I can’t believe I’ve only just discovered Caitlin. I pride myself on the fact that the first thing I do when I meet someone is look at their shoes. A legacy from my previous life of 10 years working in the footwear industry, it’s a peculiarity I’ve decided to embrace, rather than fight.
And yet I never look at cyclists shoes. I have no idea why, I’ve just never had any interest in them. I am truly disappointed in myself.
It wasn’t until I saw Michael Matthews showing off these bad boys on Instagram that I suddenly realised what I’d been missing!
I managed about one minute of scrolling Caitlin’s feed before I felt the urgent need to talk to her. I just couldn’t believe how she’d made such a functional item look beautiful, powerful and cool as a polar bears paw, all at the same time!
So, with the joy of social media at my finger tips we were connected and I got the low down on her incredible creations.
Becoming the shoe design queen…
So I graduated in 2013 with a Bachelor of Science, majoring in biological sciences in New Zealand. I then started a job in Nelson NZ working as an Aquaculture Technician in New Zealand’s largest independent science organisation. I worked there for about 3 years learning all things aquaculture and using my degree.
It was near the 2nd year that I met George Bennett in Nelson (his parents still live there and he comes back in summer/Christmas).
We had a bit of a talk about what way we were heading and I decided to quit my job and move to Spain withhim.
Quitting my job in marine science to move to Spain with George was a massive step into the unknown for me, leaving behind everything I knew here in New Zealand. I was very aware of the pitfalls and challenges of being the partner of a professional athlete.
I didn’t want to become dependent on George, lose my identity or sense of direction and ambition, in a strange land far from home!
Since I was young Ihad a passion for art and throughout the last 10 years I have done commission based work on the side, so when the opportunity came to throw myself full time into the world of art in Spain I got serious on the brushes.
Initially I thought my art business would mainly be original pieces and animal portrait commissions (mainly dogs).
The shoe idea was originally something George wanted for a birthday present. The reception they had at the 2017 Tour de France was pretty amazing but it didn’t take long to realise there was a lot more to it than just painting on the shoes.
By the first rest day they had already lost most of their paint but had gathered a lot of interest and inquires so I thought I better get serious and work out how to do them properly.
It turns out its a massive process prepping the shoes, protective coatings and the right type of paint but it takes so long to paint them that you don’t want the paint to come off!
How it works…
Usually when someone is wanting a pair of custom shoes designed for them I will ask them some questions at the start to try to narrow down what they are wanting. The design process for me is a lot easier and faster when the client knows what they’re wanting, what colours, themes etc.
I’ll then find out what type of shoes they have and start sketching and playing around with some ideas and designs. It’s a bit of back-and-forth at this point between myself and the client. Obviously I’m wanting it to look perfect for them, this process alone can take around 10 hours.
I then prepare the shoes by removing the factory finish that they come with, then start on painting the design onto the shoes.
I will paint 4-5 layers of paint on the shoes which is quite a time consuming process but ensures the paint will adhere properly, and won’t come off. Then apply a finisher on top. On average each pair of shoes takes around 25-30 hours from conception to the finish!
The best shoes in the peloton…
I’ve done shoes for George Bennett (obviously hahaha), Antwan Tolhoek, Laura Siddall, Hannah Barnes, Daryl Impey, Luke Durbridge (his were very subtle though – just taking off labels), Esteban Chaves and Michael Matthews. I’ve also done them for pro kiwi mountain bikers Brooke MacDonald and Wyn Masters.
I know a lot of the professional riders from living in Girona so it’s a bit of an organic process that just tends to occur, we talk about how the business is going and then it tends to transition into talking about what they’d have done on a pair of shoes.
Recently I’ve worked with Shimano on some pairs for the Giro and the Tour de France and they said a bit of a brief but left the rest up to me. It was cool to have the freedom to design something original but also pretty nerve racking!
It’s hard to say – I liken the shoes I’ve painted to your children, on different days I have different favourites haha.
Definitely love a lot of Georges designs, the paua shoes are awesome, the initial maori designed ones that started it off, the Maori light grey ones I did for the Giro, Estebans bright coloured ones, also the ones I just did for Michael Matthews. But honestly I can’t really say I have so many.
Most difficult design…
Probably the Tour de France themed ones I just painted. It’s not often I’ll do a design for shoes and be a bit worried about how I’ll actually paint them. Usually I realise it will be a lot of time involved but these were pretty tricky.
Shimano approaching me to work with them on some shoes was really awesome. But I get a huge kick out of every custom enquiry I receive, knowing that people like my art work enough to enquire is a very satisfying feeling.
Definitely have some bigger ideas ahead, I want to get into some different sports and helmets etc. Also, bit confined with how much I can do as it’s only me designing, preparing and painting everything but I have some big ideas to help this for the future so watch this space!
I am not only watching the space, I’m actively participating in it. I’m currently in the process of commissioning a design from Caitlin.
Thankfully she doesn’t just do cycling shoes, so I’ll have something amazing to wear when I’m cheering the pros on from the side lines and running around the paddock like a mentalist.