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Color My Kicks

Meet the artist who creates these bespoke sneakers


By Mahvish Ahmed

Saadia Gardezi of Penguin Pop has some serious talent. Her multitasking skills are super, her sense of humor is sharp and she paints like a boss. She started painting pop art on sneakers two years ago, and has painted about 300 pairs to date. She receives orders not just from all over the country but also from the United States and Britain.

We had a chance to chat with her and here’s what she had to say about shoes, art and life in general.

WO: What inspired you to start your own label of hand-painted shoes business?

SAADIA GARDEZI: I love the idea that in the US you get these amazing Nikes painted by known contemporary artists. I painted a couple of pairs for myself and my friends just loved them, and it grew from there.

WO: How many orders do you take?

I do about 20 to 30 pairs a month.  Its feels like work, but the end result is always satisfying. The effort is always worth it, especially if the customer loves their shoes.

WO: How did you decide to name your brand ‘Penguin Pop’?

SAADIA GARDEZI: I wanted the brand to sound quirky and fun so I named it after my baby brothers favorite stuffed toy which was a fat bean-filled penguin!


WO: Are you a full-time artist?

SAADIA GARDEZI: No, I am a full-time journalist and political cartoonist. I also teach at a local university. I have degrees in Economics and Politics. Painting has always been a hobby.

I made sure when I graduated from college that I would do what I love. I have been fortunate to find these professions where I fit and I absolutely love all my jobs. When you love what you do, it all becomes easy. Some days are crazy! There are pending orders and news deadlines, but who needs sleep when there are minions to paint?


WO: What is the process of placing an order with you?

SAADIA GARDEZI: I take orders through my Facebook page, and talk to the client about what style of shoes they like and what their ideas are. It’s an interactive process so that the shoes can be customized to exactly what the client has in mind.

WO: Which design are you most proud of?

SAADIA GARDEZI: I was once asked to paint a Drake album cover on a shoe. It was basically two realist portraits. Painting people is hard enough, and that too on shoes! But I was able to get Drake’s edges right.


WO: This is a one-man show.  Do you find that constraining?

SAADIA GARDEZI: Not really. I would love to expand, since if often have to say no to orders or give long delivery times, but these shoes are the result of a practiced craft, that can’t really be expanded till I find exactly the right artist to collaborate with.

It’s like commissioning an artist to do a painting for you.  These shoes are exclusive, and non-commercial. It’s more about me having fun with my skills and the customer getting something that is personal and reflects their identity.


WO: On a regular day, what kind of shoes would we catch you wearing?

SAADIA GARDEZI: Peshawari chappals or Hello Kitty Vans.

WO: What do you do when you are not working?

SAADIA GARDEZI: Binging on Netflix and kicking myself for not reading more books.

WO: If you could paint shoes for any celebrity, who would it be?

SAADIA GARDEZI: Maybe a pair of sneakers for Kanye West, with his most ridiculous tweets painted on them.

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WO: If money was not object, which pair of shoes would you like to own?

SAADIA GARDEZI: Valentino’s golden color-block leather sneakers <3

WO: Do you have a favorite artist or painting?

SAADIA GARDEZI: I love Monet. I also adore Mughal and Persian miniatures, especially Mahmoud Farshchian’s paintings.

WO: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

SAADIA GARDEZI: Sitting on a beach somewhere sipping diet-coke and lime, on a vacation from the half-dozen jobs I’ll be juggling.

WO: Your advice to a younger you?

SAADIA GARDEZI: Draw more, and stop binge-watching The OC.