Career paths can often take an unexpected and serendipitous turn. Having returned from travelling to New Zealand, Chichester University graduate, Simon Fellows, set about pursuing a career in Sports Science, indulging in his hobby of customising sneakers for friends and family in between firing off endless job applications.
As the pile of rejection letters mounted, so did the demand for his sneakers and, with social media increasing his exposure, a fledgling business was born. Then, in the spring of 2017, JLT-Condor rider, Ian Bibby, came knocking on his door brandishing a pair of Sidis in need of a custom overhaul and Fellows duly obliged.
“Since then, 99% of my commissions have been for cycling shoes and I currently have 40 orders on the go”, he says. Fellows had inadvertently stumbled upon a niche area in the growing demand for customised bikes, kit and accessories. Road cycling is a sport intrinsically linked to style and fashion trends and as more people have taken up the sport, especially those of a certain age with a disposable income, it’s no surprise that some riders hanker for a personal, unique look.
Whilst road cycling apparel has become increasingly fanciful and chic in recent years, off-the-shelf cycling shoes have remained relatively conservative, invariably monotone or based on combinations of black, white or red, with the occasional blast of hi-viz for those who dare. There is enough choice and variation for most, but for the cyclist who wants to make a bold personal statement or attain a perfect synergy between their clothing and bike, the customised shoe is the only option.
Marco Pantani offered a glimpse of the future during his all-conquering 1998 season, sporting a pair of Vittoria Blitz that complemented his Bianchi and Mercatone Uno livery with glorious panache. More recently, the pro peloton has become sprinkled with customised shoes, a trend no doubt accelerated by David Millar’s Small Steps Project, his collaboration with Fizik in his final year of racing that saw him wear customised shoes for all the major races in which he competed. Where the pros lead, we amateurs dutifully follow and Fellows’ rapidly growing and global order book offers proof that he has tapped into a rich seam.
One makes one’s own luck and Fellows obviously has a natural gift and an appreciation of how a design will marry with the shape and make-up of the road cycling shoe; few artists have to wrestle with BOA dials, laces and straps. His skills quickly attracted the notice of the Italian brand and Millar’s cobbler of choice, Fizik, who invited him to collaborate on a limited addition of their Aria R3 road shoe to celebrate the 101st edition of the Giro this year. The 101 pairs sold out quickly and Fellows is optimistic that similar projects will follow.
What makes Fellows success all the more impressive is the fact that he has never had any artistic training, but to the surprise of his parents and partner, his foray into customising sneakers revealed an innate talent that has taken his career on an unexpected trajectory. He admits that he prefers the more abstract, geometric combinations of shapes and colours, epitomised by the Fizik Aria design, though he has risen to the challenge of more figurative commissions, adorning shoes with characters from Star Wars and Superhero comics.
The sports science career that Fellows once envisaged for himself, working alongside elite athletes to improve their performance, is far removed from the solitary and specialised craft he now practices. For many cyclists throughout the world, however, he is providing an invaluable service that enhances and brightens the enjoyment of their ride and, who knows, they may just go that little bit faster thanks to his artistry and skill.