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Business of HYPE: The Shoe Surgeon

The Business of HYPE is a weekly series brought to you by HYPEBEAST Radio and hosted by jeffstaple. It’s a show about creatives, brand-builders and entrepreneurs and the realities behind the dreams they’ve built. On this week’s episode, Jeff sits down with Dominic Chambrone, better known as the Shoe Surgeon.

Chambrone has been a bootlegger his entire life. He started out counterfeiting Chuck E. Cheese tickets, which he and his friends would trade for expensive prizes like XBoxes; then he and his brothers counterfeited graduation tickets for $15 a pop — a racket that earned them a cool couple grand, that is until Chambrone’s younger brother got caught and could not walk the stage. From his early ventures onward, Chambrone is fuzzy about his primary sources of income: “I don’t even know if I could talk about that,” is a recurring motif throughout. He also spent a stint behind bars after selling supplements out his day-job at a gym. Nowadays, though, Chambrone maintains an above-board shop at Surgeon Studios. It is very much a street-level operation — you can even hear cars honking and rolling by in the background of this interview.

The Shoe Surgeon’s sneaker fixation started with a pair of ‘85 Jordan 1s. Chambrone wore a pair of the classic kicks to his first day of high school. After getting props from the cool kids and the seniors, the young Chambrone was hooked. “I started buying Jordans early. It was always about that exclusive feel. It wasn’t just having Jordans,” Chambrone clarifies: “It was having them early.” So he would backdoor a pair of Jordans, wear them into a local Foot Locker and watch the local sneaker-heads would flip. “It was a way of making myself feel good without saying anything.” But as the sneaker wave started to build and crest, the novelty wore off—everyone had the same shoes on. Chambrone made his way to a local crafts store, picked up an airbrush and turned a pair of all-white Air Force Ones camouflage. “I went to school the next day and the reaction was even crazier. As soon as I did that, [other kids] were like, ‘Hey, can you paint mine?’ right away.”

The situation presented the young Chambrone with a catch-22: “I wanted that exclusive shoe for myself, but I also liked pleasing others and giving them something that they could feel special about.” He did most of these custom paint-jobs pro bono.

Chambrone’s first stockist was the No Fear store at the mall that he worked at in Charlotte, North Carolina. He sold his first customs for “like, 120 bucks? So I was making like, what, twenty bucks per pair?” He then asked a buyer at Charlotte’s Niche Market to challenge him: Dominic let the buyer pick the silhouette—a pair of all-white Vans chukkas—that the Surgeon customized with laser-etched Tandy leather. In no time flat, Dominic was making custom sneakers for Justin Bieber, Law & Order, H. Lorenzo and other luxury retailers and celebrity clients earned The Shoe Surgeon his first serious pay-checks. “I was making like $15,000 in a month, thinking ‘This is amazing!’ and I spent it on dumb shit before the month was over. I felt like everything was unlimited.”

Long gone are the days of pro bono paint-jobs and $130 one-offs. Nowadays, a pair of custom python Jordan IVs (the same pair that catapulted Chambrone to viral stardom), would cost the customer upwards of $2,500—oh, and they have to supply the pair of shoes.

This episode contains references to the following:
2:32: The Shoe Surgeon  
4:35: 1985 “Chicago” Air Jordan’s  
8:20: Michael’s Art Supply Store  
13:35 Pier 39 Restaurant  
15:47: Sabotage and Methamphibian  
16:24: Sneaker Freaker  
18:20: Bape  
18:55: The Buckle  
18:58: Downtown Locker Room  
21:23: No Fear  
25:10: Niche Mkt, Charlotte  
25:21: Stussy  
25:34: Von Dutch  
26:04: Vans Chukka  
27:07: Maze Nike Laser  
31:20: Bobbito Garcia  
37:17: Jermaine Dupri and Dirt Nasty  
40:30: Black Scale  
40:49: H Lorenzo  
41:01: Will.I.Am  
41:22: Javier Laval / Android Homme  
41:51: Justin Bieber  
42:11: Law & Order  
44:30 Python Jordan 4  
44:38: Joy Claire from Supra  
51:10: eBay x Shoe Surgeon   
51:12: adidas x Shoe Surgeon  
51:14: Jordan Brand x Shoe Surgeon  
59:50: Guy Fieri  
1:02:02: Yeezy  
1:03:03: adidas Brooklyn Creator Farm  
1:06:17: Marc Dolce  
1:09:27: John Geiger “Misplaced Checks”