In the world of sneakerheads, a fly pair of shoes can run big money. Preserving them, cleaning them, restoring them, or customizing them takes an artistic skill unto itself. It's so rare, in fact, there are only a handful of people in the entire country who can rock sneakers right.
Metro Detroit happens to be home to one of the best in the business: Joe Kirchner, who personalizes sneakers for average joes and celebrities alike, including Rick Ross and Royce da 5'9".
When we met with Kirchner a few weeks ago, he showed us a pair of Jordans he was working on, by hand: Fine lines and detailing, all hand painted. It can take him 30 hours or more to do one pair. Luckily, he took some of that time to share with MT a little bit about his unique talent and art, and how he got to where he is today.
Metro Times: Tell us about what you do.
Kirchner: A lot of my work is restorations. Bringing back sneakers from the grave. That's why I call my business Resurrected Solez, a little play on words, you know?
The way that it all came together was that I've worked with leather and suede all my life, really, because my aunt and uncle own the Leather Depot in Chesterfield. And so I've worked there since I was a teenager. I'm 32 now so I've been doing that half my life: repairing, refurbishing leather and everything. I've always been a sneakerhead. All that combined with being artistically inclined [see his sketch of Eminem], it kind of came together, you know what I mean? It kind of hit me on the head one day, I said, Hey, put these three things together: my artistic ability, my 9-to-5 leather job, and my hobby of collecting shoes and this is what happened. It worked out really good. It's blown up so quick. I've gotten a lot of attention right off the bat because it's clean work; it's all done free-handed. People appreciate that. I think they realize when they see the quality. It kinda just took off on its own. Word of mouth, doing a few good jobs for a few good people that know people and it just spread like crazy. Next thing you know I'm getting calls from the people that get Rick Ross all of his shoes.
I made them. He wanted all red, and because it's Rick Ross and I went the extra mile and I actually, I made him a sneaker bag, too, out of lambskin. It's red lambskin and red crushed velvet on the inside. And I did the logo in snakeskin [see photo]. And then I went as far to customize his insoles and did the money theme. They weren't even expecting the bag, they just wanted the shoes. But I ended up getting a nice tip for going the extra mile.
MT: Good things happen when you go that extra mile.
Kirchner: I was doing that all out of my own pocket not even really expecting anything extra, but it worked out. I'm not even sure if you're familiar with the way they look originally but this whole upper here was black. I changed it to red with a Chicago Bulls theme. I did this all, the pin-striping, that's done by hand.
MT: Jordans don't come like that.
Kirchner: Right. That's exactly right. I've been on sneakerfiles.com. I've been on, what else? Dailysole.com. These here are called Carmines, the Carmine Sixes. I made them into what they call a dirty Carmine. Basically, the suede was red. The black was white. It's pretty simple but just a change like that makes a big difference. It's a one of one sneaker. A lot of the customs that I do are one of ones so that way they're very unique.
MT: What material do you use to change the color, to do the pin-striping, to do the outlining of the Jordan?
Kirchner: It's all done by hand. I don't really use an airbrush too often. I do just a brush.
MT: Just a hand-painted brush. What kind of paint do you use?
Kirchner: What it is, it's a leather paint, for lack of a better word. And it's flexible. It's waterproof. There's a whole lot of preparation that goes into it before you – you can't just paint on the shoe. You have to take the proper steps to make sure it's gonna stick. So I use leather paint and I use dye sometimes. Things like that. I'm trying to get the Lions to notice these [see photo]... [They're] on display at Nojo's. Those are badass. I guess somebody offered him $2,000 for those shoes and the owner said no. This is all hand-painted, freehand, so I'm there with a little brush, the size of a nail polish brush, and I'm painting on these pinstripes and doing all these details like the speckling on the back tab. All this line work that you see, it's all done freehanded, no tape.
MT: Beautiful. What's the best advice you can give to someone who owns a pair of Jordans to preserve them so that they don't just totally die?
Kirchner: Number one: I would never wear them in the winter time, really. Salt and cold and water will get to them. There's actually a way to preserve your midsoles. What happens over time is the midsoles on some of the shoes, they soften up. And when they soften up the paint that's on there can't really take the expanding and compressing of each step that you take. So what I tell people to do is use the Dr. Scholl's inserts, the gel inserts. And that helps prevent the cracking from happening in the first place because those gel insoles will help take some of the pressure off of the midsole.
MT: What do you think is important for people to understand about your work?
Kirchner: That it's unique and that it, like I said, usually my customs are one of a kind. That it's gonna be good quality. My lines are always straight. It's gonna be different. It's gonna be something new, something fresh.
MT: You're totally self-taught, aside from your family's influence?
Kirchner: Yeah. I've been drawing and painting. I've always been artistically inclined ever since I was a kid. I've always been artsy. Here's where it all started, actually, was my art page: Suspenseful with the Pencil Art. Now this is what I was doing before this shoe thing. So it's where it all started was with the art.
MT: And now you've got orders from now through next year. Through May/June 2015?
Kirchner: Yeah. I actually quit my full-time job at the leather place to pursue this because I had more work waiting at home and it was more profitable for me to go home and do my own thing than it was to be paid an hourly wage to work there. When I got however-many thousands of dollars' worth of work waiting at home and I'm only making x amount of dollars working at the shop so I just said, it makes a lot more sense to go pursue my own thing. Something that I love and do passionately. I think that's another thing that people appreciate about my work is that I won't, it's almost to a fault I'm so particular about things. It's gotta be perfect before I will let it go back to the customer. The idea is to get a pair of beat-up shoes and get them as close to looking brand-new as possible. Some of these shoes are worth three and four and five hundred dollars. And there's a market for that. And I kind of learned that from my aunt and uncle's repair shop. There are certain things that are not disposable, where you're better off to pay top [dollar to] get it fixed than you are to go and get a new pair. Or sometimes you can't find a new one of what you're looking for so you have to get what you have refurbished. That's the market that I'm trying to tap into.
MT: How much would it cost to refurbish a pair of Jordans or to get a pair specially designed?
Kirchner: There's a big difference in price there. The restorations can range between $40 to $120 dollars; it depends on how beat-up they are and how much the customer wants done. Do they want me to go through the inside and get all the fuzzies and the hair and stuff out? Well, then you're gonna be on the higher end. I go by how much time I think I'm gonna put into it and gauge the price off of that. As far as the customs go, same thing. How much detail does this person want? Are they gonna have writing on the shoe? Are they gonna have logos or graphics on the shoe that I need to hand paint? Obviously that's gonna bring the price up. But if somebody just wants a solid color, say from white to red or from white to black or something like that, that's gonna be like toward the lower end of $100. But when you start talking about like the Detroit Lions Air Jordan Sixes that I did, you're talking more toward three, four, five hundred dollars, depending on how much time.
MT: Or more. It sounds like someone was offering Nojo's two grand for that Lions pair.
Kirchner: Yeah. He does not want to get rid of those. I've been tagging Detroit Lions players and stuff like that. I want them to notice those shoes because I've noticed in the past couple months I've been dealing with a higher caliber of customer.