Billy Louiselle has three passions: art, tennis and shoes. For the past four years, the Shawnee Mission East senior has dovetailed them and developed Uncommon Sole, a custom shoe design business.
Billy's love for art and tennis was kindled at an early age. His parents, Patrick and Tami Louiselle, encouraged Billy and his brother, Jake, while they were still toddlers.
“I grew up around art,” Billy said. “From preschool, my brother and I took lessons every summer at the Nelson. My parents are super artistic and are art collectors.”
Tami Louiselle says she's drawn to art because it reveals so much about people.
“Billy was exposed to painting, drawing and sculpture but the shoes were entirely his own idea. He just took off with them and did something that was so him."
He was only 3 when his father started playing tennis with him, Billy said.
“The initial love was that it’s a life sport I can play my whole life. Also, I’ve seen a lot of tennis players and their work ethic, and that inspired me. I’ve seen when you give something as much as you can, it will pay off in one way or the other.”
Billy's efforts in tennis have, indeed, paid off.
For the past five years, he has trained with the KC United Tennis academy and advanced to premier player level, competing in regional and national tournaments.
His interest in shoes coincided with his start at the academy.
“I love shoes. In eighth grade, I got into collecting them and I have a huge collection now.”
As he transitioned into high school, Billy was inspired to bring his love for art and “sole” together. In 2013, Uncommon Sole was born.
“It was a lightbulb moment,” he said. “When you wear all kinds of shoes, you start wanting to walk out with something nobody else has to make you feel different.”
Billy chose the business name, Uncommon Sole, as a reflection of his shoe philosophy.
“You’re portraying yourself and your soul on the shoes, and everyone has a unique soul. You can show yourself in the shoes you walk around in."
For his first shoe design, Billy appropriated one of his favorites.
“I had a pair of Converse in my closet I started with. I did a quick design on the shoes and just started painting.”
Since that initial project, Billy's creative process has evolved. Today, he works one-on-one with his clients to create one-of-a-kind shoe designs.
Initially, clients come to Billy with their own theme, or they ask him to develop an original idea.
“A lot of times, people like to be surprised because they trust my process,” he said. “I like to learn about my clients, their attributes and what interests them. I want the shoes to be a portrayal of them and what they want other people to know about them.”
His next step is the research phase. After that's completed, he sketches several designs and narrows it down to one.
He then sketches the design on the shoes in pencil and the painting begins. Using a durable acrylic paint that doesn’t crack on fabric or leather, he free-hands the detailed designs.
Recently, Billy's shoes attracting celebrity attention, which has also translated into orders.
“The rapper, Felly, did a show in Lawrence. After the show, I messaged him on Instagram with a few shoe pics. I checked my phone in the morning and he had messaged me back and ordered a pair. He did a Strawberry Tour and so the shoes had a strawberry theme.”
Billy credits sports with helping him excel in academics, play champion-level tennis and run a business.
“The discipline of tennis has taught me time management, and I’ve learned the value of keeping a schedule. With the tennis, academics and shoes, I have to be super focused.”
Though his shoe business adds that extra level of time and responsibility to his already full schedule, he says he loves the work.
“My schedule is so busy and painting shoes is super calming. It always makes me happy at the end of the day to work creatively and artistically.”
Delivering the finished shoes to his clients also makes him happy.
“The best part for me is when the client sees the shoes," Billy said. "Seeing someone come to life because their shoes have come to life is the best part. Every time they put them on, it lightens their day.”
You can email the artist at email@example.com