Dyeing Shoes + *airegan Giveaway

Today we’re dyeing shoes. I customized some Air Force Ones, Crocs, and *airegans using a few different methods: stovetop dip dye, hydro dipping with water-marbled spray paint, and hydro dipping with purpose-built printed film.

This video is sponsored by *airegan, a limited-release sneaker designed using machine learning.

A while back, my friend Dan started making imagery of famous sneaker designs morphing into one another, forming a bunch of new mashup shoe designs along the way.

He fed thousands of shoe images into his GAN, or generative adversarial network, which could make new examples by referencing patterns it finds in the training data. He and some other friends kickstarted the project and made a real shoe the first one designed with AI. I think it’s super cool that the sneakers take reference from a bunch of different styles and yet manages to be its own new thing altogether.

Now they’re dropping a new all-black colorway: the [*AG-002].003 TRIPLEBLACK.

To celebrate, I’m customizing the color of a bunch of shoes using three different methods: stovetop dip dye, hydro dipping with water-marbled spray paint, and hydro dipping with purpose-built printed film. I’m also trying shoes made from different materials, and doing something hardly any shoe customizers ever do: actually wear them and then show what they look like afterward.

AI & Machine Learning in Art & Design

Wait, but isn’t there a controversy over AI-generated art? For instance, the Lensa app has recently soared in popularity, charging for its service of generating new portraits in styles created by artists, who aren’t credited or paid. I think this shoe project is different in a couple of important ways.

First, the shoe designs used in the GAN are for sale by corporations, not individual artists, and those corporations presumably paid everybody who worked on the shoe. And secondly, there is no copyright protection for fashion designs, so the culture is rife with remixes and everything is referencing something.

So, Lensa: not cool in its current business model. Airegans: very cool, in my opinion.

Stovetop Dip-Dyeing

Let’s start with the stovetop dip-dyeing. It’s necessary to do this on the stove because the dye must be very very hot the whole time to work with synthetic materials like the soles of the shoes as well as the mesh fabric on the airegans.

Here’s everything you’d need to dip-dye your own shoes:

While heating the water, I prepped the shoes by wiping them with acetone. This will remove any coating or other surface material that the shoes may have on them, accidental or deliberate.

You’ll need stainless steel or enameled pot that is big enough to fit both shoes, or at least half of the shoes if you are doing a two-color gradient.

The color saturation will depend on how long they stay in the dye, and what material they are made from. See here the difference between these EVA foam crocs and this cotton canvas tote bag, dyed in the same brown dye bath, and the crocs even spent more time in there than the tote.

To get the color gradient effect, I also used small mason jars filled with water as weights inside the shoes to help keep them in the right position, either toe or heel down.

Make sure you stir the dye periodically. For the shoes where I wanted to create a gradient, move them between colors until the desired color saturation is achieved.

The suede on the airegans picked up the color super well, and I think it looks great contrasting with the mesh, which didn’t pick up as much color.

Depending on the shoe material, you can also dye them in the washing machine– follow the dye manufacturer’s instructions, which probably say to add the dye to the hottest water right before the agitation in the cycle starts.

Marbling with Shaving Cream

Another dye method I tried while working in the kitchen was marbling with shaving cream.

Here’s what I used for this method:

To do this method, first line a baking tray with plastic wrap, fill it wish shaving cream, and smooth out the top surface with a spatula. Then sprinkle a few different colors of dye over the surface of the shaving cream, and use the spatula to create a marbling pattern.

Then dip the shoe into the shaving cream and wrap it up in the plastic wrap, making sure to make good contact with the sides of the shoe.

I left mine to sit while I finished up the rest of the dip dye experiments. Then, I followed the instructions on the dye package to use a fixative bath after the shoes came out of the dye, followed by a rinse until the water runs clear.

After leaving the shoes to dry outside, they’re ready to wear… but with socks you don’t mind getting some dye on. I found that they did transfer a little bit of dye during the first couple of wears, so keep that in mind before you end up with dye on your skin or your favorite pair of socks.

Bleach dyeing

Once I got my hands on a pair of the new all-black airegans, which are now available at the link in the description, I tried bleaching a pair. I set up a bleach and water solution in a spray bottle to try to make some fun splatter patterns, but since the patterns weren’t super cool or obvious, I proceeded to dunk the whole pair of shoes in a bleach water bath. Quite a lot of color lifted from the suede but not anything else I rinsed these out thoroughly and tried changing the color further with what leftover dye I had– I don’t think it picked up much of that, but these are still cool and up for grabs in the giveaway as well.


Right, onto the hydrodipping. We did both the purpose-made film dipping and the spray paint water marbling with mostly the same supplies. For this method, you’ll need:

The steps go pretty quickly, so I recommend using a timer to stay on track.

First, gently lay the film onto the water, and quickly but carefully sweep any bubbles to the edges. Allow the film to sit, then spray on the activator.

Wait again, then dip the shoe. You might want to practice before you dip your expensive sneakers. There is a sort of rocking motion you’ll want to do to as you contact the film, then when you dunk all the way under the surface, give it a little wiggle to break up the surface at the edges, and try to lift it up without picking up any of the leftovers. Even though the water gets a little mucky, you really only have to worry about removing bits on the surface before you go again.

The spray paint water marbling is a little more artsy and serendipitous than the pre-printed film. First, tape and prime the shoes.

I’d recommend sticking to a small group of coordinating colors and alternate spraying the different colors of paint onto the surface of the water before dipping your shoes.

After letting the shoes dry completely, add a clear coat and then peel off the tape. You may also need to clean up some areas with paint.

Overall I’m really happy with the results and had a lot of fun experimenting with customizing all these shoes. We also did something these other shoe customizers don’t have the heart to show you– we took our shoes out into the world to see how the finishes hold up after you actually wear them, if you choose to do so. Check out the video to see the results.

Shoe Giveaway

I’m giving away one of the pairs of customized airegans I made in this video. If you’d like to be entered for a chance to win, be sure you are subscribed to my channel, and submit your details to this form. I’ll remove the link after the giveaway has closed.

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