Like a lot of young guys, when Dan “Mache” Gamache was a kid, he was shy about approaching girls. His personal workaround was drawing scenes of infamous comic cat Garfield on demand. His talent for making connections through art has evolved into a six-figure career creating custom designs on shoes — meeting girls has been replaced with meeting NFL, MLB, NBA, and WWE superstar athletes, as well as internationally famous musicians and celebrities.
“When I was a kid, the girls would ask me to draw Garfield on a skateboard or holding a flower. Eventually, I developed my own little cartoon cat character, and my interest in art took off from there” Mache tells The Manual. “My grandmother was an art teacher, so my family was very supportive of my pursuing art as a career. I was a fine art major in college, but was really there to play college baseball.” Though his dreams of MLB stardom didn’t work out due to a torn rotator cuff, he’s made his own way into the professional sports world.
“I got started drawing on shoes for myself and then my friends wanted them so I realized that I could probably make some money doing it,” Mache says. “I’d sell them through the local barbershop. I made a pair for Pharrell Williams and then waited by the backstage door when he was in town for a concert. They wouldn’t let me in to see him, but I got somebody to take the shoes to him. Just as I was about to walk away, somebody came back to get me and brought me in to introduce me to him in person.”
Mache had found his “in” to the world of celebrities. Since then he’s designed for Stefon Diggs, LeBron James, and WWE’s Becky “The Man” Lynch. He even collaborated with Puma and recently deceased rapper Nipsey Hussle on an iconic pair just weeks before his tragic death.
Mache has developed his own, as he calls it, “sketchy” style, working with Molotow paint pens that hold up well on shoes for some pieces. He also wields a mean airbrush. His Instagram account shows a full gamut of designs that include gallery-worthy portraiture, crisp graphics, and hues to coordinate with pro-team uniforms. He also does a ton of work for charitable organizations, including designing a puzzle-piece-themed pair of AF1s spotlighting autism awareness. Mache worked at a school for autism when he first began customizing shoes, so has a unique connection to the condition.
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Autism Awareness AF1s for my guy @845snkrhead. When I first started customizing shoes I was working at a school for Autism, sometimes painting shoes on the overnight shift while the kids slept. So many memories there. The Autism Spectrum is still such a mystery to us. I will always have the utmost respect for the families as well as those who work in the field who are working to find a cure. ?? #autism #autismawareness #angelusdirect #handpainted #af1
Mache has the distinction of designing the “World’s Most Expensive Sneaker” in collaboration with New York-based luxury brand Bicion for Dwyane Wade of the NBA’s Miami Heat. The shoes featured white diamonds and blue sapphires in 18k gold and were eventually auctioned off to benefit the charity Soles4Souls. (The organization creates sustainable jobs while providing relief to those in poverty through the distribution of shoes and clothing.) Mache reports that “The NBA wouldn’t even let Wade wear them on the court because it was too much of a liability!” It’s unclear who actually ended up with the bejeweled kicks. “There was a bidding war between a Chinese collector and a Saudi prince, last I heard,” he says.
A Black Panther-movie themed pair was created for a customer that brought in a pair of Kobes with a nasty stain. Mache’s Instagram post references the term “cover-up” for the stunning repair job. When asked about the parallels between his own work and that of a tattoo artist, he points out that, much like a great tattoo, it’s really all about time. “A really extensive custom job might take me as much time as somebody’s back piece.”
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Customer had a gnarly stain on these originally all-white Kobes and instead of throwing them in the trash we decided to save them with a monochromatic Black Panther themed cover-up. #tchalla #privateOrder #wakandaforever #blackpanther #angelusdirect #kobe #handpainted #sneakerart
Getting to spend some quality time with Mache also requires some patience in addition to some cash; he has a six-month wait time for his work. Not bad considering he’s worked his way up from painting in his mom’s basement to working in a sneaker store window (“It was like being on display all the time”) to opening his own studio in Milford, Connecticut.
Because of his overall awesomeness, Samsung recently partnered with Mache for a special event celebrating the release of the new Galaxy S10. The device may be more camera than phone, featuring, among other things, an ultra-wide lens and A.I. assistance — perfect for getting awesome shots of a new pair of custom-designed kicks, for instance.
What’s next for the big-hearted artist? More paint, more sneakers … and keep an eye on Cardi B’s feet. Farther down the road, Mache is hoping to create a shoe line of his own that offers a more affordable alternative to his growing fan base.