GROVELAND, Mass. -- Featuring a sleek white leather silhouette and iconic swoosh, the Nike Air Force 1 remains a fixture of today's shoe culture.
To some, it's a canvas.
Vinnie Ducharme, 18, whose sneaker passion at one point swelled to a closet full of 30 pairs, said boredom with so many similar commercial designs led him to create his own.
The recent high school graduate and self-taught artist paints original designs onto Nike, Adidas and Vans for his online business, Late Night Custom, named because it reflects when he's often thinking of new ideas. He has than 4,500 Instagram followers.
“It kind of just happened overnight and became this passion,” he said.
He works from a studio in the home where he lives with his family.
Ducharme begins each customization process by prepping sneakers with acetone and using tape to section off certain areas. He then stencils different shapes onto the toe box, heel, tongue and upper before airbrushing on various colors.
“It’s a lot of very light coats until you get the color vibrant enough,” he said of a technique that often involves color fades. “My favorite part is when you peel that tape off and see the final product.”
In order to get that “factory-finish” look, he sprays a matte or glossy finishing spray to keep the paint from chipping.
Since launching Late Night Customs early this year, Ducharme has sold around 70 pairs of sneakers. Each takes up to two weeks to customize, and prices range from $150 to $200. “Every single one of my shoes is a little bit different,” he said.
Ducharme started his business with paints given to him as a Christmas gift. Some of the first sneakers he painted was a pair of Nike Air Force 1s, an attempt he now calls "tremendously bad" but still "my favorite custom."
Now, he's painting sneakers for artists and athletes.
Earlier this year, he customized a pair for an up-and-coming rapper. While on the set of his music video, Ducharme met a videographer who put him in touch with the team working for Lil Mosey, another rapper, singer and songwriter with nearly 6 million monthly listeners on Spotify and more than 670,000 YouTube subscribers. Lil Mosey later posted a photo wearing Ducharme's customized sneakers for his 2.5 million Instagram followers.
Ducharme has also customized a pair of basketball sneakers for Bonzie Colson, who then played for the Milwaukee Bucks. The teen said he brought the sneakers to TD Garden and followed Colson onto the court after the game.
He said it was the experience was exciting but “nerve racking."
Peabody High School teacher Mae Taylor, who first met Ducharme in her forensic science class, described him as one of the kindest students she's ever met.
“Behind all his designs is a story,” said Taylor, who has a pair of his customized Vans. “He puts a lot of thought and care into everything.”
For her customized sneakers, she said, Ducharme took inspiration from class lectures, particularly thinking about how there are two sides to every story. He applied layers of red splatter-style paint with black color dripping down the sides and caution tape along the stitching.
On the back of one heel is a chalk outline of a body while the other heel has a large splash of red paint.
Ducharme, who is considering taking a gap year before college, says he’s trying to balance a new business with spending time with family and friends. He said he sees himself opening a store or maybe offering classes for people interested in learning how to airbrush their sneakers.
“I love seeing people getting inspired because of this,” he said. “It’s one of the main reasons I do it.”
Alyse Diamantides writes for The Salem (Mass.) News