Rybarski creating custom cleats for professional athletes
By Keith Sparks
Flashy sneakers and cleats have long been a part of sports culture. From junior high all the way to the professional level, teammates and opponents try to one-up each other with the loudest, most exclusive game shoes.
More recently, custom shoes have become a trend among professional athletes. While the biggest names in sports can get signature shoes from brands like Nike, Adidas, and Under Armour, some athletes turn to Instagram to find individual shoe customizers to make their sneakers or cleats even more unique.
Liberty Hill Junior High eighth-grader Lane Rybarski has capitalized on the trend, starting his own shoe customizing business using airbrush paint and custom stencils.
Known as “skicustoms” on Instagram, Rybarski’s talent has caught the attention of more than a dozen professional athletes, and that number continues to grow.
Since April 2018, Rybarski has painted 13 pairs of cleats for professional MLB or NFL players, in addition to many more for high school players and a college coach. Among those athletes are Tampa Bay Buccaneers Jason Pierre-Paul and Andrew Adams, Cincinnati Reds Tucker Barnhart, Amir Garrett, and Billy Hamilton (now a Kansas City Royal), and Seattle Mariner Ben Gamel.
Hamilton has since requested a second pair of custom cleats from Rybarski after signing with the Kansas City Royals, and Pierre-Paul is on pair number three from the Liberty Hill customizer.
For Rybarski, the process of customizing cleats all started on Instagram.
“I saw a post on Instagram of a custom cleat, then I asked my parents for an airbrush set for Christmas,” Rybarski said. “I started following customizing pages on Instagram and other social media accounts, then I began doing custom slides, my shoes, and my family’s shoes.”
In order to improve his skills, Rybarski followed popular customizers like Kickstradomis (344,000 Instagram followers) that have created tutorial videos on Instagram and YouTube.
“I would watch YouTube videos from Instagrammers that do customs, like Kickstradomis and people like that, they have tutorials on YouTube,” Rybarski said, “then I started branching away from that and doing my own customs the way I wanted to do them.”
The 14-year-old Rybarski shot for the moon shortly after learning the trade, moving on from his own family’s shoes to reaching out to professional athletes. Lo and behold, it worked, and the athletes’ Instagram shoutouts to their thousands of followers got Rybarski quite a bit of attention.
“I realized I could start doing it for professional athletes, so I reached out to a couple professional athletes, one of them responded, I did the cleats, he gave me a shoutout, then other people started contacting me,” Rybarski said. “I got in contact with the Cincinnati Reds and began doing that for them.”
Hamilton’s first set of custom cleats, arguably the most attention-grabbing of the projects Rybarski has been tasked with, were covered in a custom Louis Vuitton print at Hamilton’s request. The process was made easier with the help of Rybarski’s stencil machine that prints out custom stencils with the requested pattern or design.
“They’ll tell me what they want, then if it’s a print, like Louis Vuitton or Supreme, I have someone who makes stencils for me,” Rybarski said. “Once we get it, it goes over the shoe and it blocks where the paint is not supposed to go, then I’ll spray the color of whatever the print is going to be.”
One of Rybarski’s most impressive designs is of the Seattle skyline for Seattle Mariner Ben Gamel. While he’s not the only customizer that could’ve done such a thing, Rybarski said his availability and price point, relative to more popular customizers, makes him a hot commodity for such projects. Rybarski recently landed a sponsorship from a paint company, as well, allowing him to cut costs even further.
“I would see they liked a post of a customized shoe, so I’d direct message them and say, ‘I can do this for you cheaper than other customizers,’” Rybarski said. “I think that’s most of the reason is that I’m smaller, so I’m cheaper than most of the bigger customizers. With them, it’ll take three months to get their cleats done. I can do them in a week or two.”
Skicustoms is run by only Rybarski for now, who said he’s planning on expanding to professional basketball players and golfers in the near future. While he’s enjoying the process, at just 14 years old, school and junior high athletics take up much of his time, making it impossible to do something like this full-time.
“Eventually, I want to start a business that can run itself, so I’m not doing everything,” Rybarski said, “like a clothing brand or something like that.”
For now, however, Rybarski will continue building his name in the custom shoe community. If you happen to see a particularly flashy cleat or basketball sneaker on ESPN in the near future, it may have come straight from Liberty Hill.