’s not already out there. We also have an in-house print room where we can print onto fabric and cut, glue and sew that to the shoe, meaning pretty much any request is possible to create.

What is the timeframe for a custom job?

It really does depend on the design, it can take us anywhere between 15 minutes to 2 days to create something.

What was the inspiration for the Google x Ellesse “nameless trainer”?

As we’re a team of mixed medium artists, we wanted to create our own canvas collectively and use our in-house printing method to turn it into a material. We then added hand-painted assets and heat pressed on vinyl to create a design that’s very clearly a custom shoe and something you couldn’t find in a high street store and as the campaign highlights, we wanted to create something indescribable with words.

Image: Google x Ellesse

You’ve custom-designed trainers for celebs and brands - what have been a few highlight collaborations?

This campaign with Google has been crazy to see how far the custom sneaker scene has come, that we're able to work with a brand like Google and for something we've designed to be put on billboards across Manchester and London. I also think the utility of the project is sick and it's crazy to see what we do be used to demonstrate this unreal bit of tech!

I always use this as a reference, because it still blows my mind to this day. Netflix reached out to us asking us to create a custom pair of sneakers as part of the launch campaign for their new comedy film ‘Don’t Look Up’. The film was about a meteorite that was going to crash into the earth but no one would listen. They bought a 4 billion-year-old meteorite and asked us to create a custom pair of sneakers using it. We created the Dibiasky 550s using this meteorite, the pair was then auctioned at Sotheby's.

One of my favourite celeb projects is our work with Ed Sheeran as it’s still ongoing. We have created some custom Jordan 4s which Ed wears as part of his tour outfit, which is running for the next 3 years. Shout out to Kick Game for connecting us.

Why do you think customised footwear is on the rise?

Everyone wants to be wearing something that is either hard to get hold of or something that is completely unique to them, and there are a lot of mixed media artists who are transferring their skills onto sneakers.

What are the current trends you are seeing with custom requests?

In the past, it was all about keeping your kicks super clean, whereas we now do a lot of work on making the shoe look aged for a more vintage look. I’d say that’s the only trend we’re seeing a lot of at the moment, outside of that I’d say it’s very broad.

Where do you see MattB Customs in five years?

I’d say our aim now is to be seen within retail, so people can see the quality and engage with a custom shoe in person rather than seeing them on socials or ordering via our website. We also want to keep pushing the boundaries with our projects and hopefully work with a brand on an official collab with a worldwide retail drop.

Image: Google x Ellesse
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