Customization Craze: Students turn everyday accessories into a form of self-expression

MVHS students share the stories behind their painted shoes and water bottles

Jai Uparkar

Over the past couple of years, popular trends like shoe and water bottle painting have emerged on social media platforms like TikTok and YouTube. These customization trends have increased in popularity due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as teens now have increased time to carry out these creative projects. Take a look at four MVHS students who were inspired to paint their own shoes and water bottles.

Senior Brett Park

Park began painting shoes during his sophomore year after “digging himself in a YouTube hole” by watching shoe customization videos. It eventually inspired him to paint “The Great Wave off Kanagawa” on his Adidas shoes. While it may have started off with one shoe, Park’s hobby for personalizing shoes eventually turned into a small-time business during junior year. 

Shoes are just another medium for Park to continue his passion for art and self-expression. To Park, the major difference between traditional modes of art and shoe painting is simply the wearability. 

“Obviously, I’m not going to hold up a canvas and tape it to my back; I’m just going to hang it up on my wall — that’s something people can enjoy when they pass by it,” Park said. “But when it’s on someone who’s using it every single day, and it’s on their feet, then they’re taking that art piece around wherever they go. I feel like it could be more meaningful because it gets your art out there and exposes more than it would have on a wall.”

Park attributes the recent emergence of customizing and painting shoes to the trend of wearable fashion, a movement propagated by Gucci, Off-White, and hypebeast culture. This trend and the free time of quarantine, along with a plethora of TikTok video tutorials, have inspired many people to experiment and express themselves through clothing. 

While the finished product is satisfying to look at, Park appreciates the creative process of painting shoes even more. 

“Honestly, I’ve been trying to appreciate the process more, of just taking my time and enjoying what I’m actually going through,” Park said. “Recently, I’ve been destroying a lot of my art and it’s just because I need to refocus myself and understand why I’m actually making art in the first place, and it’s definitely because of the process rather than the finished product.”

Junior Sophia Chen

Chen’s hobby for painting began when she was just five-years-old, and she recently took those skills to customize Hydro flasks the summer before junior year. While a water bottle is a completely different art medium compared to canvas, Chen finds it more interesting and fun. She has painted a total of five water bottles, two of which she gave to her friends and one which she gave a teacher as a gift. 

“Painting on water bottles is more of a keepsake,” Chen said. “You also get to display it, instead of having a piece of art that would probably just sit under my bed for months. When you have a water bottle, you can actually use it … I find it visually appealing, especially, [since] you get to customize it and make it your own art.”

Chen has painted a variety of different designs including a sunflower field and a group of Japanese cartoon characters, Sumikko Gurashi. On average, a complicated and detailed design takes Chen approximately five to six hours to complete, while a simpler one only takes two to three hours. Chen says that this pastime not only makes her feel productive while having fun but also relieves stress. 

“I think figuring out what you want to paint on [the water bottle] is the hardest thing because a canvas is $5 and a water bottle is $50,” Chen said. “So you can’t be going through them. Figuring out what I want to draw and picking something meaningful is the hardest.”

Senior Ila Menon

When Menon first received her brand new Air Force One’s, she thought they were a little too clean. As a result, she decided to dedicate her new shoes to the passing of her favorite artist: Juice Wrld. 

“I wanted to go all out because I was heartbroken when he passed away,” Menon said. “I needed to do something that represents him. Not only in my room, but everywhere I go, and I wear shoes all the time. It’s just my way of showing that I am a big fan of him and … I’m walking with him everywhere and knowing that he’s there makes me happy.”

Menon had one of the shoes customized by a company, Drip Creation, and the other by Park. Her shoes are covered with symbols like the number 999 and a butterfly alluding to Juice Wrld and some of his songs like World on Drugs. 

“I think it’s just his music that I can relate to, just coming from his past and stuff,” Menon said. “His music wasn’t for him — it was for other people to benefit from it and connect to the music. He has had a rough life, so it’s just like something you can connect with and he made it feel like you were there and you were present listening to him.”

Junior Shyam Sundaram

Sundaram also decided to paint a pair of his old Vans that were worn out during quarantine. As another way to pass time and make good use of his old shoes, Sundaram decided to bleach, paint, and design his shoes all within a week. For him, shoes are a great vehicle for self-expression. 

“I think [painting and customizing shoes] took off with the whole idea of self-expression and there’s this huge value on shoes,” Sundaram said. “Shoes are such a cultural icon now, especially in this area. Shoes are the number one way of self-expression, and being able to control that [self-expression] has taken off because now you have all these possibilities to make them [shoes] your own and because they’re such a huge part of clothing and self-expression, the customization of it has also gone up.”

Sundaram was inspired by the idea of the simple yet complex aesthetic of Japanese porcelain. He initially sketched out his design on a piece of paper and, since pencil marks aren’t erasable on the canvas shoes, jotted down key marks on the shoe for him to paint the design. This detail made Sundaram extremely careful when customizing, as his shoes were now the canvas, and “if [he] screwed up then it’s a bust.” Regardless, art has always remained a therapeutic activity for Sundaram. 

“Whenever I do art, pretty much the entire surrounding world goes away,” Sundaram said. “I get enveloped in it. There are not many things that when I start doing it, I get so self-invested in it. So whenever I start a project or a new artwork, it’s the only thing on my mind that almost clears out all the excess of the world and what’s going on and this helps me concentrate and just focus on one thing.”