In this series, we talk to a new wave of sneaker customizers coming out of Singapore. This week, we feature TK Customs, a collective of five sneaker customizers.
While most sneaker customizers work individually, TK Customs is all about strength in unity. Founded by Clement Tan and Ether Kum in October 2014, the team has expanded to include fellow artists Nic, Nikki and Wenjing. The group has also recently ventured into making customized lace locks.
What got you interested in sneaker customization?
Clement: The first custom that caught my attention was SBTG’s work for Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park. I was a fan of the band and when I saw those Sawtooth Air Force 1’s, my mind was blown. The freedom to create something different from what was offered on the shelves was another motivation to get into sneaker customization. Everyone had the same thing on their feet and no one stood out. In Ether’s case, she chanced upon sneaker customization after ordering a pair of customs from a US-based customizer. The thought of having her preferred materials on the shoes drove her to experiment with customs, and subsequently, entering into this venture.
What type of designs do you specialize in?
At TK Customs, we do not have a particular type of design that we specialize in. We try our best to meet our client’s designs and requirements as much as we can. If it can’t be done with fabric as seen on our Roshe customs, we can always paint the designs they desire.
Are there any notable designs that you have produced?
“The Dream Catcher” and “The Great Wave Off Kanagawa” on Air Jordans, as well as the Roshe Run “Tsunami”, “Koi” and “Marilyn”. It’s hard to collectively decide on a pair, as these shoes hold significant places in our growth as a team and customization endeavors.
How long does it usually take to customize a pair of sneakers?
It varies between a couple of hours to a week or month-long of work. Time spent is largely dependent on the intricacy of the work required.
Which sneaker brands and silhouettes do customers usually want customized?
Nike is definitely the favorite sneaker brand our clients usually want customized. Roshes have been our specialty silhouette since we started, so people usually approach us for those designs. However, over time, we’ve also received requests from customers to work on Jordans, Reeboks and even Y-3, which is unheard of.
Have you received any strange requests?
There was a persistent request to produce an all-red Roshe, that can easily be obtained from Nike at a lower price. Of course, I declined the job as the customer can purchase it from Nike, at a lower price and in the shoe’s original form.
What’s the biggest challenge in customizing sneakers?
The long hours spent perfecting even the smallest of details; it is a back-breaking task! It is also tough to get customers to understand the price range of the shoes based on the work required for a pair of customs. After all, time is money. Most people think that customizing is simply slapping on a layer of paint over a canvas and anyone can do it. Unbeknownst to them, the time needed to prepare the canvas – de-glazing, if working on leather shoes – number of coats needed for the paint to be even – sometimes three to five coats over a repeated area – and the details requested require heaps of patience and time.
What sort of customization jobs would you not accept?
Customization on worn shoes due to hygiene reasons, and requests to replicate another customizer’s design, because we should respect the work of other artists. It’s also a big no to sneakers made of neoprene or synthetic rubber.
Do you think sneaker customization is gaining popularity in Singapore?
Definitely. People are used of seeing the same products retro-ed or having a standard shoe silhouette in multiple colors. Changing the colors alone simply isn’t enough anymore and people crave crazy designs. Furthermore, when one customizes a product with us, they’re getting something that’s uniquely one-of-one, no worries about standing out from the crowd or breaking necks!