Have you ever wondered what goes into the process of the shoes, sneakers and footwear in general that we rock on a daily basis? For Dominic Chambrone, known in the sneaker community respectfully as The Shoe Surgeon, the step-by-step guide to shoemaking has been etched into his brain for almost two decades now. Here’s the good news, though: he’s willing to share the knowledge with us all on what it takes to craft a perfect pair of bespoke kicks.
Visiting the NYC stop of Dom’s Shoe Surgeon Shoe School at the Mondrian Park Avenue hotel, The Source got a crash course on how it all comes together. While some lessons are exclusive to the patrons of the class — respect the process! — we were able to show you guys a sneak peek into how the operation goes from seams to sneakers over the span of a weekend. The Shoe Surgeon also sat down to talk about everything from customizing a pair of Jordan 12s for Drake, the role Hip-Hop has played in his creations and ultimately what he plans to accomplish with the school, both stateside and across the globe.
Keep scrolling for a lesson in shoemaking by the coolest guy doing it:
Let’s talk real quick about your beginnings in the game and how you even fell in love with sneakers in the first place.
The Shoe Surgeon: My name is Dominic Chambrone, also known as The Shoe Surgeon. I’ve been a sneaker artist as they say for the past 17 years of my life. You can call me a shoemaker, a designer, a customizer, an artist — I mean, whatever. I don’t really believe in labels. The love for sneakers really started during freshman year of high school, but even before that, a love for making things and being crafty started at a very young age. [I was] building LEGOs, forts in my backyard out of wood, hammer and nails — this was at, like, age 10.
In high school, I had the opportunity to wear my cousin’s original 1985 Jordan 1 “Chicago” [sneakers], and I didn’t know what they were at the time [Laughs]. I was this freshman kid going into school with these dope sneakers that I really didn’t understand what was so cool about. All the dudes were like, “Yo! Where’d you get those?!” and giving me props in the hallways. From there, I started getting Jordans early because I understood that you could feel good just by wearing a pair of shoes and not having to say anything. By junior year, all my friends had the same shoes, and it just wasn’t special anymore. That’s when I picked up an airbrush to an all white pair of Air Force Ones [and gave it] a camouflage print. I went to school the next day and people flipped. Instantly I knew I could get a reaction out of something I created versus getting something early that eventually everyone else would have.
When did the official transition into “The Shoe Surgeon” happen?
The name actually came about [when I was] around 18 or 19 years old — that was around 2006. It was actually me and a friend at the time; he was a friend of mine that was also a DJ. We were trying to do this thing together. We were in NYC at the time, because I lived in Charlotte [North Carolina], and I just felt we needed an alias. After writing so many ideas down it finally just clicked like, “What are we doing?” We’re taking things apart and making them better. That led to “$hoe $urgeonz” — with the money sign and a “z” [Laughs] — but it changed since then. Now it’s just The Shoe Surgeon.
When you approach customizing shoes, what comes first: choosing the silhouette, choosing the colorway or choosing the materials? Or is there another step that comes first?
None of the processes are the same; they just differentiate. Sometimes it’s the shoe first, other times it’s the materials. it just really depends on how I’m feeling that day and how the project comes about. If a client says, “I want a Jordan 1,” then [the process] starts with a shoe and then I start finding the materials I want to use. If it’s something that’s just my vision, it could start off by seeing materials, or just something that I’m inspired by. There’s no set way at all.
I like how you have things coming full circle today, as you’ve got students in the class customizing the sneaker that you originally started with. How did you even get the idea to create something as clever as a Shoe Surgeon Shoe School?
The school came about around two years ago, but it took me personally 15 or 16 years to really learn the knowledge on my own. There was a lot of trial and error, a lot of [investing] my own money and messing things up, learning shoe repair and traditional shoemaking and then just learning how production works. When I mixed all that into one, the school came about. I got the opportunity to teach in Brooklyn for the first time two years ago. I was a little hesitant about [taking on the role], but I did it and it was so personally fulfilling. Other people are so passionate about learning what it took me years to learn, so why not give them the proper tools to learn it in four to five days? Of course they’ll have to refine it and learn, since that’s the way this craft is, but if you can give someone the “cheat book” right away, that next shoe will be all the more better. The goal is to push the craft and push shoemaking overall. It’s really to inspire others and give people the opportunity to become happier by creating something on their own. I rather have them make it right then make it wrong; it’s more frustrating when you do it wrong and have to do it again. Then, if they want to do it for business, i’d rather have them make a good product. I don’t want crap work out there, at all.
This is a global effort, too. Was it always in the plan to do the school on more than just a regional platform, especially for international sneakerheads to be able to experience this?
The way the world works now, everybody sees everything on the Internet and Instagram. Everyone wants to be a part of it, so we found it best to travel the world. We’ve done classes in Amsterdam, New York, L.A. and Chicago, so we want to continue taking it across the globe — Toronto, Tokyo and Dubai, too. I like to meet the people that see me from the lens of the Internet. That’s really the key.
Jumping away from kicks for a bit, I have to ask since The Source is a Hip-Hop magazine: what are you listening to right now?
All I’ve got to say is Drake, man [Laughs]. I used to hate Drake’s music, but then again I used to hate Nike, just being young and naive. If an artist can make good-feeling music then cool, but I like a person’s story more than anything. When Drake first started, i was like, “Oh, I don’t like this,” but he’s consistent and I like his work ethic. It reminds me of myself. Other music I’m listening to right now is, like, PARTYNEXTDOOR, The Weeknd, that new “OTW” song with 6LACK, Ty Dolla $ign and Khalid, Giggs, and GHOST LOFT is dope too, although he’s not exactly Hip-Hop. Throughout my career of making shoes, Hip-Hop has always been part of the creative process. When I was in my parent’s garage trying to make shoes for weeks and get through projects, I’d be listening to albums. Now that I’m making shoes for a lot of Hip-Hop guys now, I feel honored because I used to listen to their music to get better at making stuff. It just feels like a transfer of energy. Lil John got a pair of shoes, and I told him this story in Vegas. I really fucked with his music, so it felt like we kind of gravitated towards each other naturally.
Do you have a favorite sneaker creation that you’ve created for a rapper?
Yeah, it would actually be the Drake x OVO x Stone Island [Air Jordan] 12s. That one was fun. It was dope too because he didn’t commission me to do those; it was just something I wanted to create. Usually when that happens the product comes out better. Then I got to meet him and he’s a super dope dude.
When it comes to the Shoe Surgeon Shoe School, where do you see yourself taking and ultimately expanding the brand?
I just want to continue to have it grow and build. Like I said before, [I want to] build an army of other shoemakers, creators and people that just want to grow and feel really good about being part of something greater. The goal is definitely to make it something bigger than just a shoe school — maybe bags or full-out design could be next. I’m not really into the ways of traditional school, so it’s like, “How do I create my own trade school?” From The Shoe Surgeon brand itself, we’re looking to get into a bigger space and create this experience for clients. For me, personally, I want to continue building my original brand.
Find out more information on the Shoe Surgeon Shoe School — maybe even join and create some heat yourself? — by visiting the official website.