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Faces of USF: student shoemaker

When Nathaniel Gula was looking for an anniversary gift for his girlfriend he found the perfect solution in a custom design shoe service offered by USF students.

Jonathan Hurt’s Bad A– Mother F——! (BAMF!) Shoes, a company that specializes in hand-painted shoes and hand-crafted necklaces, has been offering custom-designed products since last February.

Customers can approach Hurt with a design in person or through his website, bamfproducts.weebly.com, and receive a final product in two to seven days, depending on the level of detail required, Hurt, a sophomore majoring in criminology, said.

“Once we figure out a design we sketch it first in pencil and, if it turns out OK, we just go ahead and do it with paint,” he said.

Gula, a junior majoring in philosophy and psychology and Hurt’s residential assistant, said he has often seen Hurt designing shoes in his Maple dorm room. He decided to buy a pair for his girlfriend, Olivia Armentano, a sophomore majoring in biomedical sciences, featuring Uglydolls, stuffed pillow-like dolls known for their grotesque features.

While Uglydoll paraphernalia is not an easy find, Gula said his needs were met by Hurt’s services.

After seeing his girlfriend’s shoes, Gula hoped to buy a matching pair.

“I’d buy these,” he said. “I plan on buying lots more pairs anyways.”

Hurt said the company began on a whim when he decided to make Cookie Monster shoes for himself and his uncle, Peter Zayas, during a summer day in their garage.

“I had a random Cookie Monster shirt, and I was like, ‘I wonder if I can make a shoe out of this,'” Hurt said. “It can be completely random and crazy. I just unleash my imagination – just random and crazy stuff – onto a shoe.”

That random creativity has now evolved into a business, which Hurt runs with his girlfriend Catherine Cisneros, a junior majoring in sociology.

According to their website, men’s shoes start at $30 and women’s at $25. Cisneros said they take pride in offering one-of-a-kind shoes.

“We try to do the shoes as original as possible,” she said. “It’s like a less permanent way of doing a tattoo for some people.”

Zayas, who helps Hurt make the shoes in the common areas of the Marshall Student Center and in his dorm room, said he relishes the moment when their creations are seen by their recipients.

“The reaction (is the most satisfying part),” Zayas said. “When they see it, it’s just amazing. They’re like, ‘I can’t stop looking at them.’ One girl danced in them (when she got them).”

Paige Gibbs, a junior majoring in nursing at the University of Tampa, was Hurt’s first customer. After seeing him wear his own pair at a social gathering, Gibbs told Hurt, she’d be willing to pay for shoes like his.

“He was like, ‘That can be arranged,'” she said. “I told him what I wanted and he designed me a pair, and I was so thrilled.”

Her light blue shoes that sport smiling cupcakes and cookies have caught the eye of many of her friends, she said. She has also recommended Hurt’s designs to her father, whose war-gaming company, which produces video games, could benefit from custom-designed shoes. Gibbs said she plans to buy more pairs soon.

“I just bought my first pair,” she said. “But I plan on making some more, and so are my friends.”

Gibbs is not the only loyal customer. Satisfied with the result, Gula, who picked up his shoes Feb. 28, said he hopes to buy more.

Armentano has since replaced her Uglydoll stuffed animal Facebook profile picture with a picture of her new shoes, Gula said.

“I already pay 40 bucks for Converses,” Gula said. “It seems ridiculous to get anything (other than Hurt’s shoes), when you can get whatever you want for cheaper.”