Indiana pastor creates own line of custom-designed shoes

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (AP) — It was 16 years ago that a friend gave Anthony Payton, the senior pastor at the Come As You Are Community Church, a chance to go on a mission trip to Brazil.

Payton turned him down. He was just too busy, he said.

People do that sometimes, Payton said. They turn their backs on opportunities. But the friend insisted and even paid Payton’s way to Brazil, starting what became annual trips for Payton.

Now, that person’s refusal to take no for an answer, combined with a 40-year-old pair of shoes, a lifelong dream and an incredible coincidence have come together to let Payton launch his own line of custom-designed shoes.

Payton, who also is an author, says he’s always been fashion conscious. He calls that “ironic, as poor as we were.”

He lived in New York as a young boy and even read fashion magazines.

But at age 7, he was sent to Hattiesburg, Mississippi, to live with his grandmother. He was in ninth grade before he got his first pair of dress shoes.

He was proud of them, and when he came to Fort Wayne 35 years ago to study at Fort Wayne Bible College, they were still the only pair of shoes he had. He still has them.

They’re his link to a better life, he said.

Then, 21 years ago, he was asked to serve as minister for a new church. It had only 12 people, but he took the position. The church, now Come As You Are Community Church, has 600 members today.

It was just last February when two men Payton knew from his Brazil trips visited Fort Wayne and the topic of shoes came up.

Payton let them in on a secret. Since he was just a child, he had this dream in the back of his head. He wanted to design his own shoes. He’d even developed his own logo.

When the men returned to Brazil, unknown to Payton, one of them started contacting shoe makers, telling them he knew a man trying to create his own shoe line.

Eventually that man found a shoemaker in a city about 800 miles from Rio De Janeiro.

He mentioned Payton’s name and told him of his dream, and asked if he could make a sample shoe.

The shoemaker heard Payton’s name and asked, “Is he American? Is he a preacher?” Unbelievably, the shoemaker had been listening to Payton’s sermons online.

The rest, as they say, is history, and on Oct. 21 Payton had a launch party for his line, called APayton Shoes, at his church on South Anthony Boulevard. Payton said that about 200 had bought tickets to the event.

The shoes will be carried by P&N Men’s Apparel, scheduled to open downtown, and at His House on South Anthony.

Another launch party is scheduled later in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Payton is in negotiations with other stores around the country.

The shoes are expensive, costing in the $350-to-$400 range, but they’re custom-made in Brazil and some designs have double soles. Boots cost in the $175 range.

And it’s all, he said, because someone wouldn’t take no for an answer.

“If I hadn’t gone to Brazil 16 years ago, I wouldn’t experience what we’re going to have tonight,” he said, just hours before the launch party.

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