March 4, 2024
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Using Holy Inspiration to Customize Baseball Cleats and Gloves

You see your favorite player sporting custom cleats, while you are yelling at the television, sitting on the edge of your seat and hoping that your team comes out victorious. What you don’t see is the guy with his tzitzit hanging out wearing a black felt kippah presenting the player with those personalized cleats.

Ari Solomon is the lead custom footwear and equipment designer for Stadium Custom Kicks, which creates personalized athletic footwear and sneakers for athletes and sneaker fanatics.

Solomon dreamed of working in sports as a kid, but never saw anyone like him, with a kippah and tzitzit. With his love of drawing and his self-taught Adobe Photoshop expertise, he hoped his creativity and visual art skills could one day propel him into the sports industry.

In high school, at TABC, Solomon launched a successful business designing logos for benchers and invitations. But when his portfolio was sucked into the black hole of a broken computer, he took it as a sign to refocus his creativity and skills toward launching a career in sports. He began creating custom prints of athletes by playing with the colors, background, details and textures of the picture. Solomon would message athletes and agents offering them the free images he created in return for the athlete tagging Solomon in their social media posts.

Solomon created “The 5-Minute Drop,” a live video conversation with an athlete about sports and life, at the end of which he reveals his artwork featuring the athlete and sends the image to the athlete as a thank you gift for appearing in his video. Solomon’s fourth guest was Alex Katz, a pitcher for Israel’s World Baseball Classic and Olympic baseball teams and the founder of Stadium Custom Kicks. Katz was so impressed with Solomon’s design skills that he invited him to join the Stadium Custom Kicks design team.

Solomon’s first assignment, and favorite pair to date, was to design cleats for Jacob Degrom. “As a Mets fan, it was a dream come true,” Solomon said. ‘I tried to play it cool but was jumping off walls. I was so happy.” It was unclear whether Degrom would be wearing the cleats during the Friday night game or just for warmup. Only after Shabbat ended did Solomon learn that Degrom struck out 10 batters while wearing those cleats.

Solomon’s creativity knows no end. For the NFL’s 2021 My Cause My Cleats week, Solomon partnered with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to design 65 personalized pairs of cleats, each depicting the player’s or coach’s charity of choice. At the end of the week, the cleats were auctioned off, with the money donated to the charity depicted on the cleats. The cleats Solomon created for Oakland A’s pitching coach Scott Emerson to wear on September 11, 2021, honoring the daughter of a friend who was killed in the attacks, are in Baseball’s Hall of Fame.

Solomon designed cleats for Israel’s entire 2022 Tokyo Olympic baseball team. While all pairs exhibited Jewish and Israeli symbols and sayings, each pair was unique. After Solomon created shoes for himself and his wife for their wedding, he released an entire wedding shoe line that can be personalized with the couple’s names, dates and logo.

In addition to designing for Stadium Custom Kicks, Solomon is the head designer for the ARiA Collective, which brings sports, art and fashion together through personalizing baseball gloves. He continues to create logos and personalized Judaica.

Designing a pair of cleats can take anywhere from 14 to 17 hours. Some clients are hands-on designers—they sit with Solomon to discuss the shade of every color and the placement of every image—while others submit a list of what they want and leave the design up to Solomon. Once the design is completed, it is sent to the athlete for approval and then to the artist who hand-paints the design onto the shoes.

When success in sports can sometimes lead you off the straight and narrow, Judaism is Solomon’s Yellow Brick Road. His logo, which he places on every piece he designs, has a בס”ד. “It gives me an opportunity to have people ask what it means. I tell them it means that everything is from God. So your shoes are blessed from above,” Solomon said.

He never wears a hat, always his kippah and tzitzit out on full display. “I have this crazy opportunity to make an active Kiddush Hashem so I intentionally wear my kippah and go out of my way to be extra nice and talk to as many people as I can as I’m usually the first Orthodox Jew they’re meeting,” Solomon said. Even when it comes to Shabbat, Solomon has experienced nothing but respect. “Yes, I have not been able to attend cool events on Shabbat, but I’ve never felt like I missed an opportunity or lost business because of Shabbat.”

Solomon wants to be the shomer Shabbat, kippah- and tzitzit-wearing guy in sports for Jewish kids today, to ensure they know that being observant is not a limit to success. “If you haven’t seen people like you doing what you want to do, it just means you have to work a little harder,” he said, “but it doesn’t mean you can’t do it if you stay true to your Jewish values while making a Kiddush Hashem.”

Danielle grew up in Teaneck, and made aliyah to Jerusalem following her graduation from Rutgers University. Danielle teaches English at colleges in Jerusalem and has been involved in both formal and informal education for a variety of organizations. Danielle believes that important life skills and lessons are often not ones learned in the classroom, but can be learned from team sports.

By Danielle Barta

 

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