In high school, Long Beach native Bryan Phillips aspired to be a professional basketball player. But at 5-foot-1 in 10th grade, he realized he would have to prepare for a different career path.
He dove into the theater arts where he invested a lot of time developing comedic routines with friends and working on improvisation.
“After high school, it became a reality that it wasn’t really something I wanted to do forever,” said Phillips, who is now a artist and draftsman which specializes in custom sneakers. “It’s a tough industry, and I just didn’t have that motivation.”
While shopping for her brother’s Christmas present in 2016, Phillips couldn’t find anything eye-catching. So instead he decided to buy some sneakers and do something special himself.
He’d taken a few art classes in college, including graphic design, but other than that Phillips had only explored his artistic intuition through notebook scribbling when he couldn’t concentrate on it. school.
“I wanted to see what I could do if I really tried to learn good technique,” Phillips said. “I got really invested in it, saw immediate improvement in my work and then started doing it more as a hobby.”
Inspired by hip-hop duo Run the Jewelz’ second album, Run the Jewelz 2, Phillips created an intricate pair of red Nike Air Jordan 1s featuring Mom’s famous bleeding hands holding a creatively painted chain from collar to collar. upper of the sneaker, and all of a sudden he was getting order requests from people asking if he could make a pair for them.
Now the 5-foot-11, 31-year-old is the owner of Swell Guy Customs, a Long Beach-based company that has created more than 100 custom sneakers over the past five years for artists including Trippe Redd, Lil Tecca, and Baby Goth. Some customers even send Phillips $1,000 worth of designer sneakers and handbags so he can add his art.
“I definitely saw growth in me,” Phillips said. “I watch old videos of things I’ve done and I could see mistakes I’m making or things I didn’t know at the time. And now I know, and, and I’ve become a little more at comfortable in this sense.
Before he exploded into the sneaker community — his followers now number more than 11,000 on Instagram alone — Phillips had no idea there was a world of people out there looking to buy unique custom shoes from artists like him. the ever-expanding billion dollar sneaker industry created a way for two mediums to co-exist and spawn innovation, given that these rare, hand-painted shoes can’t be found on your local footlocker’s shelves, Phillips said.
“It’s a cool cross between art and fashion where it’s not just something you put on your wall and anyone who comes to your house can see it,” Phillips said. “You can take it everywhere with you, your art is gaining ground.”
It takes Phillips at least a week to make a pair of sneakers, which he charges customers between $300 and $500. His pieces consist of bold and intricate hand-painted colors and are usually created in his bedroom, which is overrun with comic book action figures and a poster of Michael Jordan.
After accomplishing what he set out to do when he started his sneaker business, Phillips wants to expand his craft by learning how to make shoes from scratch and paint murals.
“I want to have art that is clearly mine, and I want to build an audience of people who come for my work,” Phillips said. “Not just the fact that I paint sneakers.”
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