When you’ve worn your favorite pair down to shreds, who’re you going to call?
No pair of shoes is immortal. It doesn’t help to be so precious about them—even the best and most well-maintained sneakers will cease to be wearable after years of use. Eventually, the rubber will turn yellow before turning to dust, the leather will crease permanently, the glue will no longer hold, the paint will fade and chip, the mesh and canvas will rip, and the stains on the suede will no longer come off. This is the natural and inevitable end of your shoes’ lifespan, and it usually means having to part with a beloved pair.
But there are pairs you just can’t part with—sneakers that you would refuse to shelf, even after you’ve worn them to shreds. Those are the pairs you send to RG Conopio, a sneaker restoration specialist who’s gained considerable recognition in the local sneaker community as one of the best guys to turn to if you’re looking to breathe new life into your favorite kicks. He’s a veritable shoe-smith when it comes to restoration, and Filipino sneakerheads have started to take notice of his ability to resurrect even the most hopeless cases.
RG is having a smoke at the sari-sari store just outside his home when he whips out his phone and opens Facebook. He shows us his backlog of private messages: over 1,000 requests from strangers, all asking him to restore their shoes, or for advice on how they can do it themselves. “Di ko na sila mabilang eh. Sobrang dami,” he says, when we ask him how many jobs he’s taken since he started doing sneaker restoration in 2013. But he estimates that right now, he has well over 30 pairs of his clients’ sneakers in his house—all lined up to be rehabilitated. Some are in one piece, but dirty, chipped, or damaged; some are totally dilapidated and split apart, and most have that unpleasant yellow patina that comes with age. But their owners trust RG to get them all back in shape.
The proof is on Facebook, where RG posts before-and-after images of his work on the page of popular sneaker group PINOY SNEAKERHEADS COMMUNITY (PSC). Among these are photos of Space Jams, Breds, Concords, Kobes, and very rare Air Max 1s—all in poor condition. But each of the “after” photos show stunning reversals of their fate—RG masterfully puts them all back together as if nothing had happened. His work has earned him overwhelming support in the form of countless likes, vouches, and recommendations in the group; as well as a list of clients that grows with every passing day. Among the noteworthy sneakerheads whose shoes he’s serviced are Chicosci lead guitarist Mong Alcaraz, Greyhoundz drummer TJ Brillantes, DJ Mars Miranda, and DJ Ace Ramos.
But not too long ago, RG was just another sneakerhead, fawning over his pair of black Stefan Janoskis, which he calls his “first love.” He customized them by painting the Swooshes gold, to mimic the colorway of the “Takashi” Dunk SBs—one of his favorites at the time. He only really got his start at restoring sneakers when a friend saw those customs and approached him with a pair of 2012 Bred Air Jordan 4s that were chipped on the midsole, asking if he could paint them, too. “Ginawa ko lang talaga ‘yun for free,” RG recalls. But because he was so determined to do it right, he managed a perfect paint job, and the owner was beyond satisfied. “Vinouch lang niya ako sa PSC. Tapos ‘yun, nagdire-diretso, naipon ‘yung work.”
As the requests started to pile up, RG honed his skills by taking his cues online, from YouTube and from other sneaker restorers in the States, where restoration had already become a significant subspace within sneaker culture. “Tapos prinactice ko lang,” he says. “The more na marami kang ginagawa, the more naman na mae-enhance mo yung skills mo sa pagre-restore.”
While RG can no longer count the pairs of sneakers that he’s worked on, he can list down his main services: he can do a full upper reglue, which means re-attaching a shoe’s upper to its midsole, and a full reglue, which is a complete reattachment of the upper, the midsole, and the outsole. These are one of his most common restoration jobs, because older shoes tend to split at the sole. “Most probably, sa mga shoes na 2009 and below, due to age, weak na ‘yung glue. Kailangan na i-full reglue.”
But for soles that are completely beyond salvation, RG will recommend a Midsole Swap. If a sneaker’s sole is far too crumbled or faded to be restored, he can take another shoe of the same model and size, but with a fresher midsole, and swap them. He calls these secondary shoes “donors,” perhaps because essentially, the entire operation is a transplant. When he first started, RG would hunt for the donors himself, in ukay-ukay markets or online. But now that the volume of his work has grown exponentially, clients who are looking to do a midsole swap would need to provide their own donors.
RG also does midsole repainting for shoes that have rubber and plastic bits with chipped paint. This involves what he says is one of the most difficult and painstaking restoration processes: color matching, or making sure that the paint job is the precise shade. Apart from these, RG’s services are in the broad range of cleaning and general refurbishment: stain removal, icy sole restoration (ie., clearing those translucent soles that have turned cloudy and yellow), and what he says is the most difficult of all: re-whitening white sneakers.
So what exactly does it take to accomplish his feats of restoration? The right materials, for one. RG recommends Barge Cement, a dedicated shoe adhesive, for all attachment purposes; and a simple manicure brush and a microfiber cloth for cleaning. He’s also developed his own cleaning agent: Solevation, which you can buy off of his Facebook or Instagram. But of course, it’s also meticulousness, and sheer knowledge of sneakers. For example, not all soles fit precisely how you expect them to, even if they’re the right size. He mentions having to shave parts of a midsole and upper to get them to fit perfectly together. “May mga kailangan ng fitment adjustment. Iba-iba kasi ‘yun per year, so minsan, ‘yung midsole na gagamitin mo from 2012, gagamitin mo sa 2005—magshe-shave ka lang para fit talaga, para mawala ‘yung mga gaps.” That’s not something Mr. Quickie would be able to tell you. RG’s sheer passion for sneakers, as well as his experience working on them, have enabled him to restore sneakers like few others in the country can.
RG gives us a tour of his home—a simple one, no doubt, and not a place you would expect to find all these incredible shoes. “Nakapag-restore na rin ako ng Visvim,” he says, as he pulls them from his shoe rack: a pair of his own Visvim FBTs (which, at retail, cost about $650), but with a Nike Footscape sole. He also shows us a pair of Gucci Signature sneakers, and along a narrow space leading to his kitchen, we see several pairs of Air Jordan 11s in sealed plastic bags, stacked on top of each other. He then leads us to his workspace: a small, cramped area next to the kitchen sink, with a small window that lets in just enough light for him to work. On his desk, there is a mountain of Air Jordans, Flyknits, Ultra Boosts, Vans, and a lot of the most covetable sneakers right now. It’s a sight to behold, and a testament to his work. This guy is the real deal.
RG finds that many of his customers are surprised by what he can do. “Nagpapasalamat sila; di nila nae-expect na kaya pang mabuhay ‘yung mga ganun.” It’s a source of fulfillment for RG as well—to work on sneakers that are so incredibly rare or of enough sentimental value that their owners would rather have them restored than replace them. This, and an indomitable drive to continuously improve his restoration skills, keeps him going, one job after another.
However, the demand for his services has surpassed him. If you’re looking to have him restore one of your sneakers, you’re going to have to fall in line, because he’s booked until April—two months from now. RG can restore one to three shoes in a day, depending on what treatment they require, but even then, he can’t seem to catch up, because he has a day job, in a government agency. “Nakaka-todo lang naman ako ng gawa pag weekend,” he says. To meet the demand, RG is going to have to scale his operation up—something he’s already considering. “Balak ko na rin gawing full-time. Until now, pinagiisipan ko kung magtatayo ako ng shop eh. Mayroon namang mga nag-ooffer sa ‘kin. Iniisip ko pa rin.”
Before we leave, we ask RG what advice he has for sneakerheads and for anyone who wants to take proper care of their shoes. “Wear your kicks,” he says. “The more na naka-stock ‘yun, the more lang din naman na masisira ‘yun eh, due to age. Don’t expect too much na tatagal talaga ‘yung sapatos.” It’s an empowering statement—one that frees sneakerheads from the need to be so cautious and light-footed when wearing their favorite shoes. Wear your kicks—wear them proud, wear them hard, and revel in them thoroughly, because if you ever need to bring them back, you know someone who can. And therein is the real service that RG provides: he gives you a license to enjoy your sneakers.
Follow RG on Instagram: @rg_skills