If the shoe drips: self-expression through sneakers

Students use shoe customization as a form of self-expression

Hannah Lee

“Mr. Martinez, another pair of shoes has been delivered.”


Senior Clerical Assistant Jennifer Giarrita often pops into Assistant Principal Michael Martinez’ office with a package — but unlike the typical school supplies, Martinez’s packages hold his newest shoe purchases. He enjoys the exhilaration of setting his alarm early in the morning to purchase a pair of limited-edition shoes. With over 40 pairs of shoes in his closet, Martinez describes himself as a “sneakerhead.” 


“My mom cuts hair so I grew up in a hair salon, so I’ve always had this thing with looking nice and dressing nice. I’ve always been kind of concerned with my appearance since very early childhood,” Martinez said. “So I think shoes are just kind of part of that package. I’ve always kind of been a shoe person … You can probably look at like baby pictures, and I have all these super cool shoes on.”

Assistant Principal Michael Martinez poses for a photo in his favorite sneakers. Photo by Anish Vasudevan

Martinez views shoes as a form of self-expression, much like clothing or accessories. In fact, he describes his shoes as an “extension of [himself].” For this reason, he puts extra thought into his outfits — from head to toe. 


“I like to coordinate colors, so I would match my shoes, to my socks, to my belt,” Martinez said. “Depending on the weather, if it’s really yucky outside, I’ll put on a pair of Adidas Ultraboosts. I won’t wear any of my boxed shoes. I’ll just put on my yucky shoes, but it’s always color coordinating.”


Like Martinez, junior Matthew Whong uses shoes to showcase his interests. While he has always had an interest in shoes, he only began customizing basketball sneakers the summer after his freshman year.  


“Growing up, sneakers were [and] are still a big part of my life,” Whong said. “There’s such a rich history in sneakers that you can learn so much from just a sneaker. I started [customizing] because I wanted a way to express myself on the court.”


Since then, Whong has designed approximately 20 pairs of shoes. He draws inspiration from his favorite comic books to various animators. Whong explains that customizing a shoe is a long process.

Junior Matthew Whong sports a pair of sneakers that he customized. Photo by Anish Vasudevan

“I always find the shoe first,” Whong said. “I find the silhouette of the shoe and then I usually try and sketch it out to see how the shoe would look. Then I come up with ideas for what I want to put on the shoe and I sketch those ideas before I actually get the shoe. Then I do a fine sketch on the shoe and then I paint it.”


Similar to Whong, sophomoreRonit Ramchandani customizes sneakers as a hobby. From abstract artwork to designs showcasing his sports background, Ramchandani uses shoe customization as an outlet to express his interests. 


“Basically I can put whatever I want on it, right?” Ramchandani said. “So any hobbies or stuff like that, like my jersey number, I can just paint it on the shoe. I also put my favorite sports on [my shoes], like I could draw a football or basketball.” 


Martinez attributes the popularity of shoes to pop culture and advertising. With shoes like Kanye West’s Yeezys taking over mainstream culture according to Martinez, he explains that students are more inclined to take an interest in shoes. Ramchandani agrees, saying he prefers to start on a clean canvas, where he can freely communicate what he wants through his artwork. 

Junior Sumer Hajela enjoys purchasing sneakers, a fashion piece he uses to express himself. Photo by Anish Vasudevan

“I buy all white shoes so I’m not limited to any type of colorway or design that I want to put on it,” Ramchandani said. “So basically I can just paint whatever I want [and] express what I like.” 


With over 10 pairs of shoes he has designed, and even more classic pairs he has purchased in his closet, Ramchandani refers to himself as a shoe lover. Likewise, Martinez collects shoes and is even working with his secretary to design a special closet for his many shoes.  


“There are 40 something [pairs] in [my closet] now,” Martinez said. “They’re all stacked, like they’re falling out of the closet when I open the closet. It’s really bad. I need a bigger closet. Ms. Mueller, my secretary, helped me design this closet where there are drawers you could put the shoes [in] and so someday when I have my dream home I will have this custom little closet for all of my shoes.”


Ultimately, Martinez explains that one aspect he loves the most about shoes is their ability to spark conversation with anyone — from his co-workers to MVHS students. 


“Students, if they like a new pair of shoes I have on or something like that, [they] will make comments,” Martinez said. “If I see cool shoes on students, I’m always making comments. So I think it’s just a way to connect with people. You know, I think if you see that commonality in other people, it’s just a way for people to connect and interact with people, socialize.”