Like a gifted tattoo artist or a master barber, custom cleat creator Marcus Rivero has hundreds of professional football and baseball players waiting in line to have their cleats graced by his airbrush.
His NFL client list reads like a fantasy football team, but the most amazing part might be the fact his shoe design business is technically a side hustle.
By day, Rivero, aka SolesBySir, owns a wholesale used tire company in Miami. By night, the 32-year-old becomes the artist behind all the custom football and baseball cleats your favorite NFL and MLB players wear on the field.
I kicked it with the custom cleat king to talk about how he got his start making wearable art and how he became the go-to artist for NFL and MLB players.
Considering Rivero has a regular 9-5 like the rest of us, you might be wondering when he sleeps. I know I was. The answer is simple, really, he doesn't.
Speaking with Elite Daily, Rivero said,
I have a studio in my office, and I'll work here late into the evening. Or, I'll go home, where I turned my second bedroom into a studio. I work from 6 o'clock at night until 3, 4, 5 in the morning, everyday. It's crazy, but I really, genuinely love painting these shoes. It's absurd.
More absurd, though, might be the story SolesBySir told me about how he first got started in the custom cleat business. I'm not sure how many times Rivero has been asked to tell this tale, but he recounts it as if it just happened last week.
Speaking with Elite Daily, the 32-year-old said,
It's actually a crazy story. About three years ago, I was dating a girl. It was Valentine's Day, and I wanted to get a pretty thoughtful gift. I've always been a sneaker-head, always had tons of sneakers, and she wasn't so much into sneakers. So the only logical thing I thought was let me buy her sneakers for Valentine's Day… but personalize them. I bought some shoes online, bought paint and brushes. I had never painted a shoe in my life. I spent 20 hours, I'll never forget, painting that shoe. She got it, absolutely loved the shoe. She posted it on Instagram, and the next thing you know, Instagram being Instagram, friends of ours started saying, 'Oh my God, I love the shoe. I have my daughter's first birthday party, can you do a Mickey design?' [caption id="attachment_1694496" align="aligncenter" width="514"]Instagram[/caption] Or, 'My brother's a diehard Yankee fan, it's his birthday.” So, I did about eight or 10 pairs like that, for friends. I charged them $100 a pair.
That explains how the Miami native got his start creating custom sneakers, but as he was telling this story, I kept asking myself how he made the jump from Mickey Mouse to Marshawn Lynch.
SolesBySir got there soon enough, telling Elite Daily,
Nolan Carroll, who played for the Miami Dolphins at the time, saw one of the [Instagram] posts. I don't know how, but he saw it. When he saw it, he reached out to me via Instagram. He was like, 'Hey, I have some Jordans, can you do them for me?' I was so excited. I bought my first airbrush gun. He tells me he wants me to do Statue of Liberty theme, which at the time, I had no idea what that meant. I Googled it, and what it meant was to make the shoe look rustic and green, like a piece of the Statue of Liberty. How hard can this be? I did it, and I sent him a picture to show him the progress. He gets the picture and he's like, 'Oh, it's OK.' I was pissed.
Rivero continued -- and here's where I almost fall off the chair -- saying,
I threw my phone and accidentally dropped a bottle of acetone on the shoes. Pure accident, but when I dropped it, I quickly got a towel to wipe it off. When I wiped it, the shoe almost looked like a granite marble countertop. It looked like a whole bunch of cool colors. I re-sent him a picture, instantly, and he goes, 'Oh my God, I'm in love.' So, I purposely dropped acetone on the next shoe.
When you look at the heights Rivero has ascended to in just a few years, it's hard to wrap your head around the concept of this whole thing starting "accidentally."
Rivero spoke to me like we were two old friends catching up at a bar. He told me after he did his Jordans, Nolan Carroll wouldn't stop hounding him to do custom football cleats.
The 32-year-old declined because he didn't want his designs getting trashed on an NFL field. He wasn't sure how the work would hold up.
The 29-year-old cornerback refused to take no for an answer, despite the fact NFL players get fined for wearing custom cleats, and eventually, Marcus Rivero caved.
The custom cleats held up on the field of play, and soon enough, eight other dudes on the Miami Dolphins called Rivero to customize their cleats. Speaking of his NFL break, Rivero said,
I did those eight guys, and my first link outside of Miami was Jamar Taylor. He wanted me to do a pair of shoes, I did them. [Taylor's] college roommate was Jeron Johnson, and he saw his post on Instagram and reached out to me. I do a pair of shoes for Jeron, he falls in love with them. Next thing you know, Marshawn Lynch sees the shoes. Year one, I maybe had 30 or 40. Year two, about 100. Now, I would say this season, well over 400-500 guys in the league.
His successful Valentine's Day gift and the accidental acetone splash clearly play an integral part in Marcus Rivero's success, but it's clear his genuine personality, loyalty and attention to detail are what carry him now.
Speaking with Elite Daily, SolesBySir said,
If it was up to me, I'd do the whole NFL, but I'm literally a one-man band. I take pride in painting the shoes and customer service. I never shortcut a shoe. I give it everything I've got.
From Breast Cancer Awareness cleats to the Black Lives Matter movement, Rivero truly does it all when it comes to customizations.
He told Elite Daily,
The more I think about how my brand and I have grown through this whole experience, it takes on a deeper meaning nowadays. Now, it's take a white shoe and turn it into a symbol. For example, DeSean Jackson's caution cleats. For him, it wasn't about Black Lives Matter, it was about being tired of people dying -- African Americans and cops. It turned into this big deal, and that's what the point of the cleats: Generate talk. Generate something. It's really cool now because my art has actually taken on meaning, more than just being cool, creative stuff.
Considering it takes Rivero anywhere from three to seven hours to complete a pair of custom cleats, I found the $500-$1,200 price range beyond reasonable. But the more I spoke with SolesBySir, the more I realized this will always be a passion project for him.
I can't begin to tell you how amazing it is to make these things. I'm sitting there in awe because I have Marshawn Lynch on the phone telling me he's a fan. I'm sitting here thinking, man, I'm a fan of you. It's surreal. I didn't have any experience prior to this. The only people who ever told me I was good at art were my mom and my middle school art teacher. I never painted a thing.
The man who literally never sleeps and has more clients than he can keep track of told me he would've killed for an opportunity to make custom kicks for Michael Jordan and Michael Jackson, truly a one of a kind pair... something Marcus Rivero is all too familiar with.