By Harriet Whitehead
A troubled teen who left school with just one GCSE is now Instagram famous after setting up a £20,000 trainer empire from his bedroom.
Louie Wilkinson, 17, has racked up thousands of online fans by turning his love of art into a business – creating unique painted trainers and selling them for up to £170 a pair.
Although a self-confessed ‘troublemaker’ at school, Louie claims he showed entrepreneurial spirit early – making £200 a week selling sweets in the playground.
And the entrepreneurial teenager reckons he has made £20,000 from his 1CUSTOMS business to date and is convinced he’ll be a millionaire by the time he’s 30.
Louie, from Radcliffe, Greater Manchester, said: “I set up 1CUSTOMS in 2016 when I was 15 and still at school.
“I started buying slider shoes and adding my own designs before selling them to mates.
“I’d buy them for about £25 and sell them on for £50 then invest the money in materials.
“I was sharing some of my designs and artwork on Instagram and then someone messaged me on a selling platform asking if they could buy a pair and it went from there.
“It was really good because I didn’t like wasting my mum’s money – I liked having my own.
“I’d say since being at school I’ve made about £20,000.
“Prices range from £50 with the most expensive pair I’ve sold being £170. If I sell four a month I make about £500.
“I’ve got a couple of thousand followers on Instagram now so I’ve made a lot of progress in the last couple of years – it has really kicked off since March 2018.
“I put my designs online then people pick a style and I make them.
“It’s given me more confidence and taught me to stick at things even if it’s hard.”
Louie, who lives at home with his parents Kelly Hickman, 41 and Eric Wilkinson, 52, said he was never academic and felt ‘different’ at his high school, Philips High School in Whitefield, Greater Manchester.
He even claims he was temporarily excluded from classes after arguing with a teacher who wouldn’t let him sell his trainers in the playground.
But showing his nose for business from an early age, Louie would sell sweets in the playground – claiming he could sometimes make £200 a week.
Louie said: “I always felt like there was something about me that wasn’t normal and that I was different. I was too hyper and I couldn’t concentrate.
“Even before I took my GCSEs I thought exams weren’t for me. I wanted to be self-made.
“I hated school as a whole. I felt like I was always getting into trouble and got blamed for things. I’d end up in detention all the time or isolation.
“They said I wasn’t listening, I was just drawing instead.
“Even at primary school, I’d do these little drawings that I’d sell for 20p.
“By high school, I’d go to the supermarket at about 6.30am before school to pick up sweets and drinks, then I’d let people know what I had over social media and make £200 a week.
“I got a lot of stuff taken off me by the teachers but that didn’t stop me.
“When it came to my GCSEs, I was really anxious and I did sit some of them but in my English exam I just did a drawing. I came out of school with one GCSE in art.
“When I was put in isolation at school I’d sit there and draw. One of the teachers talked to me about his friend who was an artist and I started to think maybe I could make a living out of it.
“I told all my mates at school I was going to do it and they were like ‘who do you think you are? Picasso?’
“But when I’m creating, it’s really good for the mind. You just focus and there’s nothing else going on.”
Louie uses acrylic paint, leather, scrap metal and money to decorate branded trainers with his unique designs – which include spots, paint splatters, galaxy designs and unicorns.
The teenager – who has one older brother and currently designs the shoes as his full time job – has enjoyed splashing his profits on himself but now hopes to invest the money he makes in future.
He said: “In the past, I ended up spending a lot of the money on myself – on clothes or going out with friends.
“Looking back now, I wish I’d invested it.
There’s lots of things I want to do. I want to be a millionaire by the time I’m 30 and change society with my art.
“I also love interior design so would love to get into that.”
Louie’s mum Kelly, a credit controller, said: “We’re really proud of him.
“He never enjoyed school and didn’t really fit in but now he’s doing really well. His bedroom is his workshop.
“He’s definitely going to be a millionaire. Hopefully he’ll remember us when it happens.”
Justine Bailey, assistant headteacher at Philips High School, said: “We are extremely pleased as a school to see Louie taking the steps forward to enhance his gift of art.
“Louie’s skills are outstanding and the detail which he puts into his techniques are so unique.
“Louie at times struggled to see what his goal was in school and we did our best to guide him in right direction.
“It gives us great pride to see he has taken the steps forward to use his expertise and not only has he shown his talent of art but also his professionalism and strength in starting his own business.”