The Art of Cycling Shoes: Jarpz

Charlotte Jarps is in the business of turning cycling shoes into artwork

Few road cyclists could deny an innate love for a stylish set of cycling shoes. Today we’re treated to higher-performing and more varied shoes than ever before. But, we’d have to admit that while trainer brands like Nike or Adidas showcase colourful and edgy designs, cycling shoe brands teeter on the conservative side. In fact, when choosing our favourite shoe design, the hardest decision we have to make is often between black or white.

However, as Charlotte Jarps has discovered, plain cycling shoes can serve as the perfect canvas for some creative flair. Who says cycling shoes have to stay so boring? 

Nestled in the North East of England, working in an attic room converted into a makeshift painting studio, Charlotte creates bespoke cycling shoes like you have never seen before. From detailed, Van Gogh inspired sunflowers to bright tie-dye patterns, the designs are eye-catching enough from a distance, but even more impressive when you take a closer look. Her business venture, Jarpz, has grown exponentially since it began in 2018.

Charlotte is a self-proclaimed perfectionist with an excellent eye for detail. “I’ve had creative jobs before” she says “and I did my degree in textiles and fashion design”. But, wanting a creative outlet from her work as a teacher, she began painting shoes after some encouragement from her family of keen cyclists.

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With Charlotte’s friendly demeanour, and a quick glance at her stunning shoe designs, it’s no surprise that Jarpz’s popularity is on the rise. The designs are a collaboration between Charlotte and customers. She works with them during the entire painting process, bringing even the wildest of shoe dreams to life. Starting with a mock-up on Photoshop, she is able to ensure both parties are happy with the design before putting brush to shoe. Her Instagram account often chronicles the designs taking shape as well as how-to videos for anyone who wants to attempt a pair at home.

Jarpz has been in the making for a long time – practicing designs on old shoes to perfect the techniques has been an essential part of Charlotte’s development. "Youtube helps with anything if I don't know how to do it!" Charlotte admits, having learnt about the best paint to use from watching YouTube tutorials.

Prices start at £125, but vary depending on the detail and size of the design. The shoes can be new or old, and each pair of shoes generally has around a two-week turnaround. 

Over time, Charlotte has realised the value of good preparation, “It’s so important, particularly on shoes that are really shiny or non-leather. If you don’t paint them properly, the paint won’t fit on the shoe and it will just come off.” 

Such intricate designs require extreme concentration and, although having the extra time at home due to lockdown has been a perfect time to expand Jarpz as a business, Charlotte has to make sure to structure her day, “Otherwise I’ll be working on one pair of shoes, look up and it will be dark outside” she tells me. 

To begin, Charlotte uses a strong repair and deglazer solution to clean the shoe and take off the factory shine, as well as any grime left on a used pair of shoes.

Once that’s done, she is able to turn her attention to the painting of the shoes. Predictably, that’s her favourite part. Using brushes so tiny she suspects she might need to get a microscope one day to see what she’s doing, Charlotte favours Angelus leather paint, “It’s acrylic but really flexible” she explains “it’s a lot smoother than normal paint, so it doesn’t crack”. 

Thanks to her experience in the sport, Charlotte knows the conditions that her shoes will need to withstand, especially the British weather. She ensures the longevity and quality of her creations by adding layers of finisher on top of the design, keeping the paint waterproof and protected.

Collaborations with brands like dhb and Le Col keeps things interesting in what is otherwise a fairly solitary pursuit. Longer term, Charlotte hopes she’ll continue to do more work with both teams and companies. Feedback from shoe brands has been positive so far: “It’s something different for them too, I don’t hide the brand but rather enhance it by taking details like the logo and adding art to it.”

We wondered how scalable the hand-painting process would be longer term, but Charlotte explains that the use of a vinyl cutter and an airbrush can speed things up. She prefers to hand paint, though, and keeping designs bespoke and limited edition is something she wants to remain a crucial part of Jarpz’s brand identity.

Following recent trends in cycling kit, like the creative Palace x EF collaboration, Jarpz is a perfect offering to pro riders or teams who want to add a unique spin to their kit. Having already painted Nike trainers for the likes of Tom Pidcock, seeing Jarpz shoes in the pro peloton is something Charlotte aspires to longer term. 

Her skills don’t stop at footwear either, Charlotte also paints helmets and thanks to her experience in surface design, has dabbled in cycling clothing. “I’d really just like to do lots of different things to keep it exciting” she explains.

From those looking for an artisan kick to a big brand generic design, or aiming to breathe some new life into a tired set of racing shoes, Jarpz has proved popular – Charlotte is currently booked out until April. 

Once she has some time, you just need to check out Jarpz’s website for details on how to order one of her designs. A chance to own some artwork, and put some soul into your soles.