In Conversation with The Shoe Surgeon

Dominic Ciambrone, known as “The Shoe Surgeon” on Instagram, held a three-day program from his popular Shoe Surgeon Shoe School at 10 Corso Como New York last weekend. For those not familiar with Ciambrone, he’s developed quite a following for his customized designs–Justin Bieber was both an early supporter and customer. Ciambrone fully takes apart and rebuilds sneakers (only using the sneakers original soles) to create exclusive series and one-of-a-kind designs. After designing for seventeen years, Ciambrone reached such a degree of notoriety and demand that he is now offering his expertise to students in the form of short-term workshops. These sessions, with a thirty-person maximum, are highly in-demand, often with long waiting lists.

The most recent workshop customizing (deconstructing and then re-constructing) Mars Yard Air Jordans held in 10 Corso Como’s gallery space, coincided with the drop of the Mars Yard Air Jordan 1 sneaker, an exclusive collaboration between The Shoe Surgeon and REIGN. The classic silhouette has been re-interpreted by Ciambrone using the finest materials including black leather and nubuck imported from London, with red and white Italian suede accents imported from Italy, topping it off with black Japanese leather, which was all handcrafted in downtown Los Angeles. The three-day event also included a dinner at 10 Corso Como’s restaurant and a panel discussion headed by Ciambrone. The Mars Yard Air Jordan 1 is available only at 10 Corso Como New York in limited quantities.

I heard that your interest in sneakers first peaked when you were in high school. Tell us more about this.

When I was 15 or 16 years old, I was always very shy and quiet and my cousin let me wear her original 1985 Jordans. I wore them to school and everyone flipped, which made me feel good, and I didn’t have to say anything. All of my friends started getting the same shoes so it wasn’t special anymore. I was so searching to be different than everyone else, to have my own thing. That’s when I picked up an airbrush. I was 16 years old in high school and airbrushed a pair of shoes. I went to school and it was the same thing. From there it was, I need to figure out how to make better paint and progress to what I do today.

It’s impressive that it clicked for you at such a young age. How did you work on quality?

I became obsessed with it and infatuated with trying to figure out how to make a shoe because that didn’t exist. It wasn’t  like I could go somewhere and learn this. I could of went to a design school, but they don’t teach you how to make shoes.

How did you learn these skills?

Reverse engineering. Taking things apart and putting them back together.  I learned shoe repair. I took a trade shoe making class, where you make boots. It’s the basics, but still different from sneakers. It’s mashing all these things up that I’ve learned to create what I teach.

Your workshops teach people the skills they need to go back home and make a career out of what they’ve learned. How would you explain the workshop’s essence?

I’m giving so much energy and time. We are creating a community. It’s a family environment. The best part about the class for me is that people travel from all over the world, similar passions, different backgrounds, but there is no ego. They just want to create.

Are you working on any sustainability initiatives? I know that you only use the soles of the shoes.

I’m innovating by finding recyclable materials, finding vegan materials, finding the next thing that will help with sustainability. When we remake a shoe, we take off the upper and I put soles on it and give it to the homeless. There are companies that are weaving plastic into yarn. It’s a huge part of me, even though you might not see that from my Instagram.

You’ve been designing sneakers for seventeen years. When did you start teaching the workshops?

The school I started a little over 3 years ago. The goal is the get it to once a month because there is such a huge demand for it. There are thirty spots and they sell out really quickly.

Who takes the class?

People come from all over the world and different types of people take the class. There’s a 16 year old kid who sold his collection of shoes to do it. There are people that have sold their cars to do it, or people who have quit their jobs to take the class and make it a business. Then there’s also the people who work for Nike or other big brands that want to have another creative outlet.

Community seems to be an important part of The Shoe School.  Are there any alumni-like events?

That’s the goal for this, too. We want to continue to get people together. We have five people taking this class that are from the last class. The interns and teachers are past students. The schools are building themselves.

What are your goals for the future?

To take schools to next level. To not have to charge, and also bring it to the kids who don’t have anything. When I was growing up in school, I didn’t like school. I was a creative that just wanted to create. I couldn’t sit still and focus, I needed to make things, and I want to offer kids an alternative. I want to be able to connect and let them understand that there are alternative ways to make a business, to find their passion whatever it is.

Last words? What’s next?

The Mars Yard Air Jordan 1 sneaker is releasing at 10 Corso Como. At the end of each class we put the students’ designs online and have the audience live vote. We produce the winning shoe and they get a percentage. It kickstarts their career.