The NBA easing off its sneaker rules last year has opened the doors for basketball stars to have better self-expression on the court and lace up their kicks of choice however wild.
We've seen minor brands becoming major players in the shoe game; the likes of Karl-Anthony Towns and Langston Galloway showing their pop culture-loving side through custom basketball shoes; sneaker free agents Montrezl Harrell and Lance Stephenson surprising fans every night with holy grail-worthy pairs; and PJ Tucker getting crowned as the NBA's unofficial sneaker king.
This trend has trickled down to pro leagues in other countries such as the PBA, where Chris Ross and Marc Pingris have been spotted wearing personalized sneakers, and it didn't take long before college ballers, particularly in the UAAP, followed suit. Midway through Season 82, Thirdy Ravena and Ricci Rivero have already christened the hardwood with their respective custom pairs.
Among the increasing number of local sneaker customizers, JoKer Kustoms has been one of the more serious competitors to offer the premium service. Aside from having a wide palette of relatable designs, the company also boasts a growing clientele that includes collegiate stalwarts Rhenz Abando and Brent Paraiso of the UST Growling Tigers.
From hobby to business
Juan Paolo Encina, 31, initially wanted to gift his girlfriend a unique pair that wouldn't blow his budget. His first personalized work — a beat-up Nightmare Before Christmas Vans slip-on in 2011 — came to mind, so he went on and did a Snoopy custom for her. It was then that she told him, "Why not turn your talent into a sideline?"
"The name (JoKer) came from my love of comic books. I was drawn to how unpredictable the character is," he explained in an email interview with SPIN Life. "My first clients were close friends and neighbors."
The most notable works from JoKer Kustoms' first batch of commissions were the animated Dragon Ball and Naruto renditions of the Nike PG2, and how he painted the picture of friendship betweenToy Story's Woody and Buzz Lightyear on the Nike Hyperdunk 16. When he's not doing anime or cartoons, Juan Paolo dabbles with other animated TV shows and films like Spider-Man and Family Guy, among others.
The Pasig-based creative, who had no formal training as an artist and credits his talent to his father, got into the sneaker culture as early as eight years old. This explains the recurring themes of classic animations and fictional characters in his creations, which favorably make up the bulk of his job orders.
He said, "Who doesn't love anime and cartoon characters? It's a big part of our childhood. These days, anime and cartoons are somewhat adapting to their audience in terms of age."
When hoops meets fashion
Juan Paolo understands that basketball players are no different from the typical sneakerphile, in the sense that the former just want to reveal a new facet of their personality outside the athlete part people have come to know about them. And by rocking a custom pair, college stalwarts are able to share fresh pop culture and style nuggets about themselves.
He only had good words for Abando and Paraiso about the transactions: "It was nice doing business with them, hands down. They were so patient during the whole process."
No wonder JoKer Kustoms rewards his clients' faith with intricate detailing to add flavor to the base model and make the pair look like "as if it just came out of the factory." What's more important for Juan Paolo, though, is that the finished product is also a "battle-ready personalized sneaker," which can last for an entire season.
As of writing, the man behind JoKer Kustoms is doing custom work on the side, and that setup won't be changing anytime soon unless a major brand notices him. If given the chance, he envisions himself as a creative designer for a big sports fashion company before eventually expanding his own business. For now, he seems satisfied dreaming about future design concepts.
"I would love to render a Gundam-themed Nike PG3, or pretty much any B't X design for '90s kids. A Nike Kyrie "What The" x SpongeBob collaboration also sounds intreresting."