For Rangi-Haira Jaxon Greening, customising sneakers is not only a way to combine his passion for art and shoes, it's also a way for him to share Māori culture with the world. The Hamilton-based artist is becoming increasingly in demand for his unique work, which is not only popular in New Zealand but also internationally.
Greening is this month's Dell Passion Project recipient. Dell and The Project are recognising passionate people who turn their side-hustles into full-time gigs.
The 44-year-old says although he's long been interested in art and sneakers, it wasn't until he saw the documentary Just For Kicks that he was inspired to combine his two passions. "I saw someone was painting shoes on there and my brain just went crazy, like oh you can do that on a shoe?" he says.
Having started customising sneakers as a hobby almost 10 years ago, Greening has been doing it professionally for around three years through his brand Gyst For Kickz. His first "official design" was done as a present for his nephew who was graduating high school in the United States.
Since then he estimates he's worked on more than 200 pairs of sneakers, and with his reputation and social media following growing - he now has more than 20,000 followers on Instagram - he's expecting to customise many more shoes in the years to come.
Having recently returned to New Zealand after a stint living in Australia, where he worked on his customisations while also holding down a full-time job, Greening is now aiming to make a living solely off his sneaker art.
"I never thought I'd get to this point," he says.
"I get a true appreciation for those who have been doing this for way longer than what I've been doing it. I get an understanding now, a basic idea, of what it feels like to be a full-time artist, just using their art to pay for their stuff."
His customisations include everything from sports teams' logos and brand names, to cultural designs and video game characters.
As well as painting Kiwis' sneakers, Greening has also sent customised shoes around the world, including to Japan, the United States, Sweden and Australia, with most of his work coming via Facebook and Instagram.
"A lot of it's been word of mouth because it's a thing that you don't really see here in New Zealand," he says.
"But once it gets out there I think it's going to grow. And I'm a bit nervous and excited at the same time - it's only me doing this."
Greening says since coming back from Australia he's been staying with family in Hamilton, where he has converted their garage into his work studio.
Clients send him their shoes of choice - including everything from Chucks, Nikes, Adidas, "even shoes from Kmart and The Warehouse" - and Greening then gets to work.
He currently spends "a minimum eight hours a day" working on the shoes, with the average pair taking him about a month, although the exact time differs depending on his mood and if he's "in the zone".
"I tell the people three to four weeks, roughly, so it gives me time - because I work on multiple pairs of shoes at once or else I'll get bored just doing the one shoe," he says. "And then if I finish earlier than that said time they're extra happy as well."
Apart from paying the bills, the shoes are also a way for Greening - who is "born and raised Māori" - to share his culture with the world.
"That's my main reason why I love doing it, just to show the world who we are and what it represents," he says, adding that his dad and grandfather were traditional Māori carvers. Greening has also given tā moko tattooing a go, a practice that has helped his sneaker art. "Using the information that I learnt from drawing on skin and round surfaces has helped make that transition to painting on shoes so much easier," he says.
And although Greening has already ticked a number of achievements off his career bucket list, he says the next step is to do more collaborations with established brands and companies. He also has one other goal that is slightly more unusual.
"You may think it's funny but I want to get a cease and desist from a company," he says. "It's weird but it says 'hey someone's noticed'.
"I'm gonna frame that as soon as I get one."
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