When David Zambrano was growing up, he took the red line metro train from Arlington to Silver Spring, Maryland and saw the array of graffiti on the walls and tunnels the train passed by. Inspired by the colors and variety of designs, Zambrano found his passion—art. Drawing from what he saw on the streets of Maryland, he began doodling during his free time, subsequently learned other forms of art like sketching and contemporary art. He also spent a lot of his time at his father’s body shop, which acted as a transition into painting on a different kind of medium.
After he invested in his first airbrush when he was about 12 years old, Zambrano took his creativity to whatever creative platform he could find, adding color to old cars and then selling his art to his friends at the ripe age of 14.
Originally, Zambrano wanted his company to focus on custom designed apparel, more specifically t-shirts. However, when a business opportunity presented itself, Zambrano could not pass it up. After being approached by a businessperson interested in the sneaker business, DEZ Customz was born. Focusing on sneakers and related products like cleats and gloves, DEZ Customz takes orders from high profile and locally based clients and create a product that is made specially for the them.
The most popular orders are their commission pieces. “What we do every day is the custom sneakers, and that’s what we specialize in,” said Zambrano. “We’ll take a client’s idea and we will take that and specialize it. A lot of the time a client will come in with a vague idea and we will create a very aesthetically pleasing item encompassing that idea.”
With about six—ten orders coming in per week, catering to walk-ins and every customer’s needs becomes difficult. Hence, apparel is usually pre-made and displayed in store for sale. They ensure there is a consistent six-week back order on apparel but this isn’t enough time for the team to, “do something and have it sit there.” Typically, sneaker prices start at $250.
Zambrano has also done work for professional football players, from the Pittsburg Steelers to the Atlanta Falcons. Falcons wide receiver Mohamed Sanu has cleats with a portrait of his son painted on them. Antonio Brown and Ben Roethlisberger for the Steelers both put their DEZ Customz on display: they both have custom cleats made for the AFC-NFC Pro-Bowl. Brown had a multitude of pieces done for the upcoming celebrity softball game he is hosting.
The players also use their position and DEZ Customz to create positive changes in the community. “On week 13 for the NFL, they do a ‘My Cause My Cleats’ initiative where players can provide their shoes in order to lend a hand to an organization or a charity. Last year it was going towards ex-Navy and Marine Seals who go on covert operations to help stop sex trafficking,” Zambrano explained.
Zambrano’s real passion, however, is seen in his canvas work. “Canvas work is where I express myself and it’s what I love,” he explained. He hopes to work on more canvas art and display it in restaurants and other popular spots around the D.C. area. “I want to transition into doing more canvas work and I want people to see the possibilities and the capabilities that we have because a show is pretty small… I want people to see that we are artists first,” he said. Zambrano currently has his artwork displayed at Bocas Botanas, a popular restaurant in the Gaithersburg area, and is on the waitlist to get his artwork showcased at other restaurants. Canvas art pricing ranges from $200 and up.
At the core, Zambrano stays humble, knowing that this moment is the result of years of hard work. Having grown up in a single-parent household in a lower income community, he constantly talks to underprivileged children, hoping to strike a chord that reverberates hope within them. “It’s not easy, and it’s never easy,” he said. “I want it to be understood that the road is hard, and without my family I wouldn’t be where I am. It’s not a matter if you’d do some things and someone sees it… it’s a matter if nobody sees it and you’re doing what you love, and you get shot down because it’s not an easy road, but it’s a worthwhile road.”
Author credit: Sonikka Loganathan
Photo credit: DEZ Customz
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