Shea Gribbon: Meet the young art graduate from Maghera whose designs won over Nike

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Shea Gribbon has set foot on the ground after launching her custom shoe design business.

e launched Shoe Dr in October 2020 and made a name for himself customizing cycling shoes and trainers for global brands such as Nike, for whom he created custom Air Force trainers to celebrate the stage win record of Mark Cavendish’s Tour de France.

Shea has secured support from the Go For It program in association with Mid Ulster District Council.

“Art has always been my main strength, throughout my primary and secondary studies. It was the only thing I was good at,” Shea says.

Shea graduated from Coventry University with a degree in product design – after an unconditional offer – but her university years could have taken a different direction.

“I was supposed to do automotive design. It was my dream, to be a car designer,” he admits.

“I applied for both, and they said in the interview that if you do automotive design, you’re going to design cars for four years. If you do a degree in product design, you can design cars, but you can also do whatever you want. I said, I think I’ll be less bored drawing cars if I’m doing product design.

“I fell out of love for art towards the end of the sixth. During this summer, before going to university, I put art aside.

“When I went to the rooms alone, I was a bit bored and didn’t know many people at first, so I started painting again.”

After returning to Northern Ireland and taking up duty in Belfast, Shea found himself with nights to fill.

“My friend and I tried to start a small business, designing t-shirts and trying to sell them. It didn’t work out but I kind of secretly enjoyed it.

“Between all of that, I had joked about painting shoes, customizing shoes and never done it. After this small business ended, my friend said, “Why don’t you try the shoe?” There was no intention of making a business out of it. It was just for fun, something to do in my spare time. I bought the paints and fell in love.

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An example of custom sneakers from Shea

An example of custom sneakers from Shea

His company specializes in customizing shoes with hand-painted artwork reflected in bold designs and illustrations.

“I painted a pair of shoes to see what they looked like, and they turned out pretty well,” he explains. “I had to fix them a little bit before doing anything – that’s why I ended up choosing the name Shoe Dr, because I was fixing first.

“It snowballed; I put this photo on Facebook and people were asking me if I could do theirs. I made half a shoe and made an Instagram page, put it up and that was it, I kept asking more and more people. This half shoe is still in the studio, I still haven’t finished it.

As her business grew, Shea continued to work in Belfast and a few hours each evening at a local pizzeria. Something was going to have to give.

“I would travel to Belfast, go straight to the pizzeria, work four or five hours, then literally spend the whole night working on the shoes.

“I just got to the point where I had to make a decision, it was getting so busy. I thought I couldn’t quit my job to paint shoes… who does that? But no one told me not to.

He started a new job more locally, but after two months was furloughed during the first lockdown.

“It was the beginning of freelance work,” Shea says. “People always ask me what you think about Covid and there’s nothing bad that came out of it for me, I was in my little bubble, just working.”

“I went back to work for a month and put off my leave,” he continues, now focusing full-time on the Shoe Dr.

It’s not just Nike that were impressed with his artistry. His shoes created a buzz in cycling circles during the 2021 Tour de France – Slovenian rider Luka Mezgec sported a team-oriented design. And the 2012 champion of the world’s most famous race, Bradley Wiggins, was also spotted wearing the clothes designed by The Shoe Dr.

“It’s one of those subconscious things: what I do, it works. I paint shoes, I post pictures and that’s what gets people talking,” he says modestly.

“I don’t think about it too often,” he says of well-known fans. “I’m lucky; I’m pretty cool with people too. There’s no real airs or graces with me. I’m also not one of those fanboys who wants to take a picture with someone famous. I really talk to people as they are. If people ask me who I make shoes for, I say so and they say it’s pretty cool.

“I’ve never approached anyone I’m proud of either. There are a lot of businesses built by pushing other people or paying people to promote them and things will happen. I haven’t even spent a dime on marketing; it literally all came out of my work and word of mouth.

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Shea Gribbon, Shoe Doctor, Maghera


Shea Gribbon, Shoe Doctor, Maghera

Shea Gribbon, Shoe Doctor, Maghera

Shea also works with Australian company Velokicks which manufactures cycling shoes, developing a good working relationship.

Although he says his business efforts go through him, he acknowledges the effort that has gone into this “work in progress”.

“As things got busier, it got harder because I’m the content creator, the marketing, the accounts. As for that side of the business, it’s slowly starting to work and I’m trying to delegate a bit. This is where I see him stepping forward to grow the business.

“I have someone in England now who went to the same university. He helped me with drawings.

“It took a lot of stress and pressure away from me because I was coming at night and I didn’t see the actual design work as work, I only saw the painting as work. I was coming at seven, eight evening and I was trying to create designs with a completely tired mind.

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Shea works in her studio


Shea works in her studio

Shea works in her studio

Shea has received a lot of help business-wise through the Go For It program.

“I had a big thing about saying yes to everything, then it would come to a point where I would stress out, Go For It definitely helped me with that.

“I want to grow the business, but I also want to give other people who might be in my situation a chance.

“Office work from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., I’m not against it, but it’s never been for me. I like my own freedom, to do what I want.

“I didn’t want to let anyone down; I have to do something with my degree.

“But basically, I am. It’s hard to make that leap, so I want to give more opportunities if I can.

For more information on The Shoe Dr, see www.theshoedr.co.uk. If you have a business idea or are considering starting a business, contact the Go For It team on 0800 027 0639 or visit www.goforitni.com

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