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Ypsilanti Artist Brings Old Shoes Back To Life By Repurposing Them

Oct 1, 2019

During a time when self-identity is becoming more important, a new trend of having personalized art on your shoes is growing.  An Ypsilanti artist is using his skills to meet that demand by repurposing old shoes and making them into a work of art.  89.1 WEMU's Jorge Avellan visited the local artist.

"Sneakers rehab culture and design culture has really become popular."

So popular that “D”, Damien Lamberti, has a shoe customization room at his YPSCITY fashion retail store.  “D” is surrounded by used footwear, as he uses an airbrush to work on an old sneaker he has on a table. 

"D": They beat it up, scuffed it up, and threw it in the back to just like clean the house in or wash a car in.  And they figured out that instead of throwing this into the landfill, why don’t we bring it back to life?

“D” says he hasn’t had any problems finding customers for his art in our community.

D: Ypsilanti is all about that stuff, the whole Ann Arbor area, we’re really about being into community-based and conscious of what’s going on.  I’m sure everyone has thrown out quite a few pairs of shoes that we totally could have just cleaned up, repainted, and they would have looked brand new again.  And not only have a reborn shoe, but you also have this amazing one-of-a-kind piece that no one else has.

Local recording artist King Jazzy is “D’s” brother and the owner of the Nike Air Force 1 Dunk’s that “D” was working on while we spoke.  His shoes now have his King Jazzy B Instagram username written in purple, orange, and blue. 

King Jazzy: When you get on stage, people are always telling you, 'You have to plug this and plug that and then it always feels unnatural because you’re like a politician then and not a musician.'  But having it on your shoes already, it’s great.  Then you don’t even have to say it.  Just put your feet up.  

King Jazzy’s smile says it all as he holds the finished product, but “D” had one more surprise for him.

King Jazzy: So when the blacklight hits this, it’s going to glow? 

"D": Yeah, all this will glow.  All of this is neon paint. 

King Jazzy: Oh cool, see, I didn’t realize that. 

"D": So when you walk in to a club, you’re going to see this from across the room.

“D’s” showcase room is filled with all types and styles of footwear, but one pair of white high-top sneakers have a special local connection.

"D": This is a faded pink to purple, pink white to purple that we threw the Ypsilanti skyline on.  We have Eastern, we have the Water Tower, we have downtown over here.  And then we changed the soles black and with speckle over the whole thing.  And then we put YPSCITY tags on the tongue.

“D” also uses his art as a way to build connections with customers in our community.

"D": I had an older gentleman who came in and had me do a complete Parliament-Funkadelic album cover.  He brought the vinyl in, and we sat around and we played Parliament-Funkadelic in the store.  And we vibed out and we came up with a really cool design for the shoes.

For “D,” repurposing shoes is more than a job.  It’s a passion that helps keep him on the forefront of the local fashion scene and allows him to express his love for our community through art.

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— Jorge Avellan is a reporter for 89.1 WEMU News. Contact him at 734.487.3363 or email him javellan@emich.edu