Isaiah Kelly started customizing shoes for fun after seeing a YouTube video of a 12-year-old kid making good money on the enterprise. “He was customizing shoes and selling them for $400, $500,” Kelly remembers. “I thought, Man I could do that, easy!” That summer, he saved up some money, bought the supplies, and tried it out for himself. His first project was sketchy, Kelly admits, but he appreciates the journey. “It’s really cool to be able to think how that started,” he says. “I did that work at my kitchen table and in my garage.”
Kelly soon became a walking billboard for his designs, and friends began asking for their own commissions. A reputation was born, and Kelly slowly turned his side hustle into a career. “When I first started, I did it as a hobby,” he says. “I didn’t think about it as a business. I just don’t like wearing shoes that everybody else has; it was a way for me to stand out. I loved that concept. And then other people started noticing and asking me to do their shoes. And then I had customers.”
He’s now the founder and CEO of Smoove Creations, an eight-staffer design house and production shop in Newport that has turned out custom sneakers since May 2019. He even created one-of-a-kind cleats for Oakland Raiders middle linebacker Preston Brown, and last Christmas, he donated 10 custom pairs of Nike Air Force Ones to kids at The Children’s Home of Cincinnati.
For Kelly, custom sneakers are a distinct subset of established sneaker culture, which is all about big brands, limited releases, and early morning lineups outside of shops like downtown’s UNheardof. “The thing about sneaker culture is that people love having shoes that are rare and expensive,” he explains. “It makes you feel like you have this status. But custom is typically one-on-one. So if I put your grandma on a shoe, or I put your sorority or your favorite sports team on a shoe, that’s a little bit different. It’s uniquely tailored to you, and it’s a way for you to represent yourself. It allows you to stand out.”
Kelly’s designs range from an ornate rose patch to a Pop Art-style cartoon outline, most often on Nike Air Force Ones or Vans. And of course he’ll make it yours with a picture of your mom, your kid, your dog, or your favorite anything.