Singapore based shoe customizer SBTG aka Mark Ong just released his latest series of custom sneakers along with apparel and other pieces titled “Garage Days”. This series in the artists words is “going back to my roots”, going back to his younger days and acts of creativity before he even had or fully embraced his SBTG moniker. A creative time machine to painting his childhood cartoons, altering his school clothes and backpack to screen printing his own 1 of 1 t shirts. Over the years since 2003 and the start of his RoyaleFam brand he expressed his vision in custom sneakers and apparel. But this year he figured it was time to expand on his available pieces and have a full lifestyle design collection with everything from lamps, clothes hangers, to vintage-esq signs. The ultimate goal to inspire others to go back to their roots and build upon their customization.
Because this series is essentially inspired by customizing and D.I.Y I had to get an interview with Mark for his insight about this series, his inspiration and dig a little deeper into his story. There have been many SBTG interviews done but hopefully this one brings to light something you have not heard about or from Mr. Sabotage.
Since the “Garage Days” is really linking back to how you began customizing shoes, what was the first thing you owned that you “customized”? I’m talking earliest memory as a kid where you had something you owned that you changed or altered in some way?
I have a few memories of customizing stuff. As a kid, I grew up watching cartoons like Mask, He-man and Transformers. Everytime I finished watching an episode I would pick up the toys I had and paint on them depicting battle scenes by adding dirt or injury wounds. I was very keen to make it real. As I entered high school, I started patching my bag pack and adding hundreds of safety pins. It was the only thing we brought to school that allowed us room for self expression as we all had to wear uniforms. As I entered a graphic design course in my tertiary education, I customized / relabelled spray cans, diskette boxes and 12″ figures. I grew very much addicted to this way of being, I also became very inflexible with choices. I found it hard to go with the flow and had to make every decision especially what to eat.
What would you say was your first influences outside of the skate or punk rock culture, if any behind SBTG? And when did you first start using the moniker of SBTG?
I started using SBTG during my tertiary education. Back then I was very into the scifi era from the 60s – 70s. As I mentioned relabelling stuff, I used SBTG as my brand. In the 90s I was very influenced by Wutang Clan. They had very similar attitudes to punk rockers.
I vividly remember the custom shoe contest that was held on the NikeTalk Retro forum back in 2003, and really pushed to get it started, and entered a pair of low top Dunks with some denim, white paint splatters and bleach they were really a mess. Where you a lurker on NT before the contest and decided to enter your work, or did you create that pair in light of the contest be announced? Because I remember how everyone was amazed and shocked because they had not seen your work at that point before, and not many others even customizing with work like that besides Methamphibian.
I was exposed to NT only a few months before that comp. I lurked as I didn’t see the need to post. I realized that I liked sneakers but in a very different way hence I felt that I didn’t really fit in. However I found love for the art of custom sneakers. I had done a few pairs of 1982 Legends as far back as 1998 out of necessity. It was more like replicating rare colors of vintage models from the 80s that we couldnt afford. Meths work had that same influence somehow and it resonated with me a lot and soon we became friends. The NT entry was like my 2nd pair of shoes that had patterns on it, I approached it in a make it or break it attitude. Im glad it made a difference and excited to many folks.
Was that 2003 NT Custom Contest SBTG entry your first really “planned” custom sneaker or did you have attempts before that you may or may not have been satisfied with?
The NT “Diptych” custom was the first very carefully planned in my head. Before that I did the Air Force 1 Safari which was planned. I dont think I have any customs that I wasn’t entirely satisfied with. I have a habit of planning. I dont like to “screw up”.
From before that contest to today, personally, I think it has been amazing to see the changes and development shoe customizers have made, what it has achieved for a few like yourself getting shoes in actual production, to just how many people regularly customize shoes. What has been your reaction of these changes over the recent years and do you have any predictions for the future of custom shoes?
I think that sneakers customizers have a lot to offer as an unofficial second opinion to the brands. It is a stand that provides the possibility of making something happen. I really think that the art of customizing is a way of expressing oneself. It is the same like the obsession of custom motorcycles or building your own fish tank. I guess my point is that there is really no where to go with it, it is here to stay forever. It is a way of life where you take full ownership of the outcome.
In the past some of your work has been inspired from Punk Rock, to skateboarding, to college basketball. Essentially this “Garage Days” line is inspired by you, your skills, the act of customizing and what an individual can create for themselves. Is there going to be any pieces or ways you entice or suggest that people customize the SBTG product themselves?
The Garage Days collection is still influenced by what I always present my works with. It is a collection where I revisit how it all began where I customize everything that is part of the SBTG life and offering it to others. Over the past 7 years of this way of life, we got better at conveying our message and it leaves people thinking of “possibilities” in remixing the elements that we always use to “customize” their own SBTG products. However, that sorta work can only be produced upon a private request and if the requests resonates with our aesthetics. So yeah, that option has always been open. We just don’t declare it out loud so as to attract only the serious ones.
Will Garage Days be made up of 1 of 1 pieces, multiple limited #’ed items, combination of the two?
Most of it will be multiple #’ed items that are made to order. We are also thinking of opening up a section where the products are curated using vintage garments and sneakers or even lifestyle products. Vintage products has always excited me. So far we have some random vintage items that we might put up later as we take time to produce them. So far, we have some Vintage workshirts, Military BDUs and some Old tees and hats. Stay tuned. It thats time but it will be good stuff.
For someone that feels like they’d like to give a shot at customizing shoes, clothes, or anything…whats your best advice to get started?
Go all out. Use a brand new pair. Plan well and execute it with everything that you got. There are always ways and techniques to express yourself according to your experience. With DIY, it is very hard to screw up totally. You just have to evolve beyond your surroundings.
Do you have any fashion or designers that you look up to now, or in the past as well? If so what are some pieces you may have created influenced by them?
Back in the day, I have been influenced by Maharishi for their take on camoflage. Jun Takahashi for the brilliant world he creates every time. Wtaps for its juxtaposition of product design. Futura’s persona in public and Neighborhoods aggression in expression.
You had told me “it is just not about sneakers, its an entire lifestyle?” I believe everyone is a customizer but certain people really express their creativity or beliefs more effectively. But your opinion of an “entire lifestyle”? Elaborate…does that mean your home to your food you cook to the friends you choose?….or something else?
For me, aside from sneakers as a profession, i carefully curate my life day by day. Building a routine and developing a system that works brings me joy. I wake up every day at 8:30am in the apartment that I designed, and I take a cab to work with my wife to our studio that we work and create on a daily basis. Everyday is physical where we work with paints, hammers , nuts and bolts, brushes, silkscreens, wooden boards and sneakers. After work we leave at 5 to get supplies if there are order and we go home and cook our favorite meals for dinner with our own grown herbs. It is a very empowering way of life where creation exists daily. De cluttering, cleaning and maintaining is also part of it. I want to provide products from the world I have been creating to share this way of life. Garage Days is a start and it will expand as time goes by.
I feel like if this new series really reflects customizing we could see some pretty random products as inspiration is always around us, am I on target? To wrap things up let the readers know how far this “Garage Days” will be something available to purchase, any plans with the line specifically, or what to keep an eye out for next?
Garage days will be an ongoing project that will start out with sneakers and lifestyle products. I am really begining to enjoy customizing life itself. I might even explore an art gallery / workshop / cafe in the near future. I really enjoy cooking.