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Kicks By Carly: Showcasing athletes’ individuality through custom lacrosse gear

How the owner of Kicks By Carly transformed her college dorm room operation into partnerships with major lacrosse brands and pro athletes.

6 a.m.
Carly Fleischer wakes up and begins her day looking for inspiration for her next design on YouTube. She gathers ideas while watching videos of painting techniques and footage of the professional athletes she works with to gather information on their style of play and learn more about them as an individual. She then makes time for a workout at the gym and entertains her dog before moving on to lunch.

12 p.m.
After her morning of inspiration, Fleischer starts working on putting together a pair of gloves. She tapes off all the areas she wants to keep free from paint and starts laying down base coats and stencils where necessary.

6 p.m.
Fleischer has dinner as she waits for the base coats to dry. Once dry, she spends more hours airbrushing layers onto the newly designed pair of gloves, personalizing them with elements from the life of the athlete who will eventually wear them.

2 a.m.
Upon adding the finishing touches and ensuring her work meets her own personal standards, Fleischer takes pictures of the newly minted gloves. She then packages them and prepares to ship them to the athlete who will don her artwork in his or her next game.

This is a typical day for Carly Fleischer, a Long Island native, 2018 sports management graduate and sole owner and operator of the custom apparel company Kicks By Carly.

“There are days or weeks where I’ll get two or three hours of sleep at night because I’m up all night working on gloves and I don’t stop until everything is perfect.”

Building a brand

Fleischer’s dedication to her business may appear daunting, but it has paid off. In just five years, Fleischer has gone from customizing Vans sneakers for herself and friends in her dorm room at Syracuse University, to working with major lacrosse brands like Epoch Lacrosse and Adidas, as well as professional athletes such as Jules Heningburg, Greg Gurenlian and Jarrod Neumann.

“I started Kicks By Carly the first month of my freshman year. I started off hand painting Vans for myself and then as soon as I walked out of my dorm room, people began asking me to create pairs for them.”

Fleischer’s business quickly took off and after designing custom shoes and apparel for her fellow college students, she broadened her business and eventually began selling officially licensed tailgate apparel on multiple college campuses such as Syracuse University, University of Maryland, Ohio State, Penn State, University of Michigan and Tulane University.

Connecting with athletes

Soon after, Fleischer began linking up with athletes and eventually conducted her senior capstone project with the New York Lizards. Having been a high school athlete herself, connecting with athletes came naturally for her.

“It was easy connecting with a lot of the players that were closer to my age. I was always super competitive and having played both soccer and track and field, I understood both the team side of it through soccer, but also being a pole vaulter, knew what it was like to have to rely on myself,” Fleischer says. “It forced me to learn to adapt and make changes on my own when necessary.”

Fleischer’s ability to adapt paid off as the Kicks By Carly brand began to evolve even further. Fleischer began watching YouTube videos of different designers creating custom cleats for pro athletes for events such as the NFL’s “My Cause, My Cleats.” This prompted Fleischer to dive into learning how to airbrush and it didn’t take long for her to experiment with the technique’s possibilities.

“I took one airbrush lesson in the fall of 2018. They advised me to start small and practice on a piece of paper.”

Yet, Fleischer’s idea of “start small” is different than many others and just two days later, she ordered a pair of cleats.

“My dad said ‘Carly, listen to what they told you.’ And I just said ‘No, I’m just going to do it.’”

The fast learner’s first pair turned out like she wanted and she immediately began experimenting on a variety of designs, including a pair of cleats for pro lacrosse player Greg Gurenlian. Pretty soon Gurnelian’s Redwoods LC teammate Jules Heningburg caught wind of her work and approached her about custom cleats.

“Initially we hit a wall [with the cleats] and hadn’t really decided on anything that we wanted to move forward with. Then he signed with Epoch and we had the idea to do custom gloves,” Fleischer recounts. “We told his story as a person and all the things that got him to this point. His gloves had the Rutgers logo, shape of New Jersey and all these things about him. When you look closely at the gloves, you see all these tiny little details that when combined make up a person.”

On August 18, Heningburg wore the gloves in the Redwoods matchup with the Whipsnakes in Hamilton, ON. It was another milestone for Fleischer who was already beginning to amass a large following among lacrosse fans. Not long after, Jarrod Neumann reached out and Fleischer designed a pair of gloves and elbow pads for him to honor the “Bomb Squad”—the nickname that Neumann and his fellow Chaos teammates who scored a two-point goal had come to be known by.

“One of the things that the PLL does so well is that they promote their players’ individuality. I thought it was a good place for me to showcase my work and help players tell their stories through cleats or gloves.”

Growing the business

From there, Fleischer began speaking with James Miceli, the principal owner of Epoch Lacrosse and eventually the two brands formed a partnership that they announced on November 18. Currently, Fleischer is collaborating with Epoch on a handful of gloves to be used for the company’s winter giveaways.

For Fleischer, the partnership is not only a sign of her thriving business—it’s proof that Kicks By Carly is more than just a side gig or hobby.

“There were a ton of people who through college would say, ‘It’s just not going to be successful. Maybe it will be a fun side hustle through college.’ At one point maybe it was, but now that I’ve been putting more time into it, I know it’s a viable option. I’m trying to make it a fulltime living and it’s definitely a lot of work, but again I think it comes back to that athlete’s mentality of just persevering. When someone tells you that you can’t do something, it makes you want to do it more and prove them wrong.”

Fleischer continues to be grateful for the thousands of lacrosse fans who flock to her Instagram daily. However, her newfound success hasn’t diminished her competitive drive. The diehard New York Islanders fan has ideas that extend beyond the lacrosse community and hopes to branch out and work with athletes and brands in other sports in the near future.

“I think there will be a break into another sport sooner rather than later,” Fleischer confidently states.

When asked what advice she had for her fellow creatives who are interested in breaking into the design industry or starting their own business, Fleischer emphasized the importance of getting started.

“I feel like it’s very cliché, but I say just go for it. I didn’t have anything figured out at all and had no idea what I was doing. Just dive in and you’ll figure it out along the way. If you feel passionate about it, then just start.”

To see more Kicks By Carly designs, go to kicksbycarly.com or visit @kicksbycarly on Instagram and Twitter. To hear more of Carly Fleischer’s story, listen to episode 46 of the Pro Lacrosse Talk podcast.

Hutton Jackson is a professional video editor, co-founder/host of Pro Lacrosse Talk and editor-in-chief of Lacrosse Playground. He is also an Emmy-winning associate producer with two major sports networks and oversees Lacrosse Playground's video content as the head coordinating producer. Hutton played four years of college lacrosse at DeSales University where his highest lacrosse accolade was being named to Inside Lacrosse's 2014 All-Name Team with current pros Challen Rogers, Deemer Class and Larken Kemp, an honor that didn't require stepping on the field. When he's not writing on lacrosse, he can usually be found diving around the crease in your local men's league and ranting about Baltimore and D.C. professional sports.

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