by Lauren Raziano & Jilleen Barrett, Social Media Editor & A&E Editor
After meeting Leslie Odom Jr. over Google meet during the fall semester lecture series hosted by Student Engagement, junior Julianna Finnerty had an opportunity she’d always dreamed of: to share her art with someone she and so many others admired.
Finnerty has been creating custom shoes since 2019 and began sharing them on her Instagram account @finnscustoms as the artistic endeavor quickly became a business.
Finnerty was first inspired to create her unique shoes after watching Spiderman and once she posted her custom shoes, people asked for her to make custom shoes for themselves.
“I’m a huge Marvel fan and after I watched Spiderman: Far From Home I wanted to make myself a pair of painted vans with Spiderman and Mysterio on them. After I made those and posted them on social media I had a lot of people reaching out to me asking if I could make them a pair of custom shoes and it basically just grew from there, said Finnerty.”
When the Broadway sensation Hamilton became popular in 2016, Finnerty instantly became a fan of Leslie Odom’s talents.
“Aaron Burr was always my favorite character/person in the musical and I just LOVED how Leslie portrayed him,” Finnerty said. “Besides ‘Hamilton’, I listen to Leslie’s album ‘Mr.’ all the time and listened to both of his Christmas albums around the holidays.”
While watching the lecture series, she told Odom Jr. about the business and the two made plans to discuss the possibility of her making him a custom pair. After communicating with Odom Jr. via Twitter and sending his assistant, Andrew, a sketch with a plan for the shoes, Finnerty got to work.
With the help of research, Finnerty was able to create one design that captured all the elements of Odom Jr.’s album “Mr.”
“I actually only made one design for the shoes but it took me a bit to get to a design I really loved. I did some research about his album and his influences when he was creating it and wanted to incorporate those into the design,” she said.
The design incorporated lyrics that connected to Odom Jr.’s personal life, “He has one song on the album called ‘Eva’s Song (A Psalm of Life)’ that is a recording of his grandma reciting a poem she always used to recite for him when he was younger and I knew I needed to include that on the shoes.” Finnerty said.
Furthermore, Finnerty was able to include Odom Jr.’s family members, “The main design on the side of the shoe is a tribute to a big influence of Leslie’s, Nat “King” Cole and the design on the cover of his “Unforgettable” album,” she said, “but I added a little girl to the couple to signify Leslie, his wife Nicolette, and their daughter.”
For the final detail, Finnerty worked with a local store to design a shoelace charm, “I was able to work with my local jewelry store ‘Ted’s Gift & Jewelry’ in Pulaski, NY and personalize a set of dubraes (the metal shoelace charms) that had his album title on them.”
Finnerty said that the dubrae was a surprise for Odom Jr., “I didn’t tell Leslie or Andrew about that little finishing touch on the shoes and felt like those just tied in the whole design perfectly.”
Finnerty was able to ship the shoes to Odom Jr. and his assistant captured the moment of Leslie opening the box. This moment fulfilled her dream.
“The first email I received from his assistant was in early September and we worked collectively to design a pair of Air Force 1’s focused around his first original album ‘Mr.’,” she said. “The whole process took about 3 months and that included designing the shoes, ordering materials, making the shoes, and shipping them out to him!”
“Having the ability to create a pair of shoes for someone that I have looked up to for so long like Leslie Odom Jr. was an absolute dream and the fact that he loved them was amazing,” she said.
Finnerty said that the shoes are sported frequently on the actor.
“Andrew emailed me after he received them and told me Leslie wears them around the house all the time,” Finerty said.
As for her future business plans, Finnerty aspires to continue creating custom shoes.
“I plan on growing my business further and hope to expand into the sports industry and customize cleats and sneakers for professional athletes,” she said.
“My business has been steadily growing since I started my Instagram account for it in the fall of last year and I plan on building upon that growth and taking it as far as I can!”
Follow @Finncustoms on Instagram to see the creative pieces and artwork of Julianna Finnerty.