Feb 1, 2023 - Sports

A VCU student's custom sneaker art is being worn by pro athletes

Mitchell is a self-taugh artist. Image: Courtesy of Jaden Mitchell

People have been drawing on sneakers forever, but VCU junior and student-athlete Jaden Mitchell has made a business of his art — and his custom kicks are now worn by NBA and Olympic athletes.

Why it matters: Sneaker culture is a multibillion-dollar industry, and this business and accounting double major is just getting started.

Growing up in Hampton Roads, Mitchell couldn't always afford to buy the shoes he coveted — a single pair can cost hundreds of dollars.

  • "Well, I was young. I didn't have a job," he tells Axios.
He uses airbrush equipment and hand paints some images. Images: Courtesy of Jaden Mitchell

So at 15, he finally tried his hand at making his own, attempting to mimic techniques he saw on YouTube.

  • For his first pair, the self-taught artist painted a flame — yellow, red and orange gradient on one side — on an old pair of Vans.
  • "It turned out horrible," he says.

But Mitchell stuck with it, even after following his older brothers to VCU, where he joined the track team as a sprinter.

  • He balances academics, track and his emerging small business, JaysCustomKickz, born from posting pictures of his sneaker art to Instagram.
  • Most of his clients find him through his Instagram account.
Image: Courtesy of Jaden Mitchell

Along the way, Olympic sprinter Michael Cherry, whom Mitchell knew as both men came out of high school track programs in Hampton Roads, reached out for a pair. (He wanted Air Force 1 cleats.)

Former VCU Basketball star Bones Hyland, who now plays for the Denver Nuggets, also ordered two pairs while he was still in college.

And over the summer Mitchell signed as an artist with Jkicks915, a Texas-based custom cleat business that counts NFL and college football players as its clients.

  • A single pair of cleats there starts at $300.
In the six years he's been at it, he's painted more than 200 pair of shoes. Image: Courtesy of Jaden Mitchell

Mitchell gets the biggest thrill from seeing college athletes wear his shoes, he says, but seeing a pair on LeBron James or Jalen Hurts (he's an Eagles fan) would be a dream come true.


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