Ever wanted a particular pair of shoes you just can’t buy off the shelves? The kind of shoes that are handpainted in your favorite colors, inscribed with your initials and decorated with your signature symbols? Now, you don’t have to look far.
Enter Brad Duncan, a purveyor of these types of professional-grade custom shoes. The owner and designer behind Duncan’s Custom Kicks, he uses bare white sneakers as the canvas for his shoe paintings and transforms them into one-of-a-kind, wearable pieces of art.
“I found something that I’m really passionate about,” Duncan says. “This is something that excites me. It’s therapeutic. The end result of putting a product that you made on someone’s feet—you can’t put a price tag on that.”
After getting lost in a rabbit hole of custom sneaker designers and painters on Instagram, the Baton Rouge native was inspired to pick up a paintbrush to decorate his very first pair of custom sneakers.
They weren’t just any sneakers, either. He and his wife were struggling with fertility and suffered from multiple miscarriages. Once they discovered she was pregnant in 2022, he celebrated the milestone with a pair of baby-sized sneakers. The rainbow-colored shoes represented their “rainbow baby,” a term used for a child born after a family has lost one or more children to miscarriage, stillbirth, death during infancy or other afflictions.
The meaningful rainbow Air Force 1s unlocked his passion for art and footwear. Professionally, Duncan is the vice president of sales at Brock Services, an oil and gas maintenance company. His new hobby allowed him to express his creativity and dive deeper into his love for sneakers in a way he could have never imagined.
“I grew up watching Michael Jordan in the Concord 11, white with black patent leather shoes,” Duncan recalls. “I begged my mom to get them. Back then, you couldn’t order shoes online. You had to stand in line outside of the store. I was like, ‘Mom, I have to skip school. The Michael Jordan 11 is coming out, and I have to play basketball in them.’ That was my earliest memory of loving shoes.”
Since the beginning of his journey, Duncan has received an outpouring of support. After the rainbow shoes, he started creating custom designs for friends and family. Eventually, with the help of some well-connected neighbors and family friends, word spread about his creations to people working in LSU Athletics.Within just a year of starting his business, Duncan started making custom Nike and Jordan shoes for people like LSU Gymnastics Coach Jay Clark; LSU Women’s Basketball player Angel Reese; LSU Football Coach Brian Kelly; former LSU Football player Jack Bech; LSU Football wide receivers coach and passing game coordinator Cortez Hankton; LSU Football director of player development for Jordan Arcement; LSU Football special teams coordinator and outside linebackers coach John Jancek; and personal injury attorney Gordon McKernan.
“The thing I like is going to a gymnastics event and seeing the coach in something that I made. (It’s like seeing) your artwork,” Duncan says. “Then at one event, (Clark) was talking to the president of LSU and he was showing his shoes. He doesn’t know that I saw that, but to me, that’s so cool that somebody thought that something I created was cool enough to tell somebody else and show it off. That’s where I get my excitement.”
It takes roughly 15 to 30 hours for Duncan to complete a pair of ready-to-wear custom shoes.
The process typically starts with an all-white pair of Jordan 1s or Air Force 1s as the foundation. Once the shoes arrive at Duncan’s home studio, he begins by removing the “factory finish,” or the clear coating shoes are covered with to protect the shoes and their color, with acetone. Then he sands the surface of the shoes down to help them receive paint. He puts on an adhesion promoter to support wear and tear, then starts building up coats of colored paint to create a rich, factory-quality shoe design.
For McKernan’s custom black and gold “Got it Done – Air Gordan 1s,” Duncan used a wood burning kit to etch textured lines into the Jordan 1 Low sneakers. He first drew the lines with a pencil, then traced them with a wood burner to give a crocodile feel. He added the Gordan McKernan logo on the side in gold and included it on a matching shoe tag, made by local business Geaux Magical, for added flair.
Of course, he had to create something special for local women’s basketball legend Reese. As a collaboration with her NIL partner McKernan, Duncan made the basketball star custom Air Jordans fit for a champion.
These shoes are all about the details. The Nike check is covered in sparkling pink glitter and the sides are marked with a sparkling pink “BB” for Reese’s nickname, Bayou Barbie. The Jordan logos on the front and back of the shoes are painted pink, and the round edges are outfitted with pink and black elephant print, a fresh take on the classic Air Jordan pattern.
The shoe tags even have special meaning. On them, a pink capital “C” is crossed out, a symbol meaning “you can’t see me,” a competitive hand gesture (started by WWE wrestler John Cena) she made at the final game against Iowa before LSU took home the NCAA National Championship. On the other side of the shoe tag is McKernan’s logo in pink.
“I’m just trying to be unique and give these kids a chance to build their brand as they’re coming up in the infancy stages of their careers in the marketplace,” Duncan says.
The self-taught artist still considers himself just getting started with his sneaker side business. He wants to expand to customizing more golf shoes and dreams of one day seeing a player wearing his creations at the Masters Tournament.
Find him on Instagram @duncanscustomkicks.
This article was originally published in the 2023 Tiger Pride issue of 225 magazine.