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Young artist explores new avenue — Shoes

Tuesday, June 5, 2007 | 2:00 p.m. CDT; updated 12:12 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Anna Fleischer works at a small table in her Columbia apartment to finish an order of 13 shoes for a client. She paints a custom design on each pair, which takes about 2 hours.

One young artist’s paintings appear on a different type of canvas — slip-on shoes.

Anna Fleischer painted on her first two pairs of canvas shoes two years ago during her senior year of high school. After realizing that she and her best friend had purchased an identical pair of shoes, the then 16-year-old from Valencia, Calif., decided she needed to make the shoes appear different.

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“When you’re in high school, things are goofy like that,” Fleischer said. “So I painted on both pairs, and people loved them. They kind of became their own advertisement.”

More students contacted Fleischer about custom painting additional pairs. The style grew large enough that it was listed as a “New Trend” alongside the iPod in Fleischer’s senior yearbook.

Now 19 years old, Fleischer just finished painting a pattern she refers to as “Los Angeles is Crazy About Skulls” on her 105th pair of shoes.

Fleischer was busy trying to finish 13 pairs for her manager, Ben Hoffman, to send to a store in Arizona by today. She said painting a pair of shoes normally takes around two-and-a-half hours.

“Theoretically, I should be able to finish them on time, but it’s hard to do more than two pairs in a day,” she said. “It’s draining.”

Her manager, who lives in California, wanted her to paint the skull pattern to display on his company’s Web site, yourkicks.net, because “the old tattoo style is really hot (in Los Angeles) right now,” she said.

Fleischer has had a manager since last summer. He launched his company’s Web site and hired three full-time artists in addition to Fleischer, who works part-time, last year. Fleischer said if the other artists use her designs, she earns a commission from their sales.

“My business is selling to individual customers, but he talks to the stores,” Fleischer said.

Fleischer said her custom-painted shoes sell for $250 in stores in California and Arizona. Of that, she usually makes $40.

“It’s rare that an artist will get to do exactly what they want to do and get paid for it,” Fleischer said.

Although Fleischer paints shoes to sell on her manager’s Web site or in stores, she says it is more common that she paints shoes for her close friends.

“It’s something special for me because I get to come up with my own ideas,” Fleischer said. “That’s cool because I know (my friends) and get to make them a special piece of art.”

Jordan Parshall owns a pair of Fleischer’s painted shoes — a replication of René Magritte’s painting “The Son of Man.” Fleischer had already painted the shoes before Parshall approached her about getting a pair. They were a small size that Fleischer believed she could not sell in stores, so Parshall bought them. Parshall said she would be interested in getting another pair in the future, next time something customized just for her.

“Since she’s my friend, I think I’d tell her to do whatever she felt inspired to do,” Parshall said. “Whereas for most customers she has to please them directly, I think I would trust her to do what she wanted.”

Fleischer knew she was interested in art at a young age.

“I was enrolled in art class when I turned six, and I would sit with the adult class because I was so quiet and focused,” Fleischer said. “If they’d yell for snack time, I’d work through it. For a six-year-old, if you don’t hear that it’s snack time, then (the activity) is obviously something that you like to do.”

To further her artistic interests, Fleischer is majoring in interior design at MU where she will be a junior in the fall.

“I’m a fan of functional art, and that’s where interior design comes in,” Fleischer said. “These shoes are functional art.”

She said she wears her painted shoes frequently and even feels comfortable hiking through snow in them. Fleischer uses a fabric acrylic to paint the shoes that she says does not need to be cared for.

“I’m not worried about the paint ever coming off,” Fleischer said. “The paint lasts longer than the (shoes).”

Fleischer does not sell her shoes in local stores, but individual customers can contact her by e-mail to arrange a sale. Usually, customers will order the Vans shoes and have them shipped to Fleischer, who charges between $40 and $75 for the painting. She then ships the custom painted shoes back to the customer within two weeks.

“Now that it’s all over e-mail, I don’t really get that much feedback,” Fleischer said. “Positive feedback is when the customer’s friends start e-mailing me and want a pair for themselves.”

With her shoes selling for high prices in stores in Los Angeles, Fleischer says she is not sure if any celebrity owns a pair, but she imagined it could be possible. The most high-profile customer she knows about was a jeans designer, Frankie B., who ordered a pair for her daughter.

Fleischer said she has reservations about her shoes being in style.

“I’m hoping they don’t get too big because they’re a fashion item and they’ll go out of style,” Fleischer said. “Once someone famous is seen with them, they’ll be in style for like a month and then they’ll die. I don’t want that to happen.”

To view Fleischer’s collection, go to annafleischer.homestead.com.


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