Blame it on Virgil Abloh’s Sharpie, which he used to personalize the Off-White x Nike sneakers he seeded to celebrities and influencers, or younger consumers’ unrelenting need to acquire and post something special to social media platforms. Whatever the reason, there’s a DIY trend happening in sneakers and streetwear that shows no signs of slowing down.
On the sneaker side, companies have long offered customization services online with the likes of NikeiD or Miadidas. But now they are creating more engaging DIY experiences. Both Nike and Adidas have set up activations at events such as ComplexCon and NBA All-Star Weekend that allowed shoppers to personalize or build different styles. That has trickled down to product, with Nike’s customizable Air Force Ones that were sold with different swooshes or Travis Scott’s recently released Air Force Ones that come with two sets of swooshes that are attached and removed via Velcro.
Consumers taking sneaker customization into their own hands isn’t a new pursuit, but since the release of the white Off-White x Nike Air Prestos in August, multiple tie-dyed versions have popped up across the Internet — this was led by John Mayer, who received a pair early and had them customized by Online Ceramics, a streetwear brand inspired by the Grateful Dead.
Mike Cherman, founder of streetwear brand Chinatown Market, doesn’t make unique product with his core line, but he’s started using an EBS Handjet Portable Printer to customize sneakers and clothing with graphics and text.
On the apparel side, streetwear label Online Ceramics presents a shopping experience that’s more akin to buying a piece of custom artwork. T-shirts, which retail from $45 to $75, are hand-dyed and printed, making each one unique, and on its e-commerce site the firm indicates that shipping can take up to 30 days after purchasing. Advisory Board Crystals, a streetwear company based in Los Angeles, also hand-dyes its shirts but uses a proprietary crystal-infused process.
Licensing is also an interest for streetwear firms and bigger corporations alike. In the past, brands would use a logo or image without any formal deal in place and receive a cease-and-desist letter, but according to Dennis Calvero, cofounder of Crooks and Castles, while traveling to The Licensing Expo in Las Vegas this past June, 40 percent of his streetwear contemporaries were there.
Dumbgood, a streetwear brand introduced in 2016, has worked with everyone from Streetfighter and NASA to Nickelodeon on nostalgic, licensed product that’s sold in stores such as Urban Outfitters.
Chinatown Market has the Smiley face license for 2018 and Cherman said this deal allows him to do more global business — this comes after Smiley initially sent Chinatown Market a cease-and-desist letter. And Mike Amiri connected with Warner Brothers to execute a collection featuring imagery from the film “Lost Boys” for fall 2018.