In this series, we talk to a new wave of sneaker customizers coming out of Singapore. This week, we feature Jon Timbre, a Straat Your Stuff alumni and sneaker customizer who works primarily with suede.
A familiar face in the sneaker scene, Jon Timbre was previously featured in Straat Your Stuff. Since we last saw Jon, he has been busy perfecting his craft by creating even more unique customs, and of course,adding more sneakers to his growing collection.
What made you interested in sneaker customization?
I started by restoring my own pairs. A local guy was charging a good amount of money for restoration. Good thing the folks from NikeTalk forum shared some tips on restoration and customization. After reading the entire thread, I figured I could do it by myself if I could just get my hands on the supplies needed — that way I could save money and still keep my pairs looking fresh.
Then it reached the point where my friends asked me to restore their pairs and suggested I should do some customs too. During that time, not many people were into painting shoes; I hadn’t even painted on anything before so I wasn’t quite sure if I could do it.
I browsed NikeTalk’s custom sneaker sharing page and realized you don’t have to be an expert in painting just to make some customized sneakers. You don’t need to paint an art piece on a sneaker to be cool. As long as you can put a decent colorway on a pair it’s all good. The challenge is how to make good color combinations on a certain silhouette’s panels.
What type of designs do you specialize in?
My designs are usually based on some really popular colorways; I will try to put that colorway into a different silhouette of the same brand, or sometimes into a different brand as well. For now I’m focused on working with suede sneakers. It’s always easy to paint on leather because all you need to do is get the paint color you want and apply it on the leather — it’s that simple.
However, it’s more difficult when you’re working with suede. I always avoid using acrylic paints on suede because it will destroy the texture of the material. As much as possible, I want to keep the material close to how it felt like before I worked on it. I haven’t seen many people who use suede dyes on ASICS Tiger or New Balance shoes, so I guess that’s what makes me different compared to them.
Are there any notable designs that you have produced?
I believe I am primarily known for my “Salmon Toe” customs. It started with the New Balance 574 – one of the first two pairs of runners that I did when I relocated to Singapore. After seeing the Kith x ASICS Tiger GEL-LYTE III “Salmon Toe”, and knowing that it would be impossible to get them because of the resell price of S$1,500 or more, I immediately knew I had to make a pair for myself that would resemble the colorway that I admire the most.
This was followed by the more popular one – the “Salmon Toe” in the ASICS Tiger GEL-LYTE V silhouette. After posting this pair in Instagram and in other Facebook groups, that’s when I started to get known, because there were mornings where I just wake up and get shocked to see my email inbox with a handful of custom requests for that pair.
Unfortunately, other people from different parts of the world have tried to copy my work and offer their services to people wanting the same thing. However, they use acrylic paint on suede — I think that’s what sets my work apart from theirs. The “Salmon Toe” design is now also being manufactured in factories producing counterfeits. As for myself, I’ve applied this colorway to the New Balance 998 and Saucony Playcloths.
How long does it usually take to customize a pair of sneakers?
It depends on what needs to be done, and how much work is required to do the job. Every design has its own timetable; some may be finished in as short as two weeks’ time — some may even take between four to six months. Another factor is how busy I am outside the customization scene. Since I have a day job, I’m only able to work on shoes at night.
Of course, you can’t spend the entire night working on them. There are evenings where I skip working on shoes because this is just a hobby/sideline, I’m not going to sacrifice my social life just for it. Sure, customizing is fun but it’s just something I enjoy doing from time to time. The planning phase is what I enjoy most, because after finishing the sketch of the completed sneaker, I get excited to start working on them and seeing the final product.
Which sneaker brands and silhouettes do customers usually want customized?
Majority of the requests I receive are people wanting to purchase a pair which I posted on my Instagram account. For every new design I come up with, I always make the first one my personal pair. People who like it will then send me an email or direct message, requesting for a similar pair. Since I mostly work on ASICS Tiger’s GEL-LYTE III and GEL-LYTE V silhouettes, that’s what my customers always want to get customized.
Have you received any strange requests?
Yes, I still get requests from random people asking me to restore their shoe. A few examples: Jordan XII “Playoffs” — this pair was extremely beat up. There was already a big hole in the heel area, the guy asked if I could bring the original soles back.
Also, some guy had a huge chunk of his Janoski midsoles bitten off by a rat. He asked if there’s anything I could do to replace the bitten part with the same material as the midsoles.
What’s the biggest challenge in customizing sneakers?
The biggest challenge is to keep coming up with fresh ideas so people won’t get bored with what you do. I understand that not everyone will like your work; there will always be haters as you can’t please everyone. At first, I always felt sad whenever I saw some harsh remarks about my work, but after a while I’ve learned that what’s important is that there are more people who give positive feedback than those who don’t.
In terms of the act of customization itself, I suppose the biggest challenge is getting it right on the first try. What I mean is, when you paint normal leather shoes, should you mess it up, you can always cover it up with another layer or remove the paint and start all over again. However, dyeing suede is a different thing altogether. Suede absorbs the color of the dye, and this mixes with the original color, producing something different entirely.
If I wanted yellow colored suede turned into red, I would need more than just red dye to do it. I have to mix a custom color that will turn to red when combined with yellow. That’s the tough part and it always differs, depending on what color of suede I’m working on. The salmon color took me months of trial-and-error before I got the result that I was hoping for. But in the end it’s all worth it because I know that I’ve put a lot of effort into that pair and I’m happy with the final product.
What sort of customization jobs would you not accept?
I would hate it if somebody else copies my work. So if someone saw a custom pair made by other people, let’s say Dank or Mache customs, and want me to recreate the pairs they’ve made, I politely turn them down.
Another custom request that I would not accept is copying an existing colorway to the exact same silhouette. Example: a person wants the Nike Air Max 1 “Atmos Elephant”, and he has a pair of the AM1s that he wants me to turn into the Atmos Elephant colorway. This doesn’t make sense for me, it’s like making a fake version. At least putting it in an Air Max 90 silhouette would make more sense, I would not reject that idea.
Is sneaker customization gaining popularity in Singapore? Why do you think so?
I guess you can say that. First it was just SBTG, now there’s already Clement’s TK Customs and James’ IED. Locals have always been supportive of SBTG, but now the other two are also gaining a lot of customers. I admire their work; they specialize in painting art onto the sneaker — something that I’m not really experienced at.
But who knows, I’ve been meaning to recreate the Nike Dunk Low Pro SB “Paris” into an ASICS Tiger silhouette. I think customs are gaining popularity because people wish to represent themselves more through their sneakers. Everyone has their own kind of style; sometimes what they want isn’t available on the shelves. That’s when they approach customizers to help them reflect their personality through one-of-a-kind sneakers.
Check out Jon’s Flickr page for more pictures of his customized sneakers.