WORDS BY STEPHEN YU
The Shoe Surgeon, aka Dominic Ciambrone, is the LA-based cobbler-turned-shoe-creator behind some of the world’s most sought-after bespoke sneakers. In our exclusive series of video tutorials, we give you a unique insight into some of the core techniques used by Dominic and his Surgeon Studios team to create their 1/1 custom sneakers.
In episode 3, Jake – the Lead Painter Shoe Surgeon at Surgeon Studios – walks us through the basics of how to dye shoe soles using coffee. Watch the full video below and keep reading for more in-depth instructions.
FARFETCH X THE SHOE SURGEON: EPISODE 3 – HOW TO DYE SNEAKER SOLES WITH COFFEE
Custom-Dyeing Your Sneaker Soles With Coffee: Before You Begin
Container (large enough for 1-2 soles and enough liquid to fully submerge)
What material soles are best for dyeing:
‘Soft material soles work best, such as the Ultra Boost foam sole, for example,' says Dominic Ciambrone. ‘You can still dye hard rubber soles, but you might experience fading over time.’
Other household liquids that are good for use as dyes:
‘You can also use dark staining liquids such as wine or cranberry juice to achieve a very light tint.’
Commercial dyes you can use on soles:
‘Rit Fabric dye was designed for shirting but can be used to lightly tint soles different colors. Follow the same process you would use to coffee dye your soles, but use gloves when working with this dye as it can be bad for your skin. Otherwise, Dark Knight Sole Dye is meant for dyeing soles and works best on clear or gum soles. Apply in small light coats with paint or airbrush.’
TIP: Medium-roast coffee will give you a lighter tan color, while a dark-roast coffee will give you a deeper color similar to the Cactus Jack or Union Air Jordan 1s.
Custom-Dyeing Your Sneaker Soles With Coffee: Prepping
Every sneaker comes out of the box with a factory finish – a protective coating that preserves the color and material of the uppers and sole. However, you’ll need to remove this alongside any glue residue to have a clean raw surface for the dye to bond with.
Take a clean cloth and soak it in acetone.
Lightly rub the acetone-soaked cloth around the whole surface of the sole.
2) Remove Sole
While it is possible to dye soles while they’re still attached to the shoe, there’s a risk you’ll have some color transfer onto the material of the uppers. For the best results, we suggest you remove the soles. To find out exactly how to do this, don’t miss the upcoming episode 5 of our tutorial series, which will teach you how to perform a sneaker sole swap including removal of the sole and how to reattach it to the uppers.
Custom-Dyeing Your Sneaker Soles With Coffee: Dyeing
Brew your coffee using hot but not boiling water (160-190F or 70-88C). Ensure you use enough water to cover the sole and the right ratio of coffee to get a good color.
Carefully fill your container with coffee.
Dip the sole in your container of coffee, then use your weighted object to ensure it remains fully submerged.
Wait 5-10 minutes before removing the sole.
If you’re happy with the color, wipe off the residual coffee using a cloth. For a deeper color, place it back into the container for another 5-10 minutes.
TIP: You can keep the sole in the dye as long as you like; the longer it sits, the darker the dye color will be. However, at some point the dye will reach saturation point, meaning that the color of the sole won’t get any darker no matter how long you leave it in for.
How to remove the color if you’re unhappy with it:
‘If you’re unhappy with the results, acetone might be able to remove some of the dye depending on which one you use,’ says Dominic Ciambrone. ‘In most cases, though, the dye is permanent and long-lasting.’
How to achieve multicolored dyeing effects:
‘Use specific sole dyes on the outsole and paint it on in light coats to get tie-dye effects.’
Custom-Dyeing Your Sneaker Soles With Coffee: Reattaching Uppers
Reattaching your sole back to the uppers of the sneaker is a relatively simple yet still technical process. Our upcoming sole swap tutorial will provide an in-depth, step-by-step walkthrough.
On durability and color fastness:
‘Once the coffee is completely dry, it won’t bleed onto the upper or socks. For the best results, apply a clear finish similar to what you would apply when painting the uppers of a shoe. Finishes come in a variety of effects such as matte, glossy and satin. Be careful though: some finishes can change the color of the dye slightly.’
Stay tuned for episode four of our five-part video series with The Shoe Surgeon, where the Surgeon Studios team will teach you how to tie-dye your sneakers using household ingredients.