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Waukesha shoe artist creates custom kicks from classic designs

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WAUKESHA, Wis. (CBS 58) – Brandon Johnston is changing up the sneaker game from his shop in downtown Waukesha. With an inventive mind, he’s creating custom kicks for his customers and is hoping to inspire others.

On CBS 58 Sunday Morning, Kim Shine took viewers inside Soul 2 Sole Creations for some shoe inspiration.

“So where are we sitting right now?” she asked.

"You're sitting in my studio and basically this is kind of where everything happens," Johnston said.

It’s in this space where his mind is completely free to roam.

Look around and you’ll see the pieces that connect his creativity.

“Directly behind me, you'll see a bunch of what look like molds or foot, feet. But basically these are lasts is what they're called that's spelled last, and last are basically the form that creates the shape of a shoe so here's one actually right here,” he said.

The one he’s holding is for the mold of an Air Jordan One – an iconic athletic shoe in sneaker culture.

The 25 year old is not re-making the popular Nike shoe...

“I’m not sitting here trying to profit off their name, by any means. I definitely just want to be able to show people what you can do with this stuff," he explained.

Instead, he’s using it as a guide for himself, or to create custom kicks for his customers.

“So this is the first pair that I ever made. Easter weekend, a year ago.”

And the options are endless: from glitter to transparent to leather.

“I've got everything from Vegeta to Chrome tan to faux-ostrich to python patent leather, everything.”

“This is called a lock-stitch right here. So, you go, you stitch three times forward and then you re-stitch them backwards," he explained while demonstrating the process his sewing machine.

Johnston calls himself a shoe deconstructor. It’s an intricate technique that blends craftsmanship, art and individuality. He’d seen the process on social media.

“But I saw this guy on Instagram taking a pair of Jordans and using Python and I was like, I thought it was a digital mock up because at this point, there weren't a whole lot of people doing this," he said.

That guy was well-known, custom shoe maker, Dominic Ciambrone aka “The Shoe Surgeon”.

Johnston saved up his money, and flew to LA to attend one of Ciambrone’s classes.

“And I went out there for four days, with 45 other people, and learn how to make an Air Jordan One in four days, like that, that was just insane," he said.

Back in Waukesha, Johnston had a new respect for quality shoe-making, and the business behind it.

“But mostly it's aesthetics, quality, and comfort, those are probably the number three things that I think are pretty important when it comes to building a shoe and not a whole lot of people think about that when they buy a consumer buy something off the shelf."

During our interview, Shine asked Johnston to show her, in a nutshell, how to make a custom Air Jordan One. His process starts with buying the actual shoe. 

“First step, you have to take the sole off cause you want the sole for whatever shoe you’re using.”

“Then you would actually get this guy which is an official Air Jordan One sole.”

If you hadn’t already, now you pick your materials.

For this pair here, his customer wanted Italian leather and regular leather.

Now, Johnston’s ready to cut out his pattern.

“You can make patterns or you can buy patterns, buying patterns is pretty expensive, depending on who you're buying from.”

“This is what it would look like once it's sewed all up. This is just one variation of it. This is another variation of it.”

“So at this point, you've actually successfully completed your entire upper and now you're going to get ready for what's called lasting.”

“That is what this one is in the process of doing right now. You actually nail it down to what's called a lasting board.”

“So this is the finished product of one of my earlier ones.” 

The hype around sneakers is real. It’s a global, multi-billion dollar industry with its own booming culture.

“I would say like the Yeezy is probably one of my favorite shoes.”

 And every fan has a preference.

“Some of the Off-White sneakers, Off-White’s a brand that collaborated with the Jordan brand," he explained. “Both the Yeezy brand, and the Air-Jordan brand have been going strong at it. And that’s really just one of my favorite rivals, I guess is a good way to put it, but it’s a healthy rival, I think.”

Finding the right shoe has always been part of Johnston’s path.

From his soccer cleats, to his old job at a shoe store and now to a passion that’s changed his world view.

“You just got to look at everything around you. I mean I think that's something that a lot of people don't really think about. But now, if I see a material like your scarf, for example, I can make that out of a shoe if I really wanted to.”

Johnston now has his sights set on teaching, and is launching an online, video class on shoe making.

He says he wants to show other creatives, especially in the Milwaukee-area, what’s possible.

"Because I believe that type of inspiration can just launch a whole new path for somebody else I know it did for me. So I don't see why I can't for anybody else.”

Explore Soul 2 Sole Creations on Facebook or Instagram.

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