Custom sneakers were once limited to those looking to add a unique, one-off look to their collection. Now, thanks to stars of the gridiron and the hardwood, custom culture has permeated pro sports.
Dan “Mache” Gamache, a pioneer in the customization game, has benefitted both financially and in popularity by the artistic takes on today’s cleats and kicks he delivers. With the NBA All-Star Game starting lineups recently announced, and the Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots on Sunday securing spots in Super Bowl LI, Mache spoke with Footwear News about customs for players lacing up the two games, what he’ll be doing in New Orleans for the All-Star Game in February, and more.
Footwear News: What sport where athletes wear your custom looks gets you the most attention on social media?
Mache: It’s either the NBA or the NFL. I think probably the NFL just because there’s fewer games and more attention per week as opposed to the NBA, they play a couple of games in one week.
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Have you had requests yet from players appearing in the NBA All-Star Game or Super Bowl LI?
[With the NBA] not with any players yet. I’ve been talking a lot with Nike about doing a lot of things with the Kyrie [Irving] shoes, but I’m not really sure [what will happen]; it’s always last minute. Maybe I’ll do something for the dunk contest; I know Zach LaVine is a Minnesota [Timberwolves] guy so maybe I’ll get a chance to work with him. Who knows.
I’m working on a collaboration with Mitchell & Ness for the All-Star Game doing some stuff. I’m doing a bunch of custom hats, 48 custom hats working with Lids. I’ll be doing artwork on the special leather-brimmed hats with Mitchell & Ness. We’re doing a pop-up shop in the [French] Quarter. I’m going to do 24 before the All-Star Game so I have them ready and customized, and then I’ll be doing 24 on site in the pop-up shop so people have the opportunity to see me working on them.
For the NFL, I don’t for the Super Bowl, but I do have some Pro Bowl cleats that I’m doing. I’m doing stuff for Travis Kelce [of the Kansas City Chiefs] and a bunch of the [Minnesota] Vikings that got nominated. I’m sure that some will come; it’s always last minute with these guys.
What athlete client comes to you with the best ideas?
A lot of them just say, “Do you.” When I was working with Victor Cruz, he would always have an idea. The last game of the playoffs [for the New York Giants], he wanted to do something for his daughter, so he had this idea to do something with her favorite TV show, and just ran with it. When I was with the Vikings players, I would just throw out an idea and they’d say, “Yeah, let’s do that.” They were confident in my ideas and let me ride with it. The only one that really gave me a theme to work with was Victor Cruz.
Have you had to turn down any athletes?
The only time I’ve turned down any athletes was for Week 13 [in the NFL] only because it was more for time constraints. Before Week 13 I was contacted to do a huge volume order for a team, the Kansas City Chiefs, and I just couldn’t take it on because I knew in terms of the time and quality of the work, it wouldn’t be best for any of us. You never want to say no to any customer, but I just knew I wouldn’t be able to deliver that order. I was already doing 35 pairs for that week.
How long does it take you to get your custom orders out to these NBA and NFL players?
It depends. When I got up to Minneapolis to meet with the guys [on the Vikings], they sent me home with like 15 pairs, so I had pairs locked and loaded and ready to go for the upcoming weeks. But a lot of times these guys will hit me up close to a week before the game because every week they want something special. They understand how short the turnaround time has to be; overnighting shoes across the country isn’t always an accessible thing. But I’ve banged out pairs in a day; they’ll show up on my doorstep and go out in the same day. It’s pretty stressful.
Has this recent custom cleat craze in the NFL boosted your overall business?
No, not really. I’ve been established for years now. I think [the custom cleat craze] has definitely opened up the door for a lot of other artists to get their feet in the door. There’s hundreds of players, and there’s only so many artists that can do their cleats. I’m in a favorable position to take on clients and projects that I like to do, not just take them because I have to. It’s opened me up to more athletes in terms of visibility, which is great. [And] while football cleats are going on I’m still doing other projects, there’s no offseason for me.
Do you think athletes in other professional sports will start to wear more customs after seeing how much attention they get in the NFL and NBA?
Yeah, I do. The fact that ESPN and the NFL Network and Bleacher Report and Footwear News have put a spotlight on the cleats, the visibility has grown exponentially, and I think that’s going to cross over into all the different sports. I’ve been getting soccer cleats, and I was doing a ton of baseball cleats last season, so I think that’s going to carry over this season.
What cleats or basketball shoes do you like working with the most?
I have no real preference. In terms of the brands, they’re all pretty much coming with the same kind of materials with the synthetics, so they all have the same process of how to paint them. None of them really use leather anymore, which when I started doing shoes it was all [Nike] Air Force 1s and Dunks, they’re was leather on all the shoes. Now it’s like painting a car — a lot of wet sanding and crazy sprays and adhesives and glues. I think the biggest thing is trying to have flat panels to do my artwork; the more perforations in a shoe is the only thing that really inhibits a design because you want to have a clean canvas.
What NBA or NFL star do you want to make customs for that you haven’t yet?
I’ve done a pair for [Vikings running back] Adrian Peterson; he was supposed to wear them when he came back from his injury. He ended up coming back a week early, so he didn’t get to wear the pair I made for him. So I would still love to make a pair for him. Being a Vikings fan, he’s one of the top running backs in NFL history, so he’s definitely still one I want to do one for. Hopefully he’s still wearing purple when I do it.
There’s so many past players; I wish I could have done one for Randy Moss — obviously he’s retired and doing ESPN now. In the NBA, I’d like to go back and do more pairs for LeBron [James]. He’s grown even more since the last time I did a pair for him back in 2013. I’ve done shoes for [Stephen] Curry and I’ve done shoes for Draymond Green, who was wearing my customs on Martin Luther King Day. I’d love to do something for [Russell] Westbrook. Maybe James Harden.