Mikayla Enriquez literally sits in the center of her company.
In what was designed to be a tiny dining room, there's now a desk, a table, a rolling cart, a dresser, flattened boxes, paperwork, office supplies and three sets of shelves with thoughtfully organized merchandise — all within reach of her rolling chair.
Enriquez hand-paints and sells sneakers that simultaneously honor, and are inspired by, her Mexican-American heritage. She's the driving force behind Moe Kickz, and her social media following is quickly rising. In about a year, she's gathered 36,000 followers on Instagram and 40,000 on TikTok, with some videos hitting a half-million views.
“I feel like I’m doing something right if I got a lot of people interested in what I do,” she said.
What she does is blend two of her passions – footwear and art. Hundreds of bottles of acrylic paint are stored inside and on top of a white desk and in the rolling cart. Boxes of Nike shoes waiting to be painted sit just beyond.
Her parents and boyfriend help as needed, but for the most part she paints, packages, creates online content and manages the Moe Kickz web store herself.
The artist’s journey
Enriquez, 25, says she’s been making art since she “could hold a pencil." Growing up in Waukesha, she also took an interest in tattoos, graffiti, photography, screen printing and painting.
She painted her first pair of shoes, Timberland boots, in high school and continued to paint “here and there” through college. In 2020, a year after she graduated with a degree in fine arts from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, her boyfriend’s brother requested a custom pair, and she started to paint shoes more frequently.
Around March 2021 she started to take the business more seriously.
Then, in June 2021, she took a leap of faith and abruptly quit her job at Metro Market. She credits her boyfriend, Jordan Taylor, who shares their apartment, for reassuring her and taking over some of their expenses after her decision. She said she couldn't have gone this far without his unwavering support.
The first step: building her social media presence. Her online name is a spin on the initials of her full name: Mikayla Olivia Enriquez.
“A year ago nobody was really interested in anything (of mine), but I just kept posting,” she said.
Then, in July 2021, she joined TikTok at her cousin's urging. The TikTok videos featuring Chicano-inspired designs caused a surge in Instagram followers.
The business expansion, while exciting, came with challenges.
In November 2021, her Black Friday sale got more than 30 orders for a design she's since retired because it was so complex and took so long to complete. For weeks, she worked up to 15 hours a day.
"People who've just found my page think I'm a full-fledged business and have employees or a large inventory of products, or don't understand why it may take me four to eight weeks to get their shoes sent out,” she said.
Hand-painted shoes from Moe Kickz may include details from the Mexican flag or Aztec designs, but she’s also taken inspiration from anime characters and other pop culture icons.
“I've always wanted to be a famous artist, but I never felt like my type of work would fit into a museum," she said. "Now, seeing people actually want to wear my artwork on their feet is just an amazing feeling.”
People have the option of sending in their own shoes or choosing from her stock of Nike slides, Cortezes, Air Force 1s or Vans slip-ons. Footwear prices range from $75 to $375 depending on who supplies the shoes, and whether customers choose a pre-made or custom design.
Many of Enriquez's designs are heavily inspired by her connection to the lowrider car culture popular in Latino communities. Designs include a bandana painted on Nike Slides or Cortezes, footwear synonymous with West Coast and Chicano streetwear.
Enriquez’s parents introduced her to the culture. As a youth, she helped her father custom paint his lowrider, a '64 Chevrolet Impala. He has since traded that car for a '50 Chevy Fleetline Deluxe, which they plan to work on together.
One of her most popular designs now is a “slow and low” design – initially requested by her father – that refers to the slow-moving, highly stylized cars that became increasingly popular among Mexican-Americans in California about a half-century ago.
The design's popularity encouraged her to create more designs inspired by Chicano culture.
But, she said, her shoes are for everyone. Most of her orders come from Los Angeles, but “I get messages from Brazil, Australia, London, Spain, Germany — a lot of random places. I'm just like, ‘How are you guys finding me?’”
Recently, a buyer in Tokyo placed an order for baby Cortezes to hang from a rear view mirror.
She’s not immune to supply chain problems. Most men’s sizes in Nike Cortezes, for example, have not been available for months. She suspects she could have filled "thousands” of orders had she been able to get them, but she’s adjusted.
“I want to get people's attention away from Cortezes and maybe do like Converses or just something that's more available that people can get to,” she said.
Her other products build on the shoe-centered theme, and she says footwear will always be central to this business. She has a T-shirt with Moe Kickz across the front designed in the shape of a shoe. She recently introduced hand-dyed socks, key chains of a few popular shoe designs, and sticker packs. She designs each of her products herself. While she orders the socks and key chains from a supplier, she prints the stickers from her home office.
"I know $300 shoes are kind of expensive. But I have a lot of people that really like my stuff and I want them to be able to say they got something from me," she said.
So far, she's limited herself to online sales. While she’d love to have a tent at Milwaukee's Mexican Fiesta, or perhaps sell at local markets, she's shied away from in-person sales, for now.
Hopes for the future
Around Enriquez's upper east side apartment are clues about her favorite show: A picture frame around her peephole; a stuffed Hugsy the penguin lying on her couch; a Central Perk mug she uses frequently.
She's seen "Friends" so much she leaves it on in the background as she works. Words from the theme song — "I'll be there for you..." — speak to how she hopes her business will grow.
“Now the main goal is to make my business family oriented," she said. "I guess I want everybody to have a part in it.”
She credits her parents for encouraging her creativity. While some people questioned her decision to go to college for art, her parents let her passion guide her.
“My parents have always supported me. They were never like, ‘You should go to school for business’, which I should have," she said. “They never doubted me.”
While at UWM, years before Moe Kickz, her mother, Theresa, told co-workers about her daughter’s talent. A group of them commissioned Packers-themed sneakers to wear to games.
Enriquez considers her story part of a family legacy. Each generation has strived to do better — not just individually, but as a means to help both earlier and future generations. Her father, José, also was an artist growing up, but had to support his family and sidelined his interests. Today, he manages a warehouse and channels his creativity toward his low-rider.
He's happy that his daughter has been able to go one step further with her passion.
“I don’t think I can be more proud of her,” he said, tears welling in his eyes. “Who knows where this business is going to take her."
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Milwaukee sneaker painter Moe Kickz found success on Instagram, TikTok