"This is going to shock the world," says Andre Scott, the outspoken founder and CEO of PMK Customs. He’s talking about the slick customization function on the current PMK website that’s launching today. Developed by Microsoft’s Internet Explorer team and a team at Plain Concepts, PMK’s "Design Lab" is a space for sneaker collectors of all stripes to create and buy their own original designs. The partnership is one that the folks at IE are betting will kick Scott’s Cleveland-based custom athletic shoe company into high gear.
Despite attracting several high profile customers (think: hip hop mogul Jay-Z) and an MTV Networks trademark, PMK Customs (which evolved from Pimp My Kicks to Perfectly Made Kicks in 2011) is essentially a small company. As such, it’s competing with the likes of juggernauts such as Nike as well as a multitude of sneaker heads popping open paint pots to add a touch of "South Beach" or other custom colorways to their Air Jordans.
Roger Capriotti, director of product marketing at IE points out, "For a small business, their website is their storefront." Unfortunately, a independently owned virtual shop doesn’t have the back-end architecture of an e-commerce giant like Amazon, Capriotti contends. For much of its business life, PMK Customs was several steps behind that. Scott says customers contacted the company through its Wordpress blog and placed requests along with a budget range. PMK’s creative staff would then call the customer and design a shoe based on that conversation. Bespoke to be sure, the process was nevertheless clunky and the customer couldn’t see the shoes until they were on their feet.
This is where Capriotti says, the speed and functionality of HTML5 steps in. "Now they have a way to show users in real time what the shoes are going to look like and the ability for anyone to customize to heart’s content." Similar to the sites it built for Atari Arcade, Pulse, and musical artists The xx, the IE team engineered the experience to work plug-in-free on all modern browsers, but in particular with Internet Explorer 10 on Windows 8.
"For a small company it is that much more important to have that great experience that feels like an app," Capriotti emphasizes. A quick tour through the beta site proves that the developers were keeping an eye on that pioneer of customization, Nike iD, while upping the ante with moody background graphics, unmistakable touch points for sections that can be customized, and a smoother way to pull the shoe around for a 360 degree view. Though Nike iD may have added benefits such customizing uppers and midsoles, "Speaking in a humble way," Scott says, "Design Labs will be better than Nike iD" offering 36 different color combinations, 7 different silhouettes from Nike, Adidas, Puma and Reebok, and patterns like leopard or cement. There will also be seamless integration with Facebook and other social media sites so customers can share their new designs as soon as they’ve created them.
Scott says that while PMK Customs recently gained notoriety for its high-end bespoke shoes—its drop of just 10 python/stingray/crocodile embellished Brooklyn Zoo Jordan 1’s, for example—he’s happy the brand is getting back to its "regular guy" roots. "We haven’t been doing painted customs lately, and now we are coming back home where our foundations are," he says, and are planning to expand to women’s and kids’ shoes, after the launch of Design Labs.
Kelton Crenshaw, PMK partner and director of business development and strategies, believes the company has been on the verge of breaking out this year. "In terms of the offerings and expansion, that has positioned the brand in a whole new category," he says. "We haven’t seen the effects of that yet."