Sitting Down with a Custom Sneaker Designer: A Conversation with Sierato

You’ve seen his kicks on the court as RJ Barrett goes in for that dunk against the Atlanta Hawks or as Ja Morant tears up the hardwood for the Grizzlies. Although you might not know much about who stands behind the shoe, you best believe that his one-of-a-kind custom shoes caught your eye at one point during the game. 

Introducing the talent behind it all: Cory Bailey, known as Sierato by fans and his nearly 300k following on IG. I had the chance to speak with Bailey about how he began his journey into the sneaker world, how he continues to spark his creativity, and what he has on deck.

The Starting Point:

Bailey tells me that he's “always been into art," adding, "I’ve always drawn and done all that kind of stuff, so I have always wanted to find a way to have my job be something art-related." He could never quite figure out how to take that starving artist mentality and morph it into a full-time career. As he continued on his path, he started studying with a plan of obtaining his art degree. Mid-degree, he had a light bulb moment: school is simply an unnecessary step, because art needs time in the game, not a degree. 

Bailey joined forces with the tattoo industry. From the moment he set up shop, his custom work took off as he spent his free time designing “flash designs on the walls,” which were mostly designed in a new-school style. “Colors and fantastical animals have always been something I’ve been into.” At the time, his love for art was sourced through ink, which soon was combined with his love for shoes. 

Sierato started investing in white canvas Converses and Nikes. When he’d finish a pair, he put them on display at his tattoo chair, sparking the “Tattoos 4 Shoes” brand. By word of mouth, his shoes circulated tons of interest in the area. “I never painted before, I was always a sketchbook kind of person.” Funny enough, “the apprenticeship had me paint and airbrush,” unwillingly. Little did Sierato know this experience would soon be an essential aspect of his next project.

Bailey & The Kiosk: A Transition

Still living in his hometown, Baltimore, Maryland, a friend approached Bailey to join him in his new venture: a clothing brand sold at a kiosk at the mall. Bailey was in. 

As the stop started to pick up traction, Bailey and his business partner had rules to be met. The mall required that no shelves were left empty. Cory instantly “went home, grabbed his few pairs of custom shoes and put them on display.” These former placeholders turned into the talk of the town. Local business owners, managers, and mall patrons wanted in. 

As he got his first couple of orders, he’d “paint them at the stand and it would cause tons of commotion.” In no time, he was designing cleats for third-stringer athletes in the NFL, working events for Nordstrom, and gaining tons of fans.  

“One of the guys had a connection where he knew someone who was the first stringer, and then I ended up doing a pair of cleats for him and those got put on NFL’s top cleats of the week.” Bailey’s hesitance to join the art scene vanished shortly after, allowing him to jump full force into designing custom sneakers for a living. 

At this point, Bailey tells me he was setting up shop “in my bedroom, then I moved to the porch and then the shed out back,” biding time until a studio was a manageable investment. While the orders flooded in, he joined Youtube and got involved with Overtime. Youtube “really blew up everything. In just two days, my second video hit 1 million views.” And from that moment on, the Sierato name flourished.

The Creative Process:

Creating shoes for all his favorite celebrities, pro-athletes and even hip-hop stars has its pros and cons. From an artist’s standpoint, creativity is key. As someone who focuses heavily on his art form, it’s important to understand the creative process. “There are three categories that every project falls into it,” Bailey tells me in regard to what kind of direction he's given from a client. 

No External Creative Direction

  • This is likely to happen when given more corporate projects. The sky is not the limit in these scenarios, and it’s almost impossible to get it exactly how they want it in that it is very to the point. 

The Client Picks the Topic

  • The majority of people tend to go this route when getting sneakers made. “They will pick something sort of specific,” whether it’s gaming-related, Rick and Morty themed, you name it, and then “I'll run with it.”

The Artist is Given Full Creative Freedom

  • This is the way any artist prefers it. There are very few instances when Sierato is given full creative freedom with a piece. In this category, even if the client doesn’t know exactly what they want, they still tend to usually give some preferences—especially based on his past shoes. This is the most symbiotic approach and gives the artist the most wiggle room.

Pushing the Creative Boundaries:

The way to put your imagination to the ultimate test is by seeing how far you can push your creative boundaries. “More often than not, that is the battle. I am always trying to change up styles, backgrounds, poses, anything that can add a little difference to my work.” Space Jam, Dragon Ball Z, they all want what they have seen. When Sierato is given a task to do his signature blue and lightning style, that is when he is faced with the challenge to combine it with something else. 

What’s To Come

Behind the scenes, Sierato and his team have been working on a few new activations. These will be focused solely on seeing a “more personal and in front of the camera” Sierato. One such plan takes the form of a forthcoming podcast “Made To Order,” which will be all about what the audience “wants us to talk about, what they want us to share, made to order from the listeners.” 

To increase Youtube engagement, there will be new series launched shortly. Sierato will be sharing live interviews, unboxing rare sneakers, giving sneaker tutorials and more. Currently, viewers take Sierato’s videos as tutorials, so to build on that element, he'll start producing step-by-step tutorials filled with tips and tricks to his art.

Are you still participating in events?

Events are a large part of Sierato’s sneaker journey: "It allows me to take a break from staring at the studio walls all day.” He frequents events like Vegas Summer League, Puma, and Footlocker events to name a few.

Sierato currently works in partnership with St. Jude’s Children Hospital. He tells me, "It is easy to go out of our way and work with them,” especially seeing the facilities and immaculate care they provide their patients. “I like to ride or die for the guys that ride for me. If you gave me that shot, I’m going to pull through for you guys.” 

Since the partnership, team Sierato and St. Jude have even launched a unique 1-of-1 NFT in collaboration with James Wiseman.

A Couple Fun Questions to Close it Out:

If you only had three work items to bring to your studio, what would they be? 

A paintbrush, more specifically, “probably a thinner type paintbrush.” Also some paint, and then if we aren’t counting the shoe itself, a heat gun “that way the paint can dry quicker.” 

What is your favorite pair of kicks for the season?

“Definitely a tie between two of them.” The Ja Morant Grizzly Nike Adapts and the Harden Nipsy shoes, for a tribute anniversary. Morant got some playoff action in them and Nipsy for the dunk. “I believe, if you look good, you play good,” so the ones that always see the light of day creep to the top of the list. 

Do you rep your shoes?

“I rep my shoes, but I never have time to make them for myself.” Thankfully, with a solid collection of kicks, Sierato has a few pairs on deck. “I wear my basketball shoes when I take to the court; it’s important to show people that you can wear them and they won’t fall apart.” A lot of clients believe that it’s better to keep them wrapped up on display, but in reality, that is why Sierato spent years of trial and error, to get to where he is today.

Check out Sierato's IG to stay up to date on his newest content, custom kicks, and latest projects as they come to life. 

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