On NBA opening night last fall, Philadelphia’s Tony Wroten wore a pair of custom Air Jordan 12s that blew people’s minds. Fans loved them. Sneaker sites were all over them.
The man who designed them was Dan Gamache. You know him as Mache, the famed sneaker artist who has turned the custom game on its head, churning out personalized projects for names such as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Game.
In his latest project, Mache partnered with BACARDI Flavored Rums (BFR) to create sneakers for a giveaway sweepstakes. Taking inspiration from the company’s Mango Fusion bottle, Mache created a new canvas for the Air Jordan 1 featuring orange, yellow, and green colors with the BACARDI bat logo sewn on.
After he recently finished the new look, I got up with Mache to talk about the creative process behind his custom BFR Jordans, as well as his recent projects.
Talk about the process of putting together this shoe.
They came to me and gave the idea of the new flavor. They wanted to do shoes… to [have me] do me to represent the flavor and do all that. We decided on the Jordan 1 because for one, it was an easily accessible shoe because they were still sitting on Nike.com at the time. So they grabbed those up and I kind of figured it would be something if I was going to do other flavors with it, it could be a shoe or silhouette that I could transfer that design over multiple flavors and still kind of have their own identity but still be kind of conducive, kind of like the Power Rangers, kind of like that. (Laughs)
So they sent the shoes out and I started doing the shoes. I didn’t want to just do that whole BACARDI logo on the side like some 1997 Air Force 1 with the logo on the toe, something corny like that. I tried to just get the colors and some of the patterns and prints from the bottle and the handle. I took that and just ran with that and made a pretty cool design and it seemed like people liked it. When I’m doing it, I’m like “Oh, is this gonna suck? This isn’t going the way I wanted it to.” It’s like watching Bob Ross paint. I used to watch him like “Oh my god, what is this guy doing?” Then at the end, “Oh wow! That’s a house and a waterfall.” You didn’t see it coming. So I was happy with it.
The other ones that I’m doing, I’m doing the same ones like BACARDI Limon and the Coconut and these different ones so I’m kind of doing that same deal now. I should have the other ones done within the next two weeks to give to them, so everybody’s happy.
Are all of these one-of-one?
For these, I did just the one. When I do the ones for the contest winners, it’ll be a stripped-down version of it, so I won’t be doing all the panels like that, the toe box and the ankle and the heel. That’ll probably be a more challenging thing than anything to scale it down for the time-wise, but it’ll be fun. It’s cool to get other people involved because a lot of times people can’t afford my stuff, so it’s cool to get something like that, some kind of giveaway. It’s cool.
So you’re doing all the BACARDI shoes with the Jordan 1?
All five flavors, like the Power Rangers. The same suit, different colors. They all have different powers. The Strawberry one has the red liner. The Limon has the yellow. The handle is silver so that’s silver with the effects on it. There’s a Coconut that’s mostly whites and grays but it has a brown faded liner. They’re all trying to go off the graphics but not like verbatim because they could just sell that if they wanted to. That’s no fun. They don’t need me for that.
When you’re doing multiple shoes of the same design, how do you get them to be perfectly similar?
Well it’s not like anything will ever be exactly the same. It’s like you have the identical twins with the birthmark. They are always a little bit different. The liner, I’ll lay all those out the same way. I’ll do all those the same. I’ll line them up like a conveyor belt and bang it, bang it, bang it and then keep it moving. It’s really just having a little bit of faith in my ability to replicate it as close as possible. The thing is it’s never going to be perfect. If they wanted it perfect, they could just have Nike print around the shoe… although they might mess that up.
Talk me through the inspiration process. Do you sit down and mock it up?
No, I don’t. It’s funny because when I get people to ask for consultations now, they ask for them. It’s hard for them to see what’s in my head and it’s hard to be like, “I don’t get it. I gotta see it.” When I do a mock up like this, I just looked at it and started going. That’s seems to be the most organic way for me to go because when I started mocking it up, you second guess yourself. You’re like “Oh, I don’t know if that’s going to work.” I kind of just jump in. It’s been like that from the get-go. I remember I did those shoes for LeBron it was the same deal. I knew what theme I was doing but my boy was like “What are you doing?” I’m like, “I don’t know. I’m kind of just flying by the seat of my pants.” He’s like, “The biggest project of your life and you’re just winging it?” I’m like, “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.”
But what [BACARDI] did do for the video, it was funny, the shoes were all done and they said, “Hey, can you do just like a quick sketch of them?” It was like 9:30 at night. I’m shot. They’re propping up something really funny so I can just bang out a two-minute sketch for show. Then you got people thinking that I sketch all my stuff out now.
What was it like making the video? They had you looking like Walter White in there.
Oh dude, it was crazy. I’m used to guys having the little hand-held camera walking around. This dude had the crazy harness. I felt like I was shooting a Michael Bay film. I walk in and see catering. I’m not used to this stuff. This is crazy. They had a stylist. I had a girl whose job it was to powder my bald spot on my head, the shine. That was her job. I said, “So is this normal for you?” She’s like, “Nah, this is the first time I’ve ever done this.” Well, you never forget your first. It was funny. It was cool. They were really receptive and very accommodating.
I go home and my fiancée at the time says take out the trash [to me]. It brings you back to earth. I feel really cool for a little while and then go home and it’s like, “Alright Mache.” She always makes fun of me like that. “Okay Mache.” I’m like “Shut up, I hate you.” (Laughs)
Off of that, what’s a typical day with your job?
I just moved offices because I was working out of the house. We had to move that out of there because we weren’t getting any separation of our life and the business. I got an office space now. We go in there and all the orders are there and we have a big layout of things. The process really is just jumping in, having shoes prepped and all I gotta do for that day. If I have a deadline, like say with the BACARDI shoes, I might be working on that. I’m balancing. I might not be working on just one shoe. If you see me not posting on Instagram for a while, it’s either because I’m doing something that I can’t post yet or I’m doing stuff I’ve already done before. There’s no sense rehashing stuff because people ask for the same stuff over and over, and I try to detract from that. People only know what they see, then you start bringing out new stuff, they’re like “Whoa, whoa. What is this?” It’s like anytime a new Jordan or a new LeBron comes out, they’re like “Oh, this is trash.” Then eventually: “Oh, I kind of like it.”
How often do you get pro athletes or celebrities hitting you up for sneakers?
All the time. It’s normal. The thing that’s good with these athletes is they’re all competitive. They’re all showing they want to one up each other. Between NBA dudes, NFL dudes, rappers, they all talk. They all know each other. It’s good to have that rapport with those guys so they come to me.
But that’s how it is now, so that’s good that the genuine face-to-face, how I’m getting a feel for them, that’s what’s grown my business so much. I actually, genuinely build relationships. I’m not just trying to be famous. I don’t really post pictures of my face. I’m not trying to take pictures with celebrities. I want to have a business for the family for when I get old and have Carpal tunnel syndrome and we can benefit off of it.
How do you respond to all the inquiries?
My thing is I don’t answer anybody on Instagram because if I answer one person then leave someone else out then they catch feelings. I keep it [quiet] and they can interpret it however way they want. I tell them this is how we do it. And they get it. You get people in the business world who understand how valuable time is. That’s the most valuable thing in the world. I can be artistic but if I don’t have the time to do it, it’s nothing. If I’m burnt out, what do you do.
Some people will hit me up for dirty Breds, those 11s with the black midsoles. I’m not gonna do them because there are so many new guys still trying to get their name out. Let them do it. If you want to come to me, get something that only I can do. It’s not to be an ego but it’s a matter of making it worthwhile. I want them to be like “Oh, this is an awesome experience. I got to make a personal thing. I got to talk to him and he really got what I was thinking. He put his time in.”
Do you paint each shoe in one sitting?
It varies. Sometimes since I do work on a couple pairs at once, some days I’ll just bang out one in a day. It all depends. If I’m doing a sport-themed custom, it’s usually just the colorway and the logo. The prep takes the longest more than anything but if I’m doing an Ironman or some kind of superhero that will be a good 10- or 12-hour process. That might get broken up between a day or two but for the most part, a day is usually what I take for one shoe, generally. I’m freakishly efficient and I don’t know why because I talk to other customizers, guys that came up with me and they’re like “I don’t know how you work so damn fast” and I don’t know.
It was actually funny. I have a guy who helps with emails now. These people come up with these crazy ideas for shoes. I’m like dude, I paint shoes. Remember those Pro Bowl Trainers, the Back to the Future ones with the crazy colors? They wanted me to do a shoe that was like that but had palm trees that moved when you walked. What do you want me to make holograms on them? I paint shoes. He’s like “I want color shifting.” I have color shifting paint. I can do that. He’s like “Nah, I want it when I move, the trees move.” Oh my god, no. That’s not how it is.
Who are some of the big names that you’ve done shoes for recently?
Nate Robinson. And Wale, I’ve always been working with him.
So you pick out the right projects and the right people because now that’s it’s become a name and people know who I am, a lot of stuff gets thrown at me. When I first started, I was excited to collab with everything. Yeah, this is cool. You gotta pick and choose them. You learn. You burn your hand a couple of times, you learn not to put your hand on the stove.