From a makeshift studio in a cramped apartment in North Macedonia's Skopje, Satja Grabuloski has made his mark as one of the top sneaker artists in the world.
With more than 300 celebrities as customers, Grabuloski has taken orders from famous athletes, actors, and musicians - including Lebron James and Dua Lipa.
Using an array of paints, Grabuloski and his team of seven artists turn ordinary shoes into works of art - featuring portraits of famous celebrities, film characters and sports stars along with splashes of vibrant colours.
"Sometimes they call us with a specific idea. Sometimes they say, I have no idea - make me a good design. We then do whatever it takes to make the client satisfied," says Grabuloski, 31, as he prepares a shipment of customised football cleats for Real Madrid's winger Vinicius Junior.
A single pair of revamped sneakers painted by his team Swithadot StudioS fetches a starting price at around 1,000 euros (US$1,050, RM4,700).
The growing enterprise first started as a hobby for Grabuloski, who remembers using a paint kit his mother bought from Paris to ink patterns on a pair of shoes when he was 12.
More than a decade later, Grabuloski was putting custom designs on sneakers with a permanent marker. The method proved to be a hit with his first batch of shoes selling out in 24 hours.
"That showed me... there is a potential business idea that I am still building and developing today," he adds.
'Knocked on 1,000 doors'
Armed with a marketing degree and a smartphone, Grabuloski relied on word of mouth and networking with social media influencers to help build his brand.
Grabuloski also honed in on targeting athletes and found initial success with painting shoes for handball clubs and popular footballers.
"I have knocked on 1,000 doors - some of them opened," Grabuloski explains.
"I used the players who bought shoes from us - one-by-one - as a starting point to make contacts with their friends, co-players in the club or in the national team."
All the designs made by his team at Swithadot StudioS are unique, according to Grabuloski, with clients given certifications of authenticity and a short note on the ideas behind the artwork.
"Every project includes up to 80 hours of work, but some of the designs, for example sport shoes that were done for Lebron James were being prepared for more than 300 hours," says Grabuloski, while laughing that the massive size of the star player's shoes led to more work.
For now, Grabuloski plans to stay and work in North Macedonia, despite longer shipping times due to the limited number of flights in and out of the Balkan country.
But even as he plans to stay in Skopje, Grabuloski is in the process of opening up a showroom in New York, with plans to expand to other major cities soon.
With his business booming, Grabuloski admits he is often stretched between running the daily operations, networking, and researching new markets, which leaves little time to dabble in his favourite hobby.
"I do not have time to draw anymore," says Grabuloski. "I miss it very much." - AFP