A Chat with the Toms Shoes Artist Who Is Currently Living in a Box While Hosting the World's Longest Google Hangout

Longtime Toms collaborator Tyler Ramsey is taking personal orders from his glass box on Abbot Kinney Blvd. No, he's not going to the bathroom in there. But we asked.
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Longtime Toms collaborator Tyler Ramsey is taking personal orders from his glass box on Abbot Kinney Blvd. No, he's not going to the bathroom in there. But we asked.
Artist Tyler Ramsey in the TOMS glass box, makin' shoes.

Artist Tyler Ramsey in the TOMS glass box, makin' shoes.

Customized shoes are easy to come by these days, but none so personal as those being whipped up by artist Tyler Ramsey on Venice's Abbot Kinney Blvd. through Monday.

You see, Ramsey is a longtime friend of TOMS founder Blake Mycoskie, and has been designing shoes and eyewear cases for the line for more than five years. (Those paint-splattered TOMS? That's his work.) To address the "customization craze," as the TOMS team calls it, they asked Ramsey to do something even crazier: host the longest Google hangout in history, sleeping and living in a glass box for five nights in front of the TOMS store on Abbot Kinney. To place an order, shoppers can call 1-855-704-3889 between 9am and 6pm EST (or visit the store). Customized shoes are $68; eyewear with a customized case is $119.

Ramsey leaves the box on Monday, but so far he's been producing more than 100 pieces each day. (There are also talks of the artist—best known for his abstract paintings created without brushes—marrying a couple in the box.) I spoke with him yesterday via phone to get a sense of what's really going on in there.

Fashionista: How did you end up in a glass box on Abbot Kinney? Tyler Ramsey: This was Blake’s idea. He really wanted to create an experience that celebrated the customer. In some ways, I’m just a guy at a marathon who is holding out water. Anyone who supports TOMS is part of a movement, something larger than a shoe company. If anything, this is a celebration, a thank you, to those people. For me, as an artist, I want to be the greatest artist alive. This is the moment in history every artist has been waiting for. To communicate with the whole world.

What's it like in there? Well, it's the third day, so there is lots more paint everywhere. I underestimated how awkward and difficult an experience it would be. My body is, like, confused. I woke up this morning with cramps—I had to take 10 minutes to stretch out. It's like everything had carpal tunnel syndrome. I'm definitely not standing up as straight as I was when I got here.

How many items are you customizing each day? Hundreds. I thought I'd be able to do more, but I'm at 100-something. I'm getting into a groove. I'm making a bunch of different snowflakes. Like, if Santa Claus or God had to make each snowflake totally different, we would never get snow everywhere. [Ed Note: so glad we have science to do that.]

Are people coming up to you? Oh yeah. Everyone stops. We’re open to the sidewalk, so everyone wants to talk for a while. At night it’s a little weird.

I'd imagine homeless people in particular are curious. Yes, they’ve been super awesome, the homeless people have been wonderful-super nice. There was also a drunk girl who wouldn’t really leave. It was a little scary. I wasn’t in total control of the situation. It's hard to truly fall asleep in an exposed situation. I've been keeping the windows closed.

Did she ask to come into the box? She did. I was like, "Maybe later!" But she wasn't taking a hint about anything. She wasn’t taking any of those social cues.

What everyone really wants to know is how you're going to the bathroom. We have acknowleged that no one wants to physically see me go to the bathroom, so I'm using the bathroom at the store. But I won’t be showering for this week. I might sit in a barrel or a tub or a bucket and get an old-timey sponge bath from my wife.

That's rough. The armpits, as one would expect, are not the issue. It's the crotch! It probably smells a lot like the inside of a baseball mitt. That aroma will get out of these clothes. The whole thing is very physical. It’s hot outside, I'm sweating. I can wipe sweat off of my face, but I don't want to do a lot of crotch digging in this situation.

True. So tell me a little more about your collaboration with TOMS shoes. It's been ongoing for some time. I’ve had a really challenging time in my life. I quit drinking a few years ago—which is the hardest thing in the world—and the best thing that was going for me was having this ongoing artist gig. I love doing this, I love being a part of this. There’s never been a reason to stop. In many ways my relationship with TOMS has helped me in becoming an adult. I had delayed Peter Pan syndrome, and Blake has kind of looked after me even though he's younger than me.

And TOMS has a bigger purpose. This project is bigger than me. As an artist, there's nothing more inspiring than keeping yourself rooted in something that is bigger than you.

What's the first thing you're going to do when you leave the box on Monday? Hook up with my wife. Kiss my wife. And even if it's freezing, I will still jump into the ocean. This is Venice, after all, and the waves are great.