Going viral on social media can change someone’s life, and for many, it feels like playing the lottery. Andy Martinez, an artist and designer from New York, believes he cracked the code.

Martinez’s design, the Cowboy Airforce 1’s, is a unique fusion of cowboy boots and sneakers, gained popularity thanks in part to a fortuitous connection to former Louis Vuitton Creative Director, Virgil Abloh.

In late 2020, when the fashion world was buzzing with anticipation over Abloh’s Western-inspired LV Trainer Sneaker Boot, Martinez seized the opportunity to let his followers know he would be selling a similar style. 

“[Abloh], dropped that boot around the same exact time that I came up with the idea to put out mine. So people were kind of talking about it,” he said, recalling the social media buzz his post initially created. “I posted [my shoes] as an homage and a little nod to him, since his boot was coming out and was floating around the internet, so I captioned it, Virgil Abloh Español.”

The Cowboy Airforce 1’s were controversial at first, Martinez faced harsh criticism for his design

Martinez’s unique creation, known as the “Cowboy Airforce 1s,” features a Nike Airforce 1 sneaker joined with the shaft of a cowboy boot. He branded them as the “&e Boot,” with the “&” symbolizing the “and” in Andy. Martinez personally sources the shoes and boots and hand-sews each pair from his studio in New York City.

As a fan of cowboy boots, he initially crafted the Cowboy Airforce 1s for himself, recognizing that the intricate artwork, embroidery, and stitching on the boot’s shaft often remained hidden beneath jeans.

“You put your jeans over the boots half the time. So I was like, ‘What would be the best way for me to celebrate the top part of this boot?’” he explained.

USED WITH PERMISSION FROM Andy Martinez, Roan Gil @WasRoWas 

“In the beginning, people were just like, no please don’t blah, blah… and ‘is this even real?’” recalls Martinez, whose early attempts to introduce this unique fashion statement were met with mixed reactions and sometimes ridicule.

“I’ve had eggs thrown at me from buildings, when people saw me walk by in my boots in the very beginning,” he said. “Once, [I was inside a store] and a gang of dudes ran in and [started yelling, pointing and laughing]. I was scared for my life.”

Suddenly, the design took off, causing a wave of interest in his work

These challenges didn’t deter Martinez; instead, they served as motivation to continue promoting his design.

His announcement, coincidentally aligning with the release of Abloh’s Louis Vuitton cowboy boot, created a buzz around cowboy-inspired footwear. The concurrent timing provided Martinez’s style with leverage and caught the attention of fashion enthusiasts.

After posting his Virgil Abloh Español post, he recalls the momentum it built. To the point where he couldn’t keep up with the constant notifications.

“My phone was freezing from how many messages I was getting,” he said.

Memes, Twitter threads, and even comments from celebrities started pouring in, catapulting the Cowboy Air Force 1s to viral stardom. 

“All these sneaker pages and all these [cutlure] pages were posting about them, and there was like a spotlight,” he added. “It was like something that you would pay a PR person for, but I figured out a way to like…hack the internet.”

USED WITH PERMISSION FROM Andy Martinez, Roan Gil @WasRoWas 

Now, Martinez’s style has taken on an entirely new life

While the Cowboy Air Force 1’s are his most recognized style, his creativity knows no bounds. He also sells other shoe styles. The Air Force 1’s, with the top part of a Converse Chuck Taylor, and a recent creation, which involves Air Force 1 conjoined with the top of an Ugg boot, are also within his creations.

“It’s a little bit hard to make because you’re dealing with the fur and the actual suede of the shoe,” he explained about his new Ugg Airforce 1s.

Adding, “You can’t glue it the same way that you would do a cowboy boot, but I was able to use the same problem-solving technique to execute that shoe.”

USED WITH PERMISSION FROM Andy Martinez Credit: @ClovisGomis

Through the challenge each new combination brings, Martinez showcases his ability to reinvent mainstream styles into unique works of art.

“I’m literally just taking products that you can find in everyday stores and then adding my modern twist,” said Martinez.

Martinez’s fascination with shoe styles has been a long-standing passion. Raised in a Dominican household in Manhattan’s Washington Heights, his commutes on the train helped spark his interest in shoes. 

He observed the ever-evolving shoe trends and styles preferred by New Yorkers. It was there that he honed his interest in shoes, eventually leading him to experiment with his unique designs.

“I feel like I would have gotten this idea of whether or not I lived [in New York]. I would have been the same person whether my parents never made the jump to New York and lived in the Dominican Republic,” he shared. “It would obviously be a little different…or a lot different because of my surroundings but, I feel like I was always the same kid from the jump.”