Sneakers by Salvatore: customizing shoes for the Twin Cities and beyond

Minneapolis artist Salvatore Marcum leaves his mark on the sneaker world one brushstroke at a time.

Minneapolis Shoe Designer Salvatore Marcum poses for a portrait in his home studio in Brooklyn Park on Wednesday, Dec. 11. Marcum has created custom pairs for players for the Minnesota Vikings, Timberwolves and clients all over the country.

Kamaan Richards

Minneapolis Shoe Designer Salvatore Marcum poses for a portrait in his home studio in Brooklyn Park on Wednesday, Dec. 11. Marcum has created custom pairs for players for the Minnesota Vikings, Timberwolves and clients all over the country.

Alex Strangman

Salvatore Marcum is not a traditional artist. One could say his work is for the sole. Marcum’s medium is painting. His canvas? A pair of shoes. 

The 27-year-old artist from South Minneapolis creates wearable art in the form of custom, hand-painted sneakers.

As a kid, Marcum said he was always making art, coloring, doodling and drawing pictures of his favorite rappers and athletes. Marcum says he first got interested in sneaker customization in the fourth grade after learning the art form from his brother.

“That’s pretty much when I picked it up … destroying shoes. Like, I didn’t even know what I was doing, just ruining shoes,” he said.

The first pair he “destroyed” was a pair of all-black, high-top Nike Air Force 1s. He added a grey and black camo design.

After that, growing up got in the way. Between sports, school and work, Marcum ended up taking a 10 year break from painting to focus on other things. It wasn’t until 2015, after seeing a Facebook group where people were selling customized shoes, that he picked up his old hobby.

Since then, he’s been pursuing customs full time. And he’s made quite a name for himself. As mpls_customs on Instagram, Marcum has amassed more than 30,000 followers and a client list that includes athletes from the NFL, NBA, WNBA and NCAA.

His work even gained him some local stardom, according to his fiancé Idalis Poro.

“Oh he definitely has fans, like anywhere we go there’s always somebody that comes up to us and is recognizing him for what he does,” she said.

He also customized a pair of sneakers for world-champion boxer Floyd Mayweather’s 40th birthday. It’s fair to say Marcum has come a long way since he doodled on some camo Air Force 1s. Recently, he spent two weeks customizing 55 pairs of cleats for the Minnesota Vikings as a part of the NFL’s “My Cause My Cleats” campaign. When he talks about his accomplishments, Marcum says that in a way, he’s made his childhood dream come true.

“When I was little I wanted to play sports, and my grandma would tell me, ‘Don’t worry, you’ll be in a stadium one day,’ and now it’s happening, but in a different way,” he said.

Between making customs and being a dad, having welcomed his first child into the world less than a month ago, Marcum’s skills are in high demand. The wait time to get a pair customized by him can be anywhere from four to nine weeks. 

Somehow he hasn’t let his busy schedule get in the way of his ambitions. Marcum says he has bright plans for the future. Between new ideas for shoe customization and expansion into the traditional retail market, Marcum hopes to one day expand his business beyond just sneakers. He wants to open a storefront of his own, where he can have face to face interactions with his customers, as well as maybe try his hand at starting his own brand.

Regardless of what happens on the business side of things, Marcum says he prides himself on creating work that inspires others. 

“If I can make someone else pick up a paintbrush, or pick up a sewing machine, or anything to design something, I’ve done my part,” Marcum said.