IDYSM: Hey Benji. So, how did you get into customising?
Benji: Well. It still feels like I am still getting into it. I can remember designing trainers at school in Design lessons, but it wasn’t until years later that I rediscovered my interest in creating trainers. I started to mess about at home, trying to figure out how you go about it and it developed from there. The peeps over at superstardb.com were supportive of my early efforts and continue to challenge me with commissions.
IDYSM: What do you customise, and what sets you apart from other customizers?
Benji: Up until now I have mostly worked on Shelltoes, I am a big fan of those. It goes back to my youth and the icons of that time. There were only two choices; Clydes or shelltoe. If you were into Hip Hop or BBoy culture as a youth, your chosen footwear would have been one of those two. I chose shells, that’s why I work on so many of those.. but I do own other shoes and enjoy working on other styles.
IDYSM: The love for all things adidas is very apparent in your work, what are your most outrageous spins on the 3 stripes?
Benji: The Sociomantic Skates were a promotional project for Sociomantic Labs. I wanted to take a Pro Model and make a Roller boot. It was asking for it!! It was fun and different.
IDYSM: There seems to be a great deal of respect for shoes in your work. How far do you go to to display respect for shoe’s OG colourways, designs and personalities?
Benji: That is a tough one. I work with the people who commission the shoes closely. I like the bouncing of ideas and negotiation involved in that kind of brief. Personally I like a shoe to be simple, if you get it right it can look amazing. But I enjoy the challenge of the ones with bells and whistles on. I always, always consult a colour wheel…. And then paint them grey anyway LOL. Got a bit of thing for grey.
IDYSM: Who do you customise for?
Benji: Collectors mostly. I have nice queue of very patient people. I am working for a collector at the moment, then a brand who have sent some shoes and then something for a brand that don’t even know they are going to be working with me… here’s hoping!!
IDYSM: What does a job involve – how do you go about it, from pre-production, through to the finished product?
Benji: If it is a commission, sourcing a shoe can take ages, especially for collectors with discerning taste. Collectors often come with specific requests, so often it is not as simple as transposing my own visions to a shoe.
Once an idea for a shoe is agreed, I knock up a draft image and we bounce images back and fourth.
I like to experiment mid-job too!! I have a photo driven dialogue with the collector throughout the work. They see the stripping of the existing shoe paint or materials, the base coats and finally the details. We add unique graphics to the custom shoeboxes, even laces. At the end we shoot them and release images on the web.
IDYSM: Where do you get inspiration from?
Benji: Anywhere and everywhere. So for example, the Trojan Records shoe (my first proper custom on a BNIB shoe) I wanted a colourway that was red, gold and green. But I love the earthy reds, golds and greens used in Indian culture. Saffron, Mustard and deep forest or a leafy green. I love pattern too and have stacks of books on the subject, with too many ideas and not enough hours to work on them. I am going to be working on a few jobs where I really am just going with my own ideas.
IDYSM: You’ve moved around the UK a bit over the years – do you think the sneaker/style scenes vary between London and Manchester?
Benji: I think there has always been a bit of a fashion divide between north and south, but as the UK becomes more and more influenced by the United States, the line is blurring. Older aficionados have firm ideas about sneaker couture and are very tribal, and it’s amazing how well retros are doing, people really want the vintage silhouettes. Youngsters move with US influenced fashion and more and more people are wearing swooshes in the North, but I don’t see as many B-Ball shapes as you’d find in the States.
IDYSM: What do you think of the sneaker game in the UK, is a sense of disillusionment what pushed you into customizing?
Benji: Not at all. During the 90s I was busy with music, at a time when there was a clear boom in the shoe scene. So I kind of missed that train. I just get on with doing what I am doing now. I know that people have been put off by developments in the scene, it happens in music too… in fact all cultural movements.
I may adjust a few shoes that I feel could be better, but it isn’t really about me being unhappy with what is out there.
IDYSM: What’s your reaction to the shoe game at the moment, do you think kicks are losing a sense of personality?
Benji: It is such big business these days. The originality seems phoney sometimes. There are so many shoes being released these days, it can give you a headache. I would like to see a focus on quality and innovation, over hype colourways.
Customising is really a different beast, a small part of it is switching colours or materials to have a more limited or hype shoe. But it is also about an artistic movement.
IDYSM: How do you feel about people wearing your shoes – are they to be worn, or to be kept indoors so they can stay pristine?
Benji: Once you have worn any shoe, it will show signs of wear, it won’t look the same. That said, I aim to make all my shoes wearable, but all shoes age even if unworn so… Ultimately it is up to the owner. I normally advise people what to watch out for, if the shoe has synthetic parts then they will need extra care where the shoe flexes. You know what gives first on a pair of factory shoes, so it is the same with customs.
IDYSM: What’s on the horizon for you?, is the word ‘collab’ on the horizon?
Benji: Oh yes. Some nice German friends have trusted me with a shoe. I am keen to get to that job once I have completed my current commission. No general release brand action yet though!
IDYSM: I’m hoping for this to be something pretty out there; tell me, what’s on your feet right now?
Benji: Haha I am barefoot.. though it is a bit nippy.
The weather has turned a bit up here so these days I am wearing Blauvelt Apres Ski boots for walking and my trusty Pete Eldridge Superstars for cycling.
If I have a dinner date with the wife, I might put something more glamorous on 😉
Shot by elfiepix @ dosomework.co.uk
Check our more of Benji’s work here.