Southington man finds demand for customizing sneakers

reporter photo

SOUTHINGTON — Mike Serafino said his business of customizing sneakers with logos, colors and designs started when two of his passions, sneakers and art, came together.

Serafino began about a year and a half ago. He’s now made pairs based on sports teams, local schools, movies, games and anything else he can think of. This week he started working on a pair of sneakers for an out-of-state customer who found him online.

“The market right now for rare or custom, personalized sneakers is huge,” Serafino said.

Prepping, designing, repainting

Serafino, a paraeducator with the Southington Public Schools, took up repainting shoes more than a year ago when most things were shut down by the pandemic. He’s often done art and graphic design projects so he watched some online videos on painting sneakers and gave it a try.

“First pair came out terrible. I kept going and kept practicing,” Serafino said.

The process starts with removing the factory finish on a shoe, making it rougher and able to accept new paint. Most of the shoes Serafino works on are white, a blank canvas for whatever design he’s looking to make.

He’ll paint parts or all of the shoe and once done finishes it with a clear coat that protects the paint and gives the sneaker a smooth feel.

Serafino has a vinyl stencil printer, allowing him to print any sort of stencil.

He’s made several pairs of Blue Knight shoes for local students that include the Southington High School “S” and a jersey number.

Other designs are more abstract, such as a pair of white Nike shoes that Serafino painted tan. He painted the logo black and added red stripes, giving the shoes a lumberjack theme.

Serafino will also recolor the sock liner inside the shoe and add other details, like a new insole with a design. He enjoys adding subtle details that a customer may only notice a few days after getting the shoes.

“I try to go above and beyond,” he said. “I always try to add in those little tiny details.”

Sneakers as serious fashion

KJ Holyst, owner of Grail City Shoes and Clothing on North Main Street, said sneakers are more and more a way to dress and impress. Some of the unique or rare shoes in his store sell for hundreds or thousands of dollars.

He’s been asked to do custom work but that isn’t part of his business. Holyst focuses on getting hard-to-find shoes in new condition.

“A lot of people do like to change up colors or add stuff to shoes to change it up a little,” he said.

Serafino said he’s done sneakers for 5 year olds, 40-year olds and lots of ages in between. Different designs take different amounts of time but usually range between five and 15 hours.

Serafino said the work could one day become a full-time job if demand keeps up. 

“I’m getting messaged almost every day,” he said.

Serafino’s Instagram site can be found at

jbuchanan@record-journal.com203-317-2230Twitter: @JBuchananRJ

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