A few years ago, Dan “Mache” Gamache tried to get a job with Dime Magazine. Now he’s being featured in the magazine. Not bad for the creator of Mache Custom Kicks, widely regarded as one of the best custom sneaker designers in the industry. Mache has painted shoes for everyone from Rasheed Wallace to GZA to Kobe Bryant to Game, and he’s reached a point where LeBron James is fawning over his talent on Twitter.
The demand for Mache’s skill is so strong â€“ he has over 50,000 followers on Instagram â€“ that even Wilson Chandler, a forward for the Denver Nuggets, had to wait three months to get his kicks painted.
Mache compares his costumers to those of a great tattoo artist: once they see what you can do, they won’t go anywhere else. The wait time is worth it in the end.
“They understand it,” he says. “They respect it.”
Sometimes he might do 15 pairs in a week. It could also be only two or three. It all depends on the scheduling and his artistic vision. Mache won’t go through the motions if he isn’t inspired. A middling product is a red mark against his name, and the 33-year-old wants to keep the Mache Custom Kicks brand impeccable.
“Bad news always spreads faster than good news,” he says.
Mache is so busy that he even hired his girlfriend full-time. She takes care of the bills and emails so that Mache is free to paint shoes and hit up shows to smile and wave.
Yet it wasn’t always like this for the St. Rose (Albany, N.Y.) graduate. He started in the business just as you might’ve guessed: in his mom’s basement, screwing around with some beat-up Air Max 90s. Soon, he was rocking his custom kicks into neighborhood barbershops. Soon, word spread. By 2004, with publications like Sole Collector connecting more people through sneakers, Mache found others like himself through the Internet. The underground custom community was “tight knit” and he says he learned from what they were doing.
Mache, who earned a baseball scholarship out of high school, saw his competitive streak kick in. He wanted to outdo everybody, which he did, winning a Sole Collector contest with some customized Air Force 1s for Rasheed Wallace. ‘Sheed, predictably, loved them.
Mache made fans with his detailed sneaker portraits. At the time, his work was art-based. He had a grandmother who was an art teacher, and he grew up drawing cartoons and sneakers. But after a while, with the introduction of NIKEiD, the demand for customs dropped. Mache went on a two-and-a-half year hiatus, and, as he puts it, “took a big boy job and wore a suit to work.”
When he finally reappeared in December of 2011 and dropped his customized Nerf LeBron 9s (the 12th of 12 pairs sold for over $4,000 on eBay), it felt like he’d never left. Now, it’s almost like a holiday for sneaker lovers when Mache drops a new design on Instagram. And while it was his competitiveness that helped get him painting shoes again, it’s Mache’s love of the work that keeps him going.
“I always say this but my favorite one is the one I’m currently working on because at the end of the day, I’m always doing something that I like,” he says. “When I first started and did the Nerfs, I thought that was the dopest thing ever. But now when someone asks me to do a Nerf, I want to shoot myself.”
Mache doesn’t love this generation’s “sheep” mentality, and feels most fans are too consumed with hype and re-selling. Yet he still enjoys advising young artists, often telling them to start customizing with beaters instead of LeBrons. He also helps fans embrace their creativity.
“NIKEiD, you’re limited by color options and where you can place it,” he says. “With me, you can do whatever the Hell you want.”
For now, the kid who copped his first pair of Jordans in 1990, and always worked at sneakers spots to get a discount, admits he doubts whether he could work for a boss again. But knowing the inconsistency of the custom sneaker game, he’s looking into every opportunity. Perhaps a large sneaker company will get sick of competing and instead offer him a job.
“At the end of the day, I just wanna enjoy what I do,” Mache says. “If I’m doing eight million of the same thing all day, then it’s a job. If I was doing that, then I would go back to wearing a suit.”