With so many retros, re-releases, and basic two-tones, you would think that at this point everything has already been done, but Stan Birch proves there’s more room to grow. Perhaps better known as Flou Customs, Stan is a sneaker customizer that’s known for his signature split method, where he’s able to mix and match elements by playing with the sewing lines. With more than 600 pairs under his belt, he’s become a flawless perfectionist with a style and color palette all his own. Get to know more about Stan as we talk to him about how he got started, his creative process, and the battle creatives face against consumerism.
Nice Kicks: Tell us about yourself. How did you get introduced to art and design?
Stan Birch: “My name is Stan Birch, I’m 26 years old, and I live in the south of France. My father is a great artist and a great musician, so I grew up in this “art atmosphere,” but I wasn’t interested in it at all. I was more into writing and using words. It [was] really in my twenties that I started to get interested in all sorts of arts.”
What got you interested in sneakers?
“What’s funny about this is that I actually started getting interested in sneakers when I started painting on them. Before that, I wasn’t interested at all. I had like 1 or 2 pairs of shoes; ugly Kenzo white joints.”
What made you interested in customizing sneakers?
“I started this sneaker art thing because I was bored. I stopped working as a bartender and spent all day on the computer, not doing anything, and not knowing what I was going to do in the near future.”
What was the first sneaker you ever made?
“I think the very first was a high top leather Converse. I did some paint splashes and it came out horrible – like really ugly. But I felt that strange feeling, a deep satisfaction, and I knew. I knew I wanted to do this for a living.”
Did you go to art school? Are you self-taught or did someone teach you how to design?
“100% self-taught. The ones who saw my first designs, they sure know I didn’t go to art school. My first pairs were so horrible.”
How would you describe your style?
“It’s really hard for me to describe my style, I never thought about it actually. I’d say unique, colorful, and luxury. Unique because we’ve never seen anything like this before. Nobody split shoes in 4, nobody played with sewing lines before I did. Colorful because the color combinations are very one of a kind. And I’m definitely in the luxury part of all this sneaker art thing.”
How does your craftsmanship add to the sneaker community?
“You know brands today, they just make the strict minimum. No big material research, they use what they already have in factories. No new colors. They put all their energy in new shapes and technology innovation. Which is cool, but there’s a lack of motivation somewhere. That’s where people like me are important. A Hermès bag is handmade. There’s literally dozens of hours of work and precision on it. My shoes are impeccable, exactly like a Hermès bag. In every shoe I make there’s so many hours of work. I split the pair in 4 different parts, I play with all the sewing lines, I work on the laces, I put some gold, there’s no marks, no stains. When you open the box, there’s happiness in it. This is what I sell. I sell happiness. And now, when you receive a regular brand shoe, you’re happy, but then you see the glue stains, and you see the bad sewing, and you see so many bad things that shouldn’t be there. That’s why we, perfectionist artists, are important.”
How do you decide on a colorway? What inspires your color choices?
“100% in-the-moment inspiration. I don’t sketch. I don’t pre-design. I don’t do mock-ups. Every color comes naturally depending on the previous one, that’s what I love about the process. When a client says, ‘Do whatever you want.’ I know it’s going to be an absolute banger.”
How has your work developed over time?
“Oh so much! My first pairs were horrible. Bad painting skills, bad painting process. Everything was bad. That’s the power of working, working, and working again. I did around 550/600 pairs, so my craft, my capacities, my talent – it all developed itself through the time.”
Is your creative process structured or do you find yourself more of a free-form artist?
“The whole working process is structured. Same place, same work routine. But the creative process is totally free. As I said, I take a color and don’t know which one I’ll pick a few minutes from there. My brain and my subconscious work on themselves.”
What’s the biggest challenge for you as an artist?
“Today, the world, the people, the society, this consumerism world is [so intense] that artists are forced to create content almost every day. Years ago when social media was not as important as it is today, artists weren’t forced to post every day, or every 2 days, weren’t forced to create non-stop content. Today, if we want people to keep looking at our work, if we want people to keep looking up to us, we are [obligated] to create, and to renew absolutely every day. This is not fair. We are artists and the society we live in is asking us to be robots if we want to stay in the Top 5 or the Top 10. It’s exactly the same thing for musicians, singers, rappers, architects, and every art category. So the biggest challenge is accepting that we are in a consumerism world, where people will forget you if you don’t release a banger every 2 days.”
What products do you recommend for people to get started?
“Acetone, mask, a good brush, Angelus paint, and a good chair – because you’re going to spend a lot of hours sitting on it.”
Would you ever be interested in designing and manufacturing your own sneaker?
“I [have] already thought about that so many times. My old apartment was full of hand-sketches. Some were absolutely insane, I don’t know where they are now, but yeah, I already worked on it. But I’m more interested in being a consultant for colorways to be honest, or having my own collab with a cool brand, and designing a unique colorway with them. I’m working on a few projects, stay tuned.”
What brand makes the best silhouettes? Do you have any loyalty to a certain brand?
“Easy. New Balance and Nike for the big brands. In a less mainstream space, I’m in love with Mercer Amsterdam silhouettes. It’s mainly a sneaker brand, founded by Pim Dresen, in Amsterdam. Definitely a luxury brand that deserves everything. Shapes, materials, everything is different. Far in front of what some of the biggest brands are doing since a few years. Kangaroos sneakers are also very different from what you see everyday. Quality is amazing. Karhu sneakers shapes are also beautiful. Even if I don’t own many. I don’t have a specific loyalty [to any brand]. I was focused on Nike for a few years, but I’ve been disappointed by many things, so I’m not as passionate as I was before.”
What’s your favorite pair of shoes that you made?
“Wow. As I said, I’ve made around 600 custom works – I couldn’t choose. I could probably give you like 30 pairs that I love, but not just 1! If I had to choose, I’d say the Air Force1 I did for DJ Clark Kent. Absolutely amazing. The Lenny Santiago’s AF1 were so insane too. And the very first Sacai I did. And the second, and the third, and… I mean I love so many of them! “
What’s been your favorite moment in your career thus far?
“The fact that big celebrities trust my work is amazing. Artists I’d been listening to 10 years ago are now reaching out to me today. What kind of sorcery is that? It’s a dream come true. The fact that people pay me and say, ‘You have total freedom, I trust you one hundred.’ This is everything. I feel so blessed to be in this position. It’s been hard work, no sleep, no holidays, no weekends, but in the end, it’s all worth it. I’m in a dream position where [there] are so few. I’m so thankful for the people I’ve met and the people I’ve worked with, that made me evolve in such a beautiful way.”
What are you hoping to achieve with your work? Where do you see Flou Customs in 5 years?
“I have very specific goals, very specific aims, but they are so high that people would tell me to stop dreaming. That’s why I never talk about this. I know where I want to be in a few years. I know I will be exactly where I want to. But the journey is difficult, nothing is easy when you aim for the top – great things take time. But in the meantime, I’ll be dropping a few clothing joints. I’ll be working on NFT projects as I already accept crypto as payment. Many collaborations [including] more shoes, more beautiful works, more celebrities, more colors, and more gold. But more importantly, I’ll be putting more of myself and more of my soul in every project where my name is.”