By Liz Petoniak / Photographs by Michael Fornataro / Art Direction by Samantha Casale
Hundreds of shoe sketches, scribbled on everything from hotel stationery to sticky notes, cover the kitchen table in designer John Geiger’s loft. The Bloomfield native is a man flooded with ideas, and with sneakers — his awe-inducing collection literally piles up to the ceiling.
One of his most recent shoe designs, dubbed “Misplaced Checks,” has garnered the attention of celebrities and “sneakerheads” alike. Despite all of the buzz surrounding Geiger, he remains humble and loyal to his city, and cites The Andy Warhol and Mattress Factory museums as sources of inspiration. “I live in Pittsburgh to this day because I want to be seen as a designer from Pittsburgh,” he tells us.
Geiger has been modifying sneakers since he was in fourth grade by drawing on them or simply changing the colors. “I always wanted that ‘1 of 1’ feel, just to stand out from the rest of the other kids.” It wasn’t until he had the opportunity to work closely with Nike on the Zoom Revis sneaker (Geiger formerly served as the manager for New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis) that he learned the logistics of sneaker design. From there, he went on to sell his design ideas to major corporations.
In the past year, though, he’s turned down countless offers in order to focus on producing his own designs and build up his brand. He says, “So many people do things just for money, and don’t get it wrong, I live pretty good, but I just want to be able to do what I want to do and not really do it for a dollar.” He lives by this notion, even sporting a tattoo of artist Banksy’s “♥ > $” graffiti art.
While many believe he is poised to be the footwear industry’s next big thing, his vision extends far beyond sneakers. “In a couple years from now, I would love to have a full line out of sneakers and clothing,” he says. “That’s my goal.” Geiger is well on his way. Currently, he’s developing his namesake line of shoes, the John Geiger Collection, which will reflect his high-end meets low-end style. “We coined the term ‘high-end trapping’ because this [bomber jacket] is Fear of God and these are G-Star [jeans], but then there’s [Nike] Air Force 1s,” he says, glancing down at his feet. “I always tend to put together those two styles. So, it will be like a shoe you would probably see in Barneys [New York], but will have a sportswear feel to it.”
His original shoes have reached the sample process, and Geiger is working to build a team around his brand. But, “sneakerheads” need not fear — the John Geiger Collection does not mean the death of his killer sneaker modifications, at least not yet. “When my own shoe comes out, that’s all I’m going to worry about,” he says. “In the meantime, I am going to release a few more custom sneakers.”
And, his enormous fan base, comprised of more than 124,000 followers on Instagram, and approaching 100,000 on Twitter, eagerly awaits his next move. “Social media plays a huge role for me in what the public can see and how far my reach is,” he says. “It’s basically free marketing. People pay for billboards; I can just post pictures on Instagram. If I post a new design and I get 7,000 likes, that’s almost a million eyes.”
For Geiger though, the thrill of designing does not lie in gaining “likes” for his designs. “I really think people are scared to show what they’ve made on social media. It’s probably because it can go either way — they might love it or they can hate it. Personally, I don’t care what people say. If 10 people like it, I will make 10 pairs.”
Ultimately, the most rewarding part of this whirlwind experience for the designer is simply seeing others sporting his kicks. “Especially people from Pittsburgh, like Mac and Wiz,” Geiger adds. “I wish I could give everybody free ones, I really wish I could.”