A few years ago, Kelly McReynolds came across a pair of spiked Converse Chuck Taylors on eBay.
The longtime Converse aficionado — the Davenport woman owns more than 100 pairs of Chucks — loved the customized sneakers, but balked at the $200 price tag.
So she took matters into her own hands and started making her own amped-up Chucks to sell on Etsy and eBay.
McReynolds creates hand-sewn leopard and floral designs, as well as studded, spiked and rhinestone versions, with plans to someday get into monogramming, tie-dye and glitter designs.
She has more than 1,200 sales through her Etsy shop, LoveChuckTaylors, and thousands more admirers. Her designs for adults and children have been sold to people from all over the world.
Women have ordered her floral sneakers for weddings, and an “America’s Next Top Model” finalist once featured a pair of her studded shoes on his Instagram account.
“It’s really cool knowing I am making someone smile when they open up their shoes,” McReynolds says. “Thinking about people wearing my shoes all over the world is incredible.”
There are other people who sell customized Chucks and other sneakers on Etsy, too, and McReynolds takes pride in her many positive reviews and affordable prices.
“People love having a personalized, unique, custom shoe,” McReynolds says. “Chucks have an iconic feel to them, so people really enjoy wearing them. I feel like I have job security because Chucks never go out of style.”
When she first started out, her studded sneakers could take up to six hours per pair to create, but with time and practice, she now can make them in less than an hour. Her fabric designs can take up to two hours to make, so when she starting getting more orders, she added an employee to the business.
For McReynolds, the most rewarding part of her custom shoe business has been making a living off of something creative. She lived off the income of her custom sneakers while completing her master’s degree, and continues to do it on the side now that she works full time as a therapist.
“It can be very exhausting, but I still love what I do,” McReynolds says. “Not many people are lucky enough to turn a hobby into a career, so I am thankful to everyone who has supported me along the way.”
McReynolds isn’t the only Quad-Cities area woman making a statement with creative, custom footwear. Tattoo artist Chelsea "Chewy" Soto, of Rock Island, spends her days tattooing clients, but paints shoes, namely Vans and Toms, as a creative hobby.
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Soto says a family member suggested she put her artistic skills to work by painting white shoes about five or six years ago.
“I tried a couple of pairs and then, out of the blue, I was commissioned by a friend for a pair of slip-on Vans,” she says. “Those were very successful, but I put down the paintbrush for a couple years to focus more on tattooing.”
About a year ago, she decided to get back into the shoe-painting business, taking commissions or throwing up a couple pairs for sale on her Instagram account.
“I’m really busy with tattooing, so this is more of just a side job,” she says.
Soto colorfully customizes slip-on and lace-up canvas shoes with acrylic paint. Vans and Toms are generally her canvases, but she has customized a pair of Nike Air Force 1 sneakers for her son, too.
Some of her designs are simple and quick, while others take five or six hours to complete. One pair was so detailed, she spent about 15 hours painting them.
For Soto, the artistic liberty she gets from painting shoes is rewarding.
“I don’t always get that with tattooing, and I would prefer not to,” Soto says. “With shoes, it’s not permanently going on someone’s skin, so I feel more comfortable when someone gives me free reign.”
Whether it’s a tattoo or a pair of shoes, Soto enjoys making wearable art.
“I love when someone is proud enough to wear my artwork out for the world to see,” Soto says. “Art is what I am good at, so if I can make someone happy with my artwork, I’m happy.”
For those looking to add some oomph to their own shoes, Soto recommends planning out the design and being patient while working on it.
“Don’t rush it,” Soto says. “It’s a real pain when you mess up and have to spend an hour or two fixing something that takes way less time in the first place if you were just more patient. Take your time and enjoy the process.”
Jane Carlson is a frequent Radish contributor.