Sarina: So, you are designing the cleats for some of these guys?
Sal: Yeah, I designed 12 pairs.
Sarina: Do you know any of them well?
Sal: Oh yeah, three of them were actually on my reality show that just dropped. I had Pharoh Cooper, Aqib Talib, and Robert Woods on my show. I’ve also done pairs for Aaron Donald. I was going to do some for Cooper Kupp before he got hurt. So, I’m pretty cool with a lot those guys.
Sarina: Do you just get connected with them through the work you do? Do they follow you on social?
Sal: It all started last year with Alec Ogletree. He was a really good friend of mine that I started with, and then it just trickled to the rest of the team from there. Now it’s like my social media, because of my presence in the NBA, everybody follows the NBA that’s in sports. So it trickled into the NFL and from word of mouth.
Sarina: What cleats did you design? Who did you work with? You said 12?
Sal: Yeah, it’s a long list. (See here)
- Mark Barron- My Brother’s Keeper and TAP
- Michael Brockers- Autism Speaks
- Pharoh Cooper- Casa Pacifica
- Blake Countess- National Stroke Association
- Aaron Donald- Huntington's Disease Society of America and The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
- Jared Goff- Wings for Life
- Tyler Higbee- Special Olympics
- Robert Woods- Make-A-Wish
- Aqib Talib- Motivation Foundation
- Rodger Saffold- Big Brothers Big Sisters
- John Johnson- Sunshine Kids
- JoJo Natson- Everytown for Gun Safety and American Cancer Society
My brain has been fried. I just barely finished them all today. I have been working around the clock to get them done. Aaron had two causes on his cleats. I started with 10 pairs. I had two more pairs added I had to do this morning. Mark Barron’s were different. I wanted to keep them mostly white, but then I had to add a little flair, some color hits. One of them has the colors of the foundation -- green, blue, and red -- and the other one is navy. I was able to make it look pretty clean without doing too much.
Sarina: Is that the difficult part of the job?
Sal: Given the time you have, the constraints, and you still want to make it look good. That’s where it gets a little challenging. Mainly because that’s not the only project that I have going on. If it was the only project I had going on, then I could have it done a lot faster. But when you have a bunch of basketball player’s shoes and regular clients and then corporate partnerships going on, that’s when it gets kind of crazy.
Sarina: (jokes) Oh you have other things you are working on?
Sal: Yeah, it’s always going. And then my show just dropped on Complex. It’s 20 episodes, so I am going back and forth doing promos. It’s called “Kicking It with Kickstradomis.”
Sarina: Good title…
Sal: I used to have a segment on my YouTube, and we ran with it for the show. So, 20 episodes... airs every Tuesday. It’s pretty cool.
Sarina: Any one players’ cleats you were really excited to work on?
Sal: One of my favorites to do, because I have never done cleats for him, were Jared Goff’s. I was really looking forward to that. He had Wings for Life. I made sure no matter how simple or clean every pair was, I made sure it had something that would pop. That’s my goal as an artist. Yeah, I’ve done several pairs for basketball players and basketball shoes are always one of the main focuses in a game, but in football it’s not like that. You are looking at it from a further angle, so everyone’s cleats look the same. So you need to go above and beyond. I had to think of it differently. You have to add that color and make it pop.
Sarina: Where does the process start for you? Do you come up with the idea? How often do you speak to these guys?
Sal: You know, on this round, I am cool with all of these guys, but I didn’t speak to any of them. I spoke to Erica (Sherman) and that was it. She gave me a list and I went off of it with the colors and logos. The way that I work is really different as opposed to a lot of other artists that do this.
Sarina: How so?
Sal: My imagination and creativity is really weird. I never plan out what I am going to do until I put the actual cleats on my table and it’s time to go. That’s how my mind works when it comes to this stuff.
Sarina: Why is that? That’s the way you’ve always done it?
Sal: The way my mind works is on the fly. I feel like it’s more original. That’s when my real artist side kicks in as opposed to being very planned and having it on paper and drawing it. I’ve had situations where I have had to do that, but for my best work, I do it on the fly.
Sarina: You haven’t spoken to these guys? They just know you and know they are in good hands.
Sal: Yeah for this project they were like… just let him do what he does.
Sarina: No pressure, huh?
Sal: I’ve gotten to the point where I am pretty confident with my stuff. If they are trusting me with this project, then I just feel like every pair that I have done, they will be happy to put on and wear.
Sarina: How long does it take from when you sit down in the chair with the cleat to when you finish them?
Sal: It takes me about an hour and a half per pair. Which is actually pretty fast. I’ve gotten my job down to a science.
Sarina: Do you listen to music while you work on them?
Sal: Yeah, I listen to a lot of R&B. It relaxes me and soothes my mind and I am able to really focus and vibe out to the actual project.
Sarina: Ever do songs on repeat if you are in the moment?
Sal: Yeah certain songs (laughs). I will put it back on.
Sarina: Where do you pull your creativity from? Are there things outside of sports or design culture that you tap into for stuff like this?
Sal: I just think my mind is really… I have a really big imagination. I’ve been drawing since I was little -- since four years old. I would make my own comic books when was four years old to give you an idea of my imagination and how wide it is. I really just have so many ideas in my head.
Sarina: What was the toughest design for you to do?
Sal: Not toughest, but one that I think came out really cool, I really liked because it had my actual artistic side on it, would have to be Big Brothers Big Sisters of America for Rodger Saffold. They are all black and they have some lime green for the logo, but on the swoosh, I actually did my paint drips. I have this style that I do on my canvas work and my fine art that I am starting to sell overseas. I do a lot of abstract drips, cartoonish drips, so I was able to add some lime green cartoonish drips that pop on the black so they look really cool.
Sarina: What is the difference between designing a cleat and a sneaker?
Sal: There is actually more prep work involved because you have to prep these cleats so they are durable on the field. If don’t prep them, no matter what, these guys are going to thrash these cleats. The artwork is going to be gone. If they are putting their cleats to good use (laughs), the artwork is going to be gone by the end of the night. But you want them to be as durable and as clean as possible for the duration of the game. So that’s one of the main things, the prep work. It takes longer than the actual artwork.
Sarina: How does that make you feel? Unlike a basketball shoe… you can wear them again.
Sal: Yeah basketball players can wear them a few times, but I don’t really think about it that way. I’m just blessed to have this opportunity and honored to be part of this because of the whole meaning behind it. I don’t think too far ahead and I don’t think of what happens at the end of the game.
Sarina: Where and when did you start with shoe design?
Sal: I’ve been doing it for six years. It came by accident. It wasn’t the plan. Living paycheck to paycheck. I was living on my cousin’s couch. I didn’t have a lot of money. I was struggling. I had to find a hustle, but a good hustle, to support my son. It just really happened by accident. My cousin said, ‘I know you can do art, can you fix my shoes?’ And I said I could try, so I started doing research. It all started by me restoring shoes, before I even started doing art on shoes. And as I continued to do research, that’s when I came across a picture of some guy who did art on Vans and that’s what got me into that realm. I started doing it just for the money, just to make some money on the side, but it ended up being my profession. It’s been a pretty good career.
Sarina: You have an art background? You were always good at drawing?
Sal: Everything is self-taught. I’ve been drawing since I was little. I taught myself graphic design and web design, and now I’ve been able to really utilize all those skills for this business, which has been huge to my advantage.
Sarina: When was the first time you noticed a professional athlete be aware of your art?
Sal: The first big athlete that I did shoes for, I actually got connected to, was Andre Ethier of the (Los Angeles) Dodgers. After that more people started to take notice. But the main one that really expanded my business would be Karl Anthony Towns in the NBA. This was two years ago, after I was in a car accident. I was in a car accident. It was pretty bad. It messed up my lower back. I had to stop painting for a full year. I lost all momentum. I went through a little depression. I wasn’t making money anymore because I couldn’t paint and that’s all I really felt I was good at. I had to suck it up and get a warehouse job that totally sucked. It was the worst job of my life. I kind of needed to go through that to fuel me to make a comeback. When I decided to jump back on social media, that’s when I saw Karl Anthony Towns was following me and I shot my shot. I said, ‘Yo, this is my story, this is what I am going through, I haven’t painted in a long time, but I want to make a comeback. I see you are following me, give me this chance, I won’t let you down.’ He liked how genuine and how real I was and he’s been a huge part of my success. He’s now one of my best friends. It’s pretty crazy.
Sarina: What is about these athletes that makes you want to design for them?
Sal: It’s still so surreal to me. My life has been moving so fast. It has been really hard for me to just sit down and soak it all in. It’s good thing though, because I stay hungry and am just still working extremely hard. I don’t think people know how hard I work. I don’t think they really understand how much goes into everything. They just see me accomplishing all this stuff and shooting commercials and videos and shows, but they don’t understand behind the scenes, they don’t really know much we put in.
Sarina: You make it look easy.
Sal: But it’s not at all. (laughs) There’s a lot of loyalty and friendships I have throughout the league, and it’s just knowing they are willing to help me, and I help them look good, and they help me with their platform to expand my business. And that’s one of the best things, the relationships I’ve made.
Sarina: Were you a sports fan growing up?
Sal: I am a diehard Rams fan. It’s crazy. I was rooting for the Rams the first time they came to LA and they were horrible. I’ve been there, and now I have my season tickets. I already locked in my seats for the new stadium. I am really hard core when it comes to the Rams. I am also a really big NBA fan, so it’s a dream come true. I never in my wildest dreams would think where I am at today, working with these athletes in the NBA and becoming friends with these guys. It’s crazy.
Sarina: What makes you want to put art on shoes instead of a mural or canvas?
Sal: I feel like it’s a whole different canvas. These players use me as a form of expression, their beliefs, who they are, and how they feel. It’s just another form of canvas. You can have a painting in your house, but only so many people see it. But when this guy puts his shoes on and goes on national tv, it’s a whole new audience. I guess people are starting to have a whole new respect for what I do and it’s awesome.
Sarina: I watched a couple videos on YouTube about you… are you colorblind?
Sal: I am partially colorblind, yes.
Sarina: How does that affect your work?
Sal: It’s made it a little more challenging obviously. It’s not like I am completely colorblind and see black and white. I see color. It’s just like when there are certain colors next to each other, there have been situations where it’s very hard for me to differentiate the colors. For instance, greens and brown hues, purples and blues, stuff like that, it gets tricky. There was a time where I did a pair, a very popular pair, I did a Fortnite pair for Josh Hart and the (Los Angeles) Lakers and I put his face on the body of a character and everything looked great. But when I sent him and my manager the picture they were like, ‘That’s awesome, but are you going to keep his face green?’ (laughs) I had no idea his face was green.
Sarina: Was that the first time you figured out you were colorblind?
Sal: No, it’s funny. I went to get my eyes checked a couple years back, and the eye doctor was like, ‘Wow, you are very colorblind.’ (laughs) I had no idea!
Sarina: How are you able to do your job when you use so many colors?
Sal: I’ve been able to train myself, and luckily the bottles have the paint color on it. That helps out a bit. I’ve learned to actually adjust and mix colors and make certain colors and get pretty close to what I am looking for.
Sarina: *You are a season ticket member, you’ve been a diehard Rams fan… and now you are working on cleats for these players that are important. That’s cool, you should pinch yourself.
Sal: The day that I get to sit down and soak it in, I will definitely do that!
Sarina: Which is when? (laughs)
Sal: I don’t if that day is coming anytime soon. (laughs)