These days, it seems that sneakers carry more cultural weight than even the once most desirable and feted brand names. With luxury brands such as Loewe, Versace and Alexander McQueen now joining the line up of high-end sneakers and collaborations between the luxury world and the biggest name in sports footwear creating a cult following. Yes, we too are coveting the recent Gucci-Adidas and -Balenciaga tie-in.
This generation of footwear aficionados might not be able to name a single Basquiat or Warhol masterpiece but they will tell you in a heartbeat how much a pair of Yeezy sneakers will resell for. The sub-culture of sneaker collection has risen to such heights that its fandom could possibly rival even Carrie Bradshaw’s undying love of collecting designer heels.
But as the hype of sneaker collection continue to rise, it’s no longer enough to get the rarest or most trend-setting pair of kicks. These days, customised sneakers are all the rage. Creatively conceptualised to reflect the wearer’s taste and style, custom-designed sneakers go above and beyond the range of what retail stores can offer. These unique creations give its wearers a personalised pair of sneakers that they can proudly walk in and call their own.
Bridging the gap between designer shoes and bespoke footwear are custom sneaker designers. These artists turns run-of-the-mill canvas footwear into one-of-a-kind custom sneakers. Coming from a background in fine arts, graphic design and fashion design, the diversity of sneaker customisers add a youthful and modern style that many younger generations seek. Out of the box and statement-bearing, these custom sneaker designers are hand-drawn and -painted, each pair is matched to the style and personality of the customer, making no two designs ever alike – an appealing factor that many fashion enthusiasts and shoe collectors love.
Read on as Gafencu spotlights the sneaker revolutionaries in Hong Kong to turn to for your bespoke sneaker fix.
Tapping into the niche market is Hong Kong sneaker illustrator 199xCustom, who specialises in animation characters and cartoons – particularly Japanese anime. She first tried her hand at sneaker customisation after a disappointing search for a design that was not available in the market. She subsequently turned to her passion for drawing to create her own, eventually turning fan art creations into an artistic interpretation of sneaker customisation.
“There are actually several different categories of customisation. I specialise in painting and using an airbrush, which generally requires a wide range of brushes, airbrushes, and pigments”, explains the artist.
Anime characters and cartoons account for a large part of her work because it is a unique market not available at a retail level. However, her artistic flare and edgy style stretches beyond animation. Her original designs also range from incorporating elements of Japanese fine art, like ukiyo-e, to create an embroidered dragon and tiger pattern on the mesh body of a Yeezy 350 sneaker.
A pair of customised sneakers could cost anywhere from hundreds to thousands of Hong Kong dollars. Depending on the complexity of each design, the tools and materials required – which often cost a few hundred Hong Kong dollars to purchase as well, (and ultimately) the time it takes to complete each project, prices can vary but the result will, more often than not, reflect in quality and creativity.
Back in Time
However, the service of sneaker customising isn’t simply picking up a paintbrush and stenciling a printout. It takes, creativity, skill and passion for art and the process it takes to create a unique concept that will set it apart from everything else already on the market. Other sneaker customisers such as Simple Union, a handcraft brand that customises shoes and other accessories, go beyond just painting and airbrushing. “‘Enjoy Simplicity, Enjoy Life’ is the motto the brand follows’’, says artist and founder FK.
Putting a close focus on the materials is key to Simple Union’s unique designs, they combine traditional culture and craftsmanship with quality materials. The brand is also known for using Italian leather and rare fabrics from Japan, such as old Japanese Katazome, an ancient method of fabric dying, weaving and stenciling – often flowers and bird motifs – that dates back to the Meiji era of the late 1800s.
Each design is an original concept that adds a bespoke touch that off-the-rack shoes can’t offer. But Simple Union also accepts commissions by customers, if both the artist’s style and customer’s taste are a good match. On some occasions, the brand would be approached to customise products for other brands and stores as part of a workshop experience or event.
Another brand that puts materials on the forefront of their products is pioneering sustainable sneaker brand K!BO. “The name K!BO means hope in Japanese”, says Natalie Chow, co-founder of the Hong Kong sustainable sneaker brand.
Adding a new line of products to their range, the footwear brand will be offering exciting new selections of customised sneakers to thrill fashionistas throughout summer. They will provide a range of limited-edition designs, as well as exciting customisation options that will allow customers the liberty to add their own touch of style to their bespoke footwear.
Expected to start with a HK$1280 price tag, the initial stages of the new line of products will offer customised pre-order options that will allow customers to get closely involved in the design process, such as including unique and fun patterns and selecting recycled leather with graphic prints, as a way to personalise their #GuiltFreeKicks to show off this summer.
(Text: Roberliza Eugenio, Photos courtesy of 199xCustom, Simple Union and K!bo)