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Wearing Your Heart on Your Sole

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Nika Anschuetz





Feature  •
Business  •

Daniels College of Business student creates custom shoes for college athletes with help of entrepreneurship program.  

white shoes splattered with blue and pink paint

From Google to Walt Disney, garages have long been incubators for American ingenuity—the place of origin for many successful companies. At the University of Denver, the Garage, an on-campus co-working space, is no different.  

Inside the 500 square foot area, divided into four maker’s spaces, Zoom calls, faint hissing noises, the pounding of a sewing machine and the effervescent clacking of a keyboard reverberate through the building.  

Isaac Mbereko, a senior studying business management and entrepreneurship at the Daniels College of Business, is among those creating in the co-working space. He’s the founder of This is Art?, a custom painted apparel business. As a child in the early 2000’s, Mbereko never saw sneakers as utilitarian. Sneaker culture, which has taken America by storm, transformed shoes into a phenomenon, offering wearers not just style but a sense of identity and self-expression.  

“If I got Tony Hawk’s shoe or Nyjah Houston’s shoe, then it was like, I became that person,” Mbereko says. “Obviously, that wasn’t true, but it just kind of helped me develop my own identity.” 

While This is Art? is his first official business, he has always had an entrepreneurial spirit. His parents owned a commercial painting business in Aspen, a good primer for his business to be. 

“I was always around that kind of influence and learning to have the customer be the boss as opposed to having a real boss,” he says.  

It started in first grade when Mbereko made duct tape wallets, a few of which he says are still in use today. When he got older, he learned how to string his lacrosse stick and sold his services to teammates. During his first year at DU, he designed his first shoe. With Vans as his canvas, he used brushstrokes of red and white, adding a couple of spoked wheels—a tribute to the Detroit Red Wings.  

du custom converse

“I’m still growing. Every day there’s something to learn, and it’s kind of really being open every single day,” Mbereko says.  

During the summer of 2023, he took his business to new heights, participating in the Daniels College of Business BASE Camp, a summer intensive for entrepreneurs. He’s made a name for himself in college athletics, customizing shoes for the DU gymnastics team, Colorado College’s hockey team, and most notably, he designed the shoes for University of Colorado head football coach Deion Sanders and family. 

In August, he emailed Deiondra Sanders, coach Sanders’ daughter, and Rick George, the athletic director at CU, with hopes of customizing shoes for the family to wear on game day. 

In the email, he detailed his experience creating wearable art for the DU gymnastics team and Grammy-nominated poet Sekou Andrews. He included mockups for the CU Buffs shoes, affixed with the iconic “Sko Buffs!” phrase.  

sko buffs

“If I receive the sizes by Sunday, I’m planning to livestream the entire process on Twitch,” he wrote. “Feel free to tune in and see how it all comes together.” 

Later that day, he heard back. She said yes. Two days later, he livestreamed his process. On his desk in the Garage, he showed off a newly airbrushed pair of Nike sneakers

As he peeled away the tape to reveal pristine white underneath, he unlocked a myriad of fresh opportunities.  

nike shoes with red and yellow paint


“It’s always a no until you ask,” he says.  

For Mbereko, custom shoes exude confidence. They’re not intended solely for display.They’re meant to be worn—a display of one’s heart on their sole.  

“I want you to be able to represent yourself,” he says. “I want people to wear them.” 

For more on Mbereko, check out his story on FOX 31 and KOA.