At the age of 11, struggling to overcome grade school bullying and harassment, Demetrius Mensah had reached a point where he wanted to give up. Desperate to find an escape from his pain, he started thinking back to third grade, when he drew a freehand still life of a boot. At the time, the drawing surprised him — not only because it was good, but because he felt so free while drawing it. At 11 years old, he picked up the pencil again, started drawing, and hasn’t stopped since.
“When I was drawing, I really felt this feeling of, you know, you’re okay. You’re in this world where nothing else matters, nobody’s making me cry, nobody’s saying that nobody likes me, nobody’s calling me names,” he says. “It just felt cool, like I was behind every stroke.” This realization empowered him to explore his artistry and conjure up a dream of one day owning a design house that he calls 723.
For now, Demetrius works in Portland, Oregon, in retail at the Adidas corporate campus, designing custom footwear and apparel on the side. He’s designed shoes for his friends, NBA coaches, and hip-hop artists. His ultimate goal: to be able to unapologetically express himself through his creative talents.
Shoes were a way to stand out
Demetrius’ love for shoes and style started at a young age. His earliest memory is of his parents putting him in his first pair of Jordan sneakers when he was just two years old. Growing up, he remembers building his wardrobe by coordinating his brothers’ hand-me-downs with thrift store pieces, carefully selected by him and his mother.
When he started school, shoes became a source of self-expression, as everyone was required to wear a uniform. Shoes were the one way for him to stand out from his classmates. But, he couldn’t always get the shoes he wanted. This fueled his desire to learn more about sneakers and start creating his own designs. During the summer between his junior and senior years in high school, he took his vision from the sketchpad to customizing real shoes.