Do you need a new pair of shoes? Perhaps something original that could become a collector’s item?

Then look no further than Year 11 student, James Campbell, and his design business JC Soles.

This quietly-spoken student has already kicked off his career as a custom shoe designer and uses Instagram to promote his work online. He’s already sold more than 200 pairs of shoes.

At the end of 2019, when James was in Year 9, he saw people advertising shoe designs on YouTube and thought, ‘I want to do that for people in Bendigo and Regional Victoria’.

“I decided I wanted to create something no-one else had,” he says. “My first design was on a pair of Nike Air Force—just two colours—but quite different to anything else available at the time. I sold them within two weeks and realised this could be something.”

It hadn’t occurred to James that his fledgling business would grow as it has. He took his first international order last December and has since sold seven pairs of shoes to overseas clients. One pair even went to Latvia!

Recently, a member of the Australian Opals Women’s Basketball Team wore shoes customised by James at the Tokyo Olympics.

“One of my mates told me that Channel 7 zoomed-in briefly on the shoes to show the Olympic rings on the back,” he says. “It was awesome to have my designs showcased to the world like that.”

James hopes to continue to attract high-profile customers, but if he could talk to anyone in the world he would choose an outrageously successful entrepreneur, like Elon Musk, to learn how he set himself up to succeed.

“I wouldn’t just ask him how he did it,” James says, “I’d also want to know how to live my best life and how he made that happen for himself.”

Perhaps Mr Musk will one day be after a pair of genuinely original shoes and James will get to have that conversation.

Meanwhile, his main focus is continually exploring his artistic capacity and refining his design process.

It all begins with a commercially-available product onto which he paints completely new—and novel—designs and colours.

Clients contact James to discuss ideas. Once they are happy with the mock-up, James buys the shoes of their choice and transforms them into something truly original.

He works mostly with paint and occasionally adds leather. The shoes can take anywhere from two hours to a number of weeks to complete and the finish is tough and long-wearing.

But as the saying goes, ‘no man is an island’, and James is very grateful for the support of his family who are both pleased for his success and happy to promote his work.

The support is practical as well. Too young for a driver’s license, James sometimes relies on his Dad to deliver local orders.

“My grandparents also buy me supplies,” James says, “and my aunty bought nine pairs of shoes as gifts for her employees.”

James is optimistic about the future. He has always wanted to work for himself doing something he loves and has wisely used his time at BSSC to advantage, gaining extra skills, business knowledge and developing his artistic ability.

“I’m not really an academically-focused student, but I love the hands-on side of Art,” he says. “BSSC has treated my design work as a meaningful pathway and that has helped me 100 per cent. My Art teacher, Marcus, lets me use the airbrush room if I need it.”

James is also studying Business Management—a wise choice for someone looking to manage his own business.

VET Sport and Recreation, and Physical Education sit well for someone more interested in ‘hands-on’ study areas and demonstrate James’ life is not only about creating; he also plays basketball and takes off camping whenever he can.

The more relaxed atmosphere at BSSC works well for him and he appreciates details such as the kitchenettes where he can heat up his lunch or make a snack.

“Compared to my previous college, I love the freedom we have and how there’s no uniform,” James says. “I can see how BBSC is setting us up for the future by expecting us to behave like adults and supporting our pathways.”

Like most young people, getting to adulthood has not always been a walk in the park and if James could go back and speak with his twelve-year-old self he would offer this advice: ‘No matter how hard life gets, don’t give up. You’re going to get there!’

“I think one of the most important things I’ve learnt at BSSC is to not care so much what other people think of me,” he says.

“If you keep your focus on the people who don’t like you or don’t support you, you’ll dig yourself into a bad place.”