Ngāti Kahungunu artist turns his whakairo skills to painting custom sneakers

By Jessica Tyson

Artist Rangihaira Jaxon Greening is a professional sneaker colour-inner and has made a living from painting custom shoes.

Greening, no Ngāti Kahungunu, says the idea started when he wanted to send a graduation present to his nephew in America.

“I thought, what’s a gift that I could get him that no one else has? So I thought a pair of shoes of his football school and jersey number.”

Greening had been painting shoes since 2012 as a hobby before making it a business - GystForKickz.

“The journey has been really fun. Now, I do get a full understanding and appreciation for those who have been doing this for a long time. It’s not easy but, if you enjoy it, it makes the journey less bumpy.”

Some of Greening’s work has gone viral online.

“I’ve got a video that has done more than seven million views on YouTube, Facebook posts that have reached more than 1.3 million people. On Instagram, some of the little short videos of the painting process blow up because people are just interested in seeing the whole thing.”

He says creative talent runs in his family.

“It all started because our whole family is creative in our own way. My dad and my grandfather were both traditional carvers.”

He says before painting shoes he was a tā moko artist.

“I was always interested in the designs and the koru patterns,” he says.

But being a tā moko artist can be more challenging than painting on shoes, he says.

“The no-brainer is that you can fix your mistakes on shoes compared to tā moko which is on skin. As you go along in whatever journey, it is you make mistakes. It depends on what you take from that information and how you learn from it. I did make a mistake on a pair of shoes that did cost me about $3,000 so I learned from that.”

He says he is living the dream, doing what he loves fulltime as a job but is interested in creating shoes from scratch in the future.

“I even would like to go around New Zealand and do workshops with youth or people who want to do stuff like this for themselves, or maybe start up a business or just who enjoy painting. Until I die, I’m just going to keep painting shoes so I’m happy.”