The business takes care of itself. It’s always been that way, which is good for Jacob Ferrato, because he can get lost in his work. “I don’t usually know what day of the week it is,” he says half-jokingly.
He may not look it, but Ferrato is a master craftsman. He could blend right into a crowd of fellow Cleveland urbanites, although few 24-yearolds have built a coveted custom sneaker brand from scratch. Under the name JBF Customs, he has attracted a slew of celebrity clients and Instagram followers. All of Ferrato’s shoes are made to order, starting at the base price of $1,000. He deconstructs and re-imagines classic sneaker designs with exotic animal hides and tasteful colorways. He has even begun to build shoes completely from scratch. Whatever the method, the emphasis is always on impeccable craftsmanship.
A good gig if you can get it, the custom shoe game is certainly a niche one. Ferrato attributes his career to luck, but also to seizing opportunity. Ferrato got into customizing shoes in 2008 while he was attending Walsh Jesuit High School in Cuyahoga Falls. At first he tried painting, then stitching and gluing materials directly to the shoe, but these methods didn’t translate into an ideal product. Learning to do a proper shoe reconstruction was more difficult, but it gave him the tools to advance his craft. He found his range in college, adding custom snapback hats with snakeskin brims to his repertoire. While the hats were easy money, he decided to post five pairs of original kicks online, priced at $350 each. They quickly sold out, and he received some incentive to make more: people were offering him a few thousand dollars for a pair. At the time he was 19, and that kind of money seemed too good to pass up, so he jumped on it. The requests kept coming and a spark was lit. There reached a point when Ferrato thought, “OK, I’ve probably got something here.”
The motivation to build the business continued when Ferrato realized what was at stake. If he could make it a success, he could be his own boss and determine his own lifestyle. And that’s exactly what he’s done. He’s amassed a huge social media following, the most coming from Instagram with 122,000 followers. His creations thrive on social media. They’re visually stunning, dopamine-inducing shoegasms. It’s really fun to read the comments from people whose minds have just exploded—a common response is a series of fire emojis. It’s also easy to see why JBF Customs has been such a success. Once you see a pair, you need a pair.
Instagram likes are nice, but for Ferrato, it’s all about the craft. He’s been told that shoemaking requires the mastery of around 200 separate skills. This can mean anything from sewing to stitching to “skiving,” which involves thinning the leather with a very sharp specialty blade. The other processes are evidenced in his workshop, accessible by spiral staircase in the corner of his apartment. On the landing, there are shoeboxes, cuttings, and miscellaneous debris cluttering the floor space. A few sewing machines line the wall. Shoe molds that look like feet from missing mannequins are stacked on shelves. Rolls of alligator, ostrich, and python hide—dyed licorice black, forest green, and candy red—are tucked underneath a large standing desk. For the simplest project, the process can take 12 hours, but for the more ambitious shoes, he can expect to put in 80 hours or more.
To own a sneaker from JBF Customs, expect a heavy fee. The cost of materials, the number of hours, and Ferrato’s level of craftsmanship certainly warrant it, but you might be wondering, who would pay that much for a pair of shoes? Those familiar with the sneaker world are not phased by that question. Sneakerheads are more than willing to shell out gobs of money for new, exclusive, or hyped-up shoes. However, Ferrato’s clientele extend beyond this cliquey community. They can be average Joes, collectors, fashionistas, or celebrities, but they all have a few things in common: they want something unique and authentic, they want something with a story, and they appreciate having a hand in the creation. A recent project for Cavaliers guard Iman Shumpert comes to mind. Iman’s brother, Ahrii, developed the concept with some sketches and it was up to Ferrato to make sure the concept was possible and to build it. “Some people just really appreciate hand-made goods,” Ferrato says. “It’s such a rarity these days, so I think some people really connect with that.”
Every artist has a signature and Ferrato is no different. After investing hours on a pair, he’ll sometimes paint his logo (two plus signs) on the tongue and write his tagline, “Incomparable”—because that’s exactly what they are.