Sole man: the art and culture behind being a Sneakerhead

By Ryan Ward | September 15, 2022


Ian Matthews started restoring sneakers when he was in high school. It was a skill that started out of necessity.

“It all started when I wanted to learn how to clean my own shoes,” Matthews said. “I think that’s how every restorer comes up.”

From there Ian found a passion, and he soon started fixing and customizing sneakers for his friends and family. As word spread of his skills, Ian opened a side business called Ian Restores. A sneaker repair business that’s run mostly through his Instagram account by the same name.

“I think I like the free range of creativity when you work on shoes. Cause a lot of my own shoes, it’s just, I’m just having fun with it,” Matthews said. “You know, that’s why I truly love to do what I do for fun.”

So far, Ian has restored close to 300 different pairs of sneakers. All with varying degrees of wear and tear. Some require a simple touch up while others can take hours to work on. A pair of 99′ Cement Air Jordan 4 took Ian close to 20 hours to repair, doing a complete sole swap on the pair.

“Some people think like my work is magic and there are no touchups needed,” Matthews said. “But there’s been a lot of work that I’ve had to do just to get the job finished, as it’s all the little details that count. And that’s what I want to include in my work.”

Working on sneakers has become more than a hobby for Ian, it has become a creative outlet.

“Sneakers really hold this sentimental value to me, you know, like the memories that come with it,” Matthews said. “From seeing my favorite basketball player or hip-hop artists wear them, you know like it’s all these things that give me the inspiration to be myself.”

Ryan Ward

Ryan Ward

Ryan Ward is a producer for the “Wisconsin Life” project and can rest easy after he finally found the perfect jar of homemade dill pickles at the farmer’s market in Madison. … just like his Grandma Shirley use to make!

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