NKU Student Turns Hobby into Business for Customizing Shoes

HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. — A 21-year-old Northern Kentucky college student has started his own business.

Isaiah Kelly custom designs and restores shoes all the while studying for classes. 

“So what’s really crazy is that I was not into art at all,” Kelly said, with a brush in his hand painting a pair of shoes. I never thought n a million years I would be sitting here painting a shoe.”

Kelly says his outlook has transformed in recent days.

“My first major here at NKU was graphic design which in the school of the arts. I didn’t like it so much that I switched my major like after the first semester.”

For Kelly that was an experience during his freshman year at Northern Kentucky University while he also worked at a shoe store.

“I did not care about shoes or clothes but I guess being around shoes 40 hours a week I just fell in love with shoes. going into my freshman year of college I use to look up how to get shoes for cheap on YouTube just cause I’m really frugal with my money,” Kelly said.

Kelly said that’s when he came across a video on creating designs and customizing shoes. He said his hobby started at his parents’ kitchen in Louisville and became a business eight months ago called “Smoove Creations.” He fills orders to paint shoes as a form of artistic expression.

“Now I love art. I see the art in everything. Every time I see a pair of shoes. Right now we do shoes be we eventually want to do phone cases, hats, t-shirts, we want to do everything,” Kelly said.

But starting a business came with its own set of challenges. Kelly has a passion for restoring and customizing shoes but needed to learn how to develop a balanced business-oriented support system. He acquired those skills by taking part in the university’s Inkubator Program which provides resources on growing a business.

“Something that we created for our students is the ability to test it out and that’s something that when you’re getting into entrepreneurship and you don’t have a support structure like this, it’s very challenging,” said Zac Strobl, Center for Innovation and Entrepreneur at NKU.

For Kelly, he’s transformed his challenges into a meaningful and rewarding career all before graduating college.

“I think that’s the coolest thing for me. Just knowing that somebody appreciates my creativity and is willing to not only pay for it but wear it themselves,” Kelly said.

The entrepreneur said he’s completed at least 50 orders of customized shoes and earned $10,000 since his start less than a year ago.