U student has a sole obsession

Celebrities from Kanye to Goldy have taken a walk in Chris Hui’s shoes.

Amanda Bankston

Chris Hui is not sure what he will be doing in 20 years.

Like most University of Minnesota students, he has his hopes: a career he is passionate about, a family and kids.

However, the Carlson School of Management junior from Milwaukee knows exactly what he will be wearing âÄî some fly shoes.

“I hope that IâÄôm that fly dad one day,” Hui said. “Shoes have always been a part of who I am. I donâÄôt know if IâÄôll ever be ready to let that go.”

Hui has made shoes his lifeâÄôs work. In fact, while many of his classmates can only aspire to start or manage their own businesses after graduating, C2 Customs, the shoe customizing business Hui began in middle school, has already been featured in numerous national publications and attracted a list of celebrity clientele including Kanye West, LeBron James, Lupe Fiasco and, yes, even Goldy Gopher.

His whirlwind of sneaker success all started with a love of sports and a notebook.

Hui remembers sitting in his third grade classroom envying the other boysâÄô athletic footwear.

At the time, all he could do was draw and dream. Even at that early age, he began to imagine shoe designs and sketch them in the margins of his schoolwork, determined to get one step closer the sports stars he idolized.

“WhatâÄôs interesting about shoes is theyâÄôre the closest a fan can come to connect to an athlete,” he said. “If you want to be like Michael Jordan, you wear his shoes.”

Years later, he is pretty well connected with more than 300 pairs of shoes in his personal collection, many of which have never been worn.

“Girls think itâÄôs ridiculous,” Hui said. “I should probably tone it down a little.”

Today, he considers himself a master shoe painter and is not alone in that assertion. He has received numerous honors, including being featured around the world in sneaker exhibitions, boutiques and competitions, as well as media outlets like TIME and Dime magazines and NBCâÄôs Last Call with Carson Daly.

He said he is most fond of winning the Sole Collector Customs Competition finals in Las Vegas at only 16.

On the plane to Las Vegas, after months of preparation, his mother leaned over and asked if he would be upset if he lost. He still remembers his response.

“IâÄôm going to win,” he said to his mother. “DonâÄôt worry about that.”

And he did.

His mother, Sue Hui, remembers the trip for very different reasons.

She remembers him walking through Caesars Palace barefoot after selling the shoes on his feet to somebody who liked them.

She admits to worrying about her ever-confident 21-year-old son. However, she said even she admires what he does.

And she will never forget when Nike flew them to Cleveland so he could paint a pair of sneakers live in front of a crowd.

“That was the first time I saw him really paint,” she said. “He was there, hand-painting with all of those people watching. He was sweating, but his hand was so steady.”

The younger Hui has earned his success from this meticulous attention to detail and his innovative techniques, according to sneaker specialty sites such as SoleCollector.com.

Hui said heâÄôs fine tuned his craft by never being afraid to make a mistake.

“IâÄôve never been afraid to waste a pair of shoes,” he said.

That was apparent from his very first shoe-painting experience as a sixth grader, when he and his neighbor spray-painted their shoes on the street.

He still remembers those shoes. And he remembers the first pair of flashy shoes he owned, a pair of neon yellow Reeboks. In fact, Hui can recall every single pair he has loved over the course of his lifetime âÄî shoes mean that much to him.

“I probably think shoes mean a lot more than they actually do,” he said.

They have meant enough to bring him world-wide acclaim, though most of his peers would never know it.

According to Hui, he tries to “keep it quiet” about what he does in his business life when on campus.

However, John Stavig, the professional director for the Gary S. Holmes Center for Entrepreneurship, said HuiâÄôs business savvy is not easy to hide.

“ThereâÄôs been a long debate on whether entrepreneurs are born or created,” he said. “A number of students have come through this campus wired to naturally be very resourceful and commercial in following their passions.”

Hui agreed that what he does professionally is simply a part of what he was supposed to do. He calls it “second nature,” and has never considered spending 10 hours on each custom creation on top of school work a sacrifice.

“This is what I want to do,” he said. “I think I want to do it forever.”

HuiâÄôs dream job is working as a shoe designer for Nike. But said he never really wants to create a brand with numerous duplicated designs, instead, he likes being able to create one-of-a-kind works.

This semester, Hui is studying abroad in Hong Kong. Like most students, he is excited to explore another culture, another way of life.

“All I know is itâÄôs going to be an adventure,” he said as he prepared to depart.

However, unlike his peers, he is sure to spend a lot of time looking down. HeâÄôs looking at the spring semester abroad as an opportunity for fresh inspiration.

“To me, Hong Kong represents a more underground, individual sense of style,” he said. “I am really looking forward to the trends.”