Featuring a sleek white leather silhouette and iconic swoosh, the Nike Air Force 1 sneaker continues to revolutionize today’s shoe culture. But one teenager sees these legendary kicks as a fresh canvas for painting.
Vinnie Ducharme, 18, has been passionate about sneakers since elementary school, owning up to 30 pairs at one point. He soon grew bored seeing so many similar designs on the market.
“I went home and designed my own pair,” said the teen, who recently graduated from Peabody Veterans Memorial High School.
He then asked his mother for a paint set one Christmas and practiced applying paint to both old and new pairs of sneakers. Coated with blue paint inspired by his high school colors, Ducharme reminisced of the first shoes he customized: a beat-up pair of Nike Air Force 1s.
“They were tremendously bad,” he said. “But they’ll still be my favorite custom.”
Soon, he said his friends began asking for a pair of their own. “More and more people wanted them,” Ducharme said. “It took off from there.”
Today, the self-taught sneaker designer paints his original designs onto Nike, Adidas and Vans sneakers for his online business, Late Night Custom. Since he’s always up late at night thinking of new ideas, Ducharme said, the name seemed like a perfect fit for his brand.
“It kind of just happened overnight and became this passion,” Ducharme said of Late Night Custom, which has more than 4,500 Instagram followers.
The teen works from his home studio in Groveland, where he lives with his family. He begins the customization process by prepping the sneakers with acetone and using tape to section off certain areas. He then stencils different shapes onto the toe box, heel, tongue and upper part of the shoe before using an airbrush to apply different colors.
“It’s a lot of very light coats until you get the color vibrant enough,” he said of his technique, which frequently includes fading colors from dark to light. “My favorite part is when you peel that tape off and see the final product.”
In order to get that “factory-finish” look, Ducharme sprays a matte or glossy finishing spray to keep the paint from chipping.
Since launching Late Night Customs about seven months ago, Ducharme has sold around 70 pairs of men and women’s sneakers. Taking up to two weeks to customize, prices range from $150 to $200 per pair.
“Every single one of my shoes is a little bit different,” the designer added, saying most clients usually know what they’re looking for beforehand or pick a design from his website.
With help from his father, who works as a carpenter, Ducharme made a customized shoebox from scratch for Brian Babineau, photographer for the Boston Bruins, Celtics, Red Sox and the TD Garden.
Earlier this year, the Peabody native customized a pair of sneakers for an up-and-coming rapper in Boston. While on the set of his music video, Ducharme met a videographer who put him in touch with the team who works for Lil Mosey — a 17-year-old rapper, singer and songwriter with nearly 6 million monthly listeners on Spotify and more than 670,000 YouTube subscribers. The rapper posted a photo wearing the customized sneakers to his 2.5 million followers on Instagram.
Through a connection from a friend, Ducharme also customized a pair of basketball sneakers for Bonzie Colson of the Milwaukee Bucks. The teen said he brought them to the TD Garden and followed the basketball player onto the court after the game, which he described as a “nerve-racking but exciting” experience.
Peabody High School science teacher Mae Taylor first met Ducharme in one of her forensic science classes during his junior year.
“He’s one of the kindest students I’ve ever met,” said Taylor, who said he’s very personable. Throughout the year, she said they talked more about his interest in pursuing this dream.
“Behind all his designs is a story,” said Taylor, who received a customized pair of Vans from her student. “He puts a lot of thought and care into everything.”
For her customized sneakers, she said, Ducharme took inspiration from their forensic class lectures, particularly thinking about how there are two sides to every story. For her white sneakers, Ducharme applied layers of red splatter-style paint with black color dripping down the sides and caution tape stringing 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.
As for now, Ducharme is thinking of taking a gap year before beginning college courses. He says he’s currently working on balancing his new business with spending time with family and friends.
“It’s a process,” he said. “I just need to keep my head straight.”
For the future, the teen sees himself possibly opening his own store to display his designs and also provide classes for those interested to learn how to airbrush and customize their own sneakers. Because of the experiences he’s had so far, Ducharme added how he’s also interested in expanding his reach into a variety of genres, including sports, the music industry and more.
“I love seeing people getting inspired because of this,” he said of his customization work. “It’s one of the main reasons I do it.”
Staff writer Alyse Diamantides can be reached at 978-338-2660 or firstname.lastname@example.org.