The most basic shoe in the game gets a whole new twist at YellowBoyLooks. The footwear customization business founded and operated by Bert Robinson takes the typical Nike Air Force 1 sneaker and turns it into whatever your imagination desires.
With 600 pairs sold and over $100,000 grossed in less than a year, YellowBoyLooks is backed by the young entrepreneur’s promise that “every piece is hand-dyed, stitched, and painted to give you a true 100% custom piece made with love.”
A Brooklyn native, Robinson brings that BK swagger to life by combining street culture with Gen Z creativity.
Just when you thought the Air Force 1’s time had passed, here comes Bert with all-new looks.
Robinson can trace his fascination with customization back to his childhood as he would often customize his own shoes with pen, marker, and paint. However, the real inspirations for YellowBoyLooks came in 2017 when Nike collaborated with artist Steven Harrington to create dip-dye and custom print shoes at the Nike Grove LA and rapper A$AP Rocky posted an Instagram photo of himself coloring on his own AF1’s.
Fast-forwarding to three years later, Robinson was mindlessly scrolling through IG, trapped in quarantine during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when he came across those very same Steven Harrington and A$AP posts. He recognized the AF1’s desperate need for some variation, and with his entrepreneurial approach, he began ordering shoes and testing colors, logos, and names.
The fledgling YBL brand quickly gained traction amongst his friends and the community around him, generating impressive demand almost instantly. “It felt like everyone and their mother wanted a pair of YellowBoys,” Robinson told Boardroom University.
Robinson then expanded on the dip-dye method, utilizing his talent of drawing to create custom designs based on customer requests. He describes the tedious process of drawing on sneakers as a challenge, but something he was absolutely willing to tackle.
When asked what’s the hardest part about being an entrepreneur, Robinson had a few key observations. He said the biggest challenge is lacking real guidelines as to how to conduct his business; he’s gone through countless hours of trial and error to perfect his products, making the whole experience feel like a roller coaster ride.
He can’t count how many shoes he’s had to throw away. “I’m dip-dyeing a pair of shoes and in my head and I’m thinking, ‘this color is gonna look sick,’ and I dip it, [and] it looks terrible and I can’t sell it. What do I do?”
As for customer relationships Robinson did not expect those to be quite so taxing, either. “You have to be nice to everyone and they’re not always nice to you. But you have to be able to manage that and not let emotions get the best of you.”
He has a pop-up shop open all summer at 55 Water Street in Brooklyn, but the long-term goal for YBL is to open up more. “I want it to become more of a brand. I want people on the street to see a “B” and know it’s YBL without it saying YBL,” he said. “But in terms of having a definitive long-term goal, I don’t really have one. I’m very go-with-the-flow and seeing what comes to me. I’m taking it for a ride and I’m down for the ride.”
With each sale, Robinson increasingly embodies the entrepreneur persona, and you have to respect the fact that he’s doing it at such a young age — he started at 20, and is now 21. “Ideally, one day I’ll just be YellowBoy and only make custom sneakers for the rest of my life. I’m gonna do everything I can for everyone to see [YBL] and continue to come out with new things, new ideas, and staying on top of the new trends and flows.”
So, what’s next for YBL in the meantime?
“Definitely some YellowBoy clothing: hoodies, t-shirts, socks that match the shoes, bucket hats sold exclusively at the [Brooklyn] popup, and new designs and colors. Just separating myself from everyone else,” Robinson said. “That’s why I have my stitching; I want it to be unique. There’s no one out there that has my stitching. I’ve seen some people copy me with [their] stitching, but it is what it is. If people are copying you, you’re doing something right, so it’s all good.”