Dua Lipa’s custom cycling shoes are mind-blowing

The continent-hopping, time-crunched story of a custom pair of cycling shoes for a pop megastar.

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Sometimes there’s a gem lurking in the spam folder. That’s how this story begins: with a Melbourne-based cycling shoe entrepreneur, Nick Squillari, nursing a morning cup of coffee and blearily deleting a string of emails sent through the contact form of his company website, VeloKicks. 

“I need to sift through what is 99% trash on the off-chance there is a request for sizing info or the like … or an offer to create custom kicks for Dua Lipa,” Squillari recalls.

In his junk emails, he says, there was one that seemed a bit different. “This email seemed pretty well written for a spam email,” Squillari thought. “So I put it into the Google machine and saw that the guy’s LinkedIn page was pimped out – he was on the management team of the Toyota Centre, Houston, and he wanted something for Dua Lipa.” 

“Either this is the best scam ever or it’s legit,” Squillari recalls thinking. 

British pop star Dua Lipa had a show in Houston coming up in just four and a bit weeks, and the management there wanted a keepsake for her. “Whenever a big act comes through, they try to get them something personalised, so they have a great experience and want to come back,” Squillari says.

The venue had received a tip-off that Dua Lipa was a cyclist, and she was going to be surprised with some cycling shoes midway through her global stadium tour. 

There were about to be some cycling shoes with Dua Lipa’s name (literally) on them, and VeloKicks had four weeks to make that a reality. Time was ticking. 

VeloKicks was established as a cycling-shoe based Instagram account in December 2015, before, on New Years Day 2017, it pivoted to become a shoe brand in its own right. One of the driving forces behind the company is Nick Squillari – not just a VeloKicks co-founder, but also a podiatrist, and a handy cyclist in his own right. Since he started the brand, it has grown to the point where it is today – with a range of seven models, having etched out a place for itself in the market as an Australian-designed, Australian-warehoused alternative to the big brands. 

95% of VeloKicks’ turnover is off the shelf models, Squillari says, but there’s a remaining 5% that moves the needle on social media – the custom stuff. VeloKicks were one of the early adopters of custom artwork on cycling footwear, a segment that has since grown exponentially. VeloKicks’ custom offerings start at about AU$699, but are charged on a per-project basis. Compared to the growing crop of rivals, “I like to think we go to different depths and new angles,” Squillari says.

“Custom-painted casual kicks are about a billion dollar industry,” Squillari says, “and cycling is really starting to get into it too.” On one hand, that’s been driven by Instagram, and on the other, by advances in paint technology.

The market leader, Angelus Direct, has pushed things forward with their range of acrylic leather paints, with others like Liquid Paints following suit. “[Angelus Direct] saw the trend happening and had a massive headstart on everyone,” Squillari explains. “You need paints that are flexible enough to be used in a shoe application. The paint needs to flex – not stretch, not crack.” 

VeloKicks work with multiple shoe artists based around the world – artists that also do custom sneakers and custom football shoes, alongside cycling shoes. It’s a time-intensive, detail-oriented process. “Normally it takes about eight weeks at the very best,” according to Squillari.

That wasn’t going to be good enough here.

From the company’s home base in Victoria, Australia, Squillari reached out to the Northern Irish shoe artist Shea Gribbon – AKA The Shoe Dr. – to quickly get designs mocked up from a list of concepts suggested by the Toyota Centre management. The artwork they eventually settled on draws on a mirrorball motif, with an abstract pink representation of Dua Lipa on the side – a nod to the album cover of Future Nostalgia, her critically-acclaimed disco-pop smash. 

Gribbon got to work with mock-ups, and Squillari, on the off chance, rushed two pairs of all-white Blanco Dial shoes to Northern Ireland from the company’s Torquay warehouse. Dua Lipa was between shoe sizes, so Gribbon painted two pairs identically – a 39 and a 40 – and then rushed them on to Houston.

The Shoe Dr was at work night …
… and day.

By the time they’d arrived at their final destination, the shoes had done some pretty serious air miles. “It was, uh, pretty expensive,” Squillari says with a laugh. 

Dua Lipa is in the middle of a pretty staggering streak of success, with her song ‘Levitating’ reaching number one on the US chart; it’s been in the top 100 for more than 70 weeks, the longest-charting song by a woman ever. The musically-literate album it came from, Future Nostalgia, topped the charts in the UK, and received six Grammy nominations. Dua Lipa is also a LGBT advocate and part of a politically engaged wave of young pop stars, campaigning for the rights of oppressed minorities in Sudan, Palestine and Kosovo – the country that her parents are from, and where she lived for a time as a child.

As a cyclist, she’s a bit more of a blank slate. As you’d expect for an artist with 80 million followers, her Instagram profile seems a fairly carefully constructed marketing tool, but there are a few glimpses of a passion for bikes. She’s got a vintage green town bike that she carries her dog around in a basket on the front of, and paparazzi have captured her out for rides in the past.

Apparently she’s also a spin bike enthusiast – and perhaps even a secret road cyclist. After all, Squillari reasons, “they’re road shoes, not spin shoes. As a cyclist, you’re pretty incognito, once you’ve got the helmet and the sunglasses on. Perhaps it’s her escape.” 

It’s a nice thought. Cyclists are a passionate group, and a high-profile global figure like Dua Lipa in the bunch might help grow the community. Maybe it’d even increase cyclist visibility – bring the slightest hint of bike advocacy to the Billboard charts.

Either way, Squillari seems pretty happy with how it all turned out. In Houston this week, half a world away from the Australian warehouse the shoes came from and the Northern Irish artist that painted them, after a manic four and a half weeks, Dua Lipa was presented with her surprise gift.

“She tried them both on, sorta like a Cinderella slipper, and we’re going to do a charity auction for the pair that didn’t fit,” Squillari said. 

One of the world’s biggest pop stars wearing a pair of your cycling shoes: not a bad outcome from a spam email.

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