J.T. Hassell, then-defensive back with the New York Jets, called Eamon White just as Hassell was getting on a plane to a Cleveland Browns game.

He wanted a pair of customized cleats for the last game of the season, so his Nike Vapors were on their way to Maine.

White had his first client.

He also had four days to turn them around.

Sitting at Sea Dog Brewing in South Portland on game day, watching the Jets take on the New England Patriots, White saw a TV camera do a full-body pan on Hassell, down to his feet.

“It was awesome,” said White, 33. “I watched with a friend. I said, ‘Those are my cleats right there.’ . . . After that, he sent me three pairs to do.”

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White, a Lewiston High School art teacher, has customized 15 to 20 pairs of sneakers and cleats for professional athletes in the last year. He’s trod an interesting path to what he wants to keep, for now, as a side hustle.

Lewiston High School art teacher Eamon White, left, works with students Emily Dauphin, right, and Destanie Marando. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

White grew up in Portland with both a grandmother and father who were artists. He pursued a double-major in new media and studio art at the University of Maine, where he also played football, before transferring to Merrimack College in Massachusetts.

A painting Eamon White did honoring Breonna Taylor hangs in White’s apartment in South Portland. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

In 2013, he interned at a friend’s startup, ISlide, a customized sandal company out of Newton, Massachusetts, where he created six sandal designs.

Later, back for an ISlide Christmas party, “I had a chance to customize a pair of sandals for (Patriots linebacker) Jerod Mayo and (famous boxer) Micky Ward,” said White. “The owner was like, ‘Hey, I have 15 minutes to design a customized pair for Micky Ward, go.’ He was sitting right there, right across from me.”

Another athletic intersection got him into sneakers and cleats.

White, who is also a graphic artist creating vector portraits — bold, color-blocked designs — was inspired to make one of George Floyd in the wake of his death in May 2020. The portrait caught the attention of David Ortiz, the Red Sox’s Big Papi, who shared it on Instagram, getting more than 40,000 likes.

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“I had my George Floyd piece that went viral and when I was asked about what’s next, I said I might do shoes again. So I bought a pair, messed around with it,” said White. “Painted a couple for a couple of friends and it just took off from there.”

 

White, who coaches both football and basketball in southern Maine, had an agent at an all-star game suggest reaching out to players he represented on Instagram to see if they’d be interested in White’s footwear.

“One that hit me back was J.T. Hassell,” who had just been signed by the Jets, White said.

Hassell wanted a pair of cleats customized with Jets’ colors — green, black and white — with a logo of the Lucky Fin Project, a foundation helping children with limb differences, which Hassell supported.

Once the cleats reached White, Hassell needed them shipped back in four days.

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“It was nerve-wracking because I didn’t know what I was going to do,” said White. “I kind of just free-styled on the pair, and I was hand-painting them at the time. I went and bought an airbrush to see if I could do it faster; one was airbrushed, one was hand-painted because it was taking too long to learn how to airbrush.”

Prices on footwear related to a charity have been flexible. Personal sales start at $250 a pair.

The pair that took White the longest to paint, themed on Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech” and also painted for Hassell, took 16 hours.

White starts every pair, whether arriving worn or new, with a cleaning.

Eamon White works on a custom pair of cleats in his South Portland home/studio. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

“You have to put acetone on them to remove the factory coating on it,” said White. Next, “you have to use a scotch pad to rough them up so the paint will adhere to them, and then I tend to, whenever I get a pair, even if they’re white, I’ll lay down a thin coat of white paint just to make sure the paint will grab onto it and I have a clean surface to paint on.”

Design, paint, two sealers and they’re back out the door.

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After Hassell’s pairs, “it kind of just snowballed from there through word of mouth and people seeing my work,” he said.

A drawing by Eamon White inspired by Trayvon Martin entitled “Walk Alone” hangs in White’s South Portland apartment. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

White has customized sneakers and cleats for players from the Detroit Lions, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Portland Sea Dogs.

“I painted a pair that (the Buccaneers’ Cyril Grayson Jr.) wore in his first game back. He wore them and caught a touchdown in them from Tom Brady against the Saints this year,” said White. “It’s kind of cool — one of the agents that is part of Patrick Mahomes’ agency that he’s represented by hit me up on Instagram: ‘You do great work, how much do you charge per charity design for players.’ That was an agency that has some of the biggest NFL players.”

For now, he said, he likes choosing the shoes he would like to do, when he has the time to do it, side-hustle style.

In another creative intersection, though, White brought his side work into the classroom for his painting and drawing students’ semester final in December.

“I brought in all my equipment and I walked them through,” he said. “All the stuff we did this semester was to get them to a point where they could customize a shoe. They came up with spiders, bubbles, eyes. I was pretty proud.”

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