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Shoe Doping with Artful Kicks: raise your cycling shoe game to the next level

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It often said that clothes maketh the man (or woman). The same should be said of shoes but, when it comes to cycling, they’re all too often overlooked. We see ever more wild jersey designs, sock designs (#sockdoping, anyone?) and of course, crazy caps – but the rate of creative development seems rather slow when it comes to the aesthetic evolution of cycling shoes.

There has been scant opportunity to establish your sense of self and to stand out from the pack with your choice of cycling shoes, until now. But fear not: Artful Kicks has entered the building.

This fledgling bespoke footwear business is the brainchild of Simon Fellows from Dorset, who has quickly become the go-to name for fancy footwear with his outstanding designs. We have been talking to Simon about how Artful Kicks has developed, about his stellar client list, and what the future holds for this growing company.

Tell us a bit about your background, Simon. Where are you from, and what inspired you to start Artful Kicks?

I’m Simon Fellows, 25, owner of Artful Kicks. I was born in Leeds and my family moved south to Dorset in 1999. I’ve always had an interest in art, but the subject was not a major feature of my education. However, sport most definitely was and I graduated from the University of Chichester in 2013 with a degree in Sports and Exercise Science before relocating to Bedfordshire.

Towards the end of 2014 my partner and I travelled around New Zealand for 4 months with a number of University friends. Before we went travelling I was stuck in a dead-end retail job with no career progression but I had always said to myself that I would relish the opportunity to start my own business. I just didn’t know what path I would take. After returning home from New Zealand I decided to embark on a career in the sports industry and it was during this period that my hobby turned into a full-time profession.

In between career searches I started to paint canvases of various footwear as a hobby (I have an ever-growing collection of sneakers!). I was lucky enough to sell a variety of these canvases to customers over Instagram; this was where Artful Kicks was created and I was soon able to produce my very first pair of custom hand-painted sneakers – a pair of Adidas Superstars. That was the birth of Artful Kicks.

How has the first 18 months been for you and Artful Kicks, and how did the move into bespoke cycling shoe designs come about?

The last 18 months have seen me produce over 400 hand-painted pairs of shoes for casual and performance wear and what began as a hobby developed into a full-time profession. I’ve created casual pairs of sneakers for professional footballers such as Leroy Sané, Maarten Stekelenburg and David Meyler, and public figures including Alex Cannon. More recently, I’ve ventured into the world of cycling and performance wear.

I was approached by professional cyclist Ian Bibby (now of team JLT Condor) requesting a pair of hand-painted cycling shoes. I had never thought that this could be an option, but with my interest in sport and being a keen recreational cyclist I accepted and started to experiment on what materials I could work on with the equipment I use. The shoes were subsequently worn by Ian in various races across the UK circuit.

The product basically promoted itself and before I knew it I was inundated with emails requesting custom cycling shoes from amateur to elite riders. I came to the realisation that there was most definitely a market for this and that I wanted to take Artful Kicks in this direction. Both recreational cyclists and those riding on the pro-circuit contact me on a daily basis to create something unique and bespoke, allowing them to stand out in the pro-peloton or alongside their riding partners.

Your customer roster is becoming a bit of a who’s who… which commission left you the most starstruck?

I’ve been lucky to have been approached by a large number of pro cyclists over the past year commissioning unique pairs:

  • Ian Bibby (JLT Condor)
  • Kristian House (ONEPRO Cycling)
  • Gianni Meersman (Quick-Step Floors)
  • Guillaume Van Keirsbulck (Wanty-Groupe Gobert)
  • Rick Zabel (Katusha-Alpecin)
  • Lucs Liss (German International)
  • Gudi Stock (German Olympian)
  • Mark Stewart (Team GB and An Post-Chain Reaction)

The next couple of months looks as if they’ll be extremely exciting with a number of Tour de France riders contacting me – there’s no better race in the world to have your work promoted! I have pairs in the pipeline for Dylan Van Baarle (Cannondale-Drapac), Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Arnaud Démare (FDJ) – I’m sure there’ll be a few more wanting to stand out in the peloton to before the TDF starts!

How long does the commission process usually take? How do you decide on the perfect design with a client?

On average I can create around 2-3 pairs of cycling shoes in a week, this of course varies depending on the complexity of each design. I have been very fortunate in the fact that a lot of my customers have seen my previous work and just ask me to freestyle a design based on a vague concept or idea that they supply, although you do get customers who have a very set design in their mind bringing all their personal artwork together on one pair of shoes.

All the work displayed on my social media channels and website has been created via a collaborative process and the exchange of ideas between me and the customer – I don’t produce ‘mock-up’ designs so I make sure that both the customer and I are on the same wavelength with the design and I keep them updated throughout the production of their custom shoes. I have a lot of experience working on a large array of different brands and materials so I definitely have a good idea as to what would work best for the customer.

Have you had much interest from the female cycling community?

I would say that 90% of my customers so far have been from the male cycling community, but I have noticed that the vast majority of influencers with a large following on social media are from the female cycling community – maybe we are starting to see a swing of the pendulum in regards to the split between gender communities. I am in contact with Kate Hammond (@purelypalmer) who has over 125k followers on Instagram about producing a pair of customised Specialized S-Works. Her following has grown tremendously over the last few months and it’s influencers like Kate that are getting more and more people into funky, out-there kits and equipment.

The cycling scene seems to be very receptive to new ideas – do you think that’s the case?

I most definitely believe this is the case, especially when it comes to the way cyclists like to express their style. In my opinion there is an obvious divide between plain and extravagant cycling wear, there is very little in between but we are seeing a rise in kit companies producing flashy, patterned and brightly coloured attire.

Another reason for wanting to take Artful Kicks in the cycling direction is that there are a huge number of plain white cycling shoes worn around both the amateur and elite circuits – it’s only very recently that I’ve seen a few designers willing to push aesthetic boundaries. I’m aiming to push this boundary even further and to give a riders’ shoes a personal touch – that little something to help them stand out while racing.

Which brands’ products do you most enjoy working with?

I have worked on various brands such as SIDI, GIRO, Fizik, Specialized, Rapha, Lake, Bontrager and Shimano, but I must say that the GIRO Empire SLX, Rapha GT, Specialized S-Works 6/Sub6 and Fizik R1B are amongst the best pairs to work on. They offer a large single-skinned area and the synthetic and natural leather is a perfect canvas for me to produce a wide range of designs. If a customer asks then I will always suggest a white pair of shoes – this makes the colours really pop and the whole effect is so clean and sharp.

What have been the highlights?

The biggest plus for me over the past year has been the fact that I wake up and get to produce a different design each day. Every product is a marriage of the customer’s ideas with the knowledge I have gained as to what works and look best on the shoes. I go to bed thinking about the following day and how I will produce something that the customer will be over the moon with.

My Instagram account @artfulkicks has gained over 20,000 followers and a large number of these are keen cyclists. There are a great number of key influencers from across the world of cycling, including four-time Olympic Gold Medallist Laura Kenny who recently clicked the follow button alongside a variety of GB hopefuls and athletes on the pro circuit.

Social media is, of course, a fantastic way to give Artful Kicks exposure – however, recently I was lucky enough to be approached by GQ magazine to feature in the May, June and July issues. If you receive ‘Cyclist’ magazine you will also see an advertorial of mine, during June, July and August.

Might we see some collaboration projects on the horizon?

Apart from the collaboration between multiple Tour De France riders and social media influencers I will be hoping to send in pairs of hand-painted cycling shoes to a variety of Cycle-focused magazines, to hopefully generate some reviews and editorial for features in their issues. I still have a dream to be able to create a range of cycling shoe designs for a major company in the cycling world; not necessarily hand-painted, but to be able to be part of the development process in producing a limited-edition range using my ideas and input.

Who knows where Artful Kicks will venture to next….

Simon and Artful Kicks can be contacted for commissions or other expressions of interest via email: artful.kicks@outlook.com or using the social media accounts below:

INSTAGRAM: @artfulkicks

FACEBOOK: @artfulkicks

TWITTER: @artful_kicks

WEBSITE: www.artfulkicks.com