One of the most endearing and enduring aspect of streetwear culture is the art of upcycling shoes and clothing. Whether a reexamination of how and why we use various textiles or a statement on recycling, the art of upcycling has not only influenced design but also has launched entire businesses (like Frankie Collective) as well as design careers for upcyclers including Nicole Mclaughlin and Alexandra Hackett aka Mini Swoosh.
Part of the rise of upcyling as an art form has been fueled by its popularity on Instagram where the genre’s uniquely cute and clever aesthetic often end up on the platforms’s explore page.
Instagram is where we discovered sneaker lover Tega Akinola, a U.K based student who turned heads when she debuted a proper pair of women’s shoes upcycled with Nike socks on her ‘fit-filled feed earlier this year. She followed up with the same shoe silhouette and a pair of Nike Air Force 1 sneakers detailed with a white Apple iPhone power cable.
While new to the art of recycling, Akinola shows great promise so we wanted to check in with her to see what inspired her to make her first design and where she hopes her efforts will take her. Check out our exchange below.
Snobette: You’re clearly into sneaker and sneaker fits, what’s your first
Tega Akinola: “My first sneaker memory was actually a Champion sneaker that my mum bought for me when I was around 10. I don’t recall the model, but it was pink and very sparkly. I wore them all the time. The first sneaker I bought for myself, when I was old enough to start working, was a triple black Adidas Superstar during the time they were trending again. The classic white and black colorway was too expensive, so I had to go with the cheaper option. I still preferred Nike over Adidas even back then, but as a teenager I just wanted to fit in with my peers.”
Snobette: You’ve mentioned your love for Nike’s Air Force 1s. What’s a sneaker grail you wish you had in your collection?
Tega Akinola: “There’s so many to choose from! I’ve always wanted a pair of Jordan 1s, in the red, black, and white colorway. Recently I watched [the Michael Jordan documentary] “The Last Dance” and they just looked so cool, plus those are my favorite colors. If I had to choose a non-Nike shoe, I’d go for the New Balance 574, they’re quite different from sneakers I usually wear.”
Snobette: You recently made the pivot into upcylced shoe designs. How long did it take you to go from the idea for your first shoe re-design to
actually publishing on Instagram?
Tega Akinola: “So my first complete shoe re-design was actually the first one I posted. I remember I’d been seeing the trend of re-imagining Nike socks as clothing or bags for a while on Instagram. Once I made the conscious decision to actually create my own, it took around two or three weeks.
“I usually try to get the items and resources as quickly as possible, but the actual process of bringing the design to life takes the longest, especially when you come home from work and don’t have the energy. I was happy enough with the finished product that I took pictures and posted them on Instagram the day after I finished it.”
Snobette: Were you surprised by the reception to your work?
Tega Akinola: “For the Nike sock heel, definitely. I was surprised that the response was mostly positive, because that project was more for display than function. Truth be told, I’m always really nervous to share, because like anybody else, no one wants their creative work to be ripped to shreds. I think I have an eye for what people will generally like or dislike, but I never know if and when I’ll be completely wrong. Still, negative reactions are attention and exposure all the same to me, even though it might hurt a little.”
Snobette: Thus far you’ve worked with white Nike socks and iPhone cords. Are you planning to stick with those themes for a while? If not, what’s next?
Tega Akinola: “I want to do a second project with Nike socks, perhaps an item of clothing this time. But I think I’ve done enough with the cables. Both projects I did with the cables were mostly well received, so I don’t want to overdo it. Plus I like to be unpredictable. Next, I may do another sneaker custom, with beads or something, but I’m not sure. I have a lot of ideas in my head at the moment!”
Snobette: Where do you hope your creative endeavors take you?
Tega Akinola: “I’d really love to somehow make a living with this, whether that’s working within a brand, or doing special collaborations etc. I really need to weigh up my options as I’ll be graduating university next year. Right now, I’m just taking it project by project.”