detail from a pair of custom cleats with a
Thanksgiving theme by Mike Phillips,Jr. of Sir
Castle Tees, a shoe company he owns in Raleigh,
N.C. Phillips buys, sells, trades and customizes
shoes, including his popular sun-changing shoes.
, N.C. — Shoes — sneakers, cleats, slip-ons —
serve as a canvas for Raleigh artist Mike Phillips Jr.
name it, and he can probably paint it on a pair of Vans
or Huaraches: sports teams and symbols, superheroes,
insects, cartoon characters and patterns like camouflage
or zebra stripes in nearly every shade.
one pair Phillips painted, Venom, a villain from
Spider-Man, grins from the side surrounded by wispy
white cobwebs. Inspired by Double Bubble bubble gum, one
pair pops with bright tones of yellow, blue and pink.
Galaxies are a popular design: swaths of purple, blue,
red and black speckled with white dots representing
stars wrap around the shoes. Angel wings and glitter are
Phillips’ masterpiece is his heat-sensitive design.
Indoors, a pair of shoes is one color, but as soon as
the wearer walks outdoors, the shoes immediately change
colors. Heat is the catalyst causing the change. Douse
the shoes in cold water and they return to their
magic," Phillips said, winking.
majority of his customers find Phillips through his
company’s Instagram account, @SirCastleTeees, which
has more than 140,000 followers. Customers choose a base
shoe and then pick or describe a design for Phillips to
replicate. Pairs start at $150 and go up from there,
depending on the intricacy and time required for the
design. Phillips, who has sold about 600 pairs of shoes
this year alone, also buys, trades and restores shoes
and paints and sells game controllers and hoverboards.
a big social media presence broadens your reach,"
said Joshua Larrick, one of Phillips’ two employees.
Fans often tag the Instagram account and post reviews of
the shoes online for the sneakerhead community to
peruse. "It’s global networking."
an average weekday, people begin lining up outside
Phillips’ store, which also goes by the name Men at
Work Kustom Kicks, before it opens. Inside the store,
where Phillips designs and paints, the walls are lined
with pairs of all sizes, colors and designs.
is part of the Phillips family empire near downtown
Raleigh: Mike’s father, Mike Phillips Sr., owns Men at
Work Car Care Center and Barber Shop.
and teenagers are some of Phillips’ most frequent
get picked on and bullied if they don’t have cool
kicks," he said. "Shoes are the new trading
some families who can’t afford expensive shoes for
their kids, Phillips donates his designs. Last year, he
donated more than 100 pairs to the local Boys and Girls
Club. He also rewards good grades. Kids with all A’s
get a $30 discount, B’s get a $20 discount and perfect
attendance gets a $10 discount.
interest in shoe design started in high school. Everyone
was wearing the same Nikes and Air Jordans, Phillips
said, and he wanted something different. He started
drawing on his shoes with markers before upgrading to
paint from Walmart. Eventually, he started mixing his
own paint, which takes several days to make.
took about 100 pairs to perfect the heat-sensitive
design, Phillips said. Now, it takes him about an hour
to paint a design on one shoe. He can finish up to 10
pairs per day.
father inspired him to launch his own shoe business in
2013 and gave him the space to open a storefront the
dad was the first person who believed in me,"
has sold customized pairs to celebrities and sports
stars, including Montrezl Harrell of the Houston
Rockets, Colombian singer J Balvin and hip-hop artist
Kodak Black, and ships shoes internationally.
Phillips hopes to open stores in Los Angeles and
Atlanta, but for now he’s focusing on local outreach
while continuing to dream up more designs. There’s a
big sneakerhead community in Raleigh, he said.
are a way of expressing yourself," Phillips said.
"I just have a vision for it."