Entrepreneurs often get started by meeting a need or solving a problem that he or she has experienced. Chicago-born Ryan Roman had a problem. It wasn’t the blindness in his right eye that he has dealt with since birth–he considers partial blindness a way of life and even played junior college basketball at Manor College before transferring to Howard. The 22-year-old’s problem was sneakers, which he’s loved since the seventh grade when a black and red pair of Jordan XI Breds caught his eye. With thousands of sneakerheads buying retro kicks every other Saturday, Roman found it hard to stand out. “I got tired of spending my money on Jordans and having the same shoe as thousands of other people,” Roman explained.
“I wanted to have something no one else had.”
In 2012, after copping a pair of Jordan IV’s, the senior film production major wanted to get them customized in order to separate from the pack. He contacted a few respected customizers to make this happen, but Roman wasn’t feeling his options. To Roman, the sneaker remixers asked for too much money and the turnaround of six to eight months was just too long. It was at this point that Roman decided he would customize the sneakers himself.
Now, living with his older brother and fellow Howard Bison, entrepreneur Roger Roman, he decided to take the steps to freak the sneaks. The first step was to study up on how to properly revamp footwear. Roman scoured through tutorials and picked the brains of working customizers to learn all that he could. Next, he asked his older brother for a loan to buy a compressor, airbrushes, paint, acetone and the other needed materials. Roger didn’t have complete faith in his little brother, but made the investment, his first. He said, “I gave him the money for supplies, but I honestly thought he was gonna buy more sneakers.”
In Roger’s apartment in DC, Roman dedicated his summer to learning the skill of sneaker customization, practicing 24/7 for a month until he got it right. “There was paint everywhere and he had ruined about ten pairs of exclusive sneakers,” laughed Roger when recalling the state of his apartment when he returned.
Roman started posting photos of his work on Instagram. Encouraged by Roger and others, he turned his new hobby into a business, called 101 Custom Kicks (“101” meaning “one of one,” referring to the exclusivity of his designs.) When he posted a pair of Jordan V’s, inspired by 1995 NBA All-Star jersey–he named them the “Jordan V Rugrats –the image went viral and quickly landed him on reputable sneaker sites. He experienced similar success with his “Nike Foamposite Inferno” design.
From there, the orders started coming in. Not only were everyday sneakerheads were getting at Roman, but the camps of celebrities started calling. He has done a custom pair of OVO Jordan VI’s for a member of Drake’s camp and also did a custom pair for Lil’ Durk. There are currently 101 Custom Kicks orders in the works for NBA stars Evan Turner (Boston Celtics) and Nate Robinson (LA Clippers), as well as rapper Wale and DJ Khaled. Roman was also able to set up shop at Sneaker Con this year. Charging $100-$700 (depending on if sneakers are provided) with a seven to fourteen day turnaround, Roman is making great money and building a name for himself at the same damn time. He’ll be pulling up to Howard’s famous ‘Yard’ in a BMW for his senior year thanks to his hustle.
Roman is currently in the works of reconstructing a sneaker piece by and producing a limited edition of his own. As for his future in the sneaker game, he looks to be the next Tinker Hatfield (creator of the Air Jordan 3 through Air Jordan 15, the twentieth anniversary Air Jordan XX, as well as the Air Jordan XXIII, and the 2010 XXV). Roman says of his goals, “I just want to be a popular sneaker designer and work for one of the large companies like Nike or Adidas and release a classic sneaker like a Jordan, or an Adidas [Superstar,] or design a signature shoe for an athlete.”
For more, follow @101customkicks on Instagram and check out images of Roman’s work above.