Shoe customization is a small, but ironically oversaturated, industry in which thousands of people lacking technical skill, artistry, or both, call themselves customizers; fortunately for one-of-one shoe hunters worldwide, Mark Ong, a.k.a. SBTG/Royalefam, has stepped to the forefront. Possessing both vision and technical know-how, Mark painstakingly develops ornamental, but wearable, shoes for consumers who can afford the price-tag that guarantees them a real limited edition pair.

“I wouldn’t paint more than 12 pairs of the same design. I would have serious phobias of my job if I did so.”

Format: How did you initially get into shoe customization?
Mark Ong: I’ve always had the itch to modify something on a factory product ever since I was a kid. I would painstakingly swap laces from different pairs, add badges on ‘em. I always wanted them to say something; have a character of its own. The late 80s through the whole of the 90s was nothing but skateboarding for me, so naturally there was a lot of interaction with my sneakers. I would always try to make the worn out pairs look more wearable. I didn’t have a lot of money to buy sneakers so I had to make do with what I had and make em look as dope as possible. I played around with a lotta glue, paint markers, leather add-ons, etcetera.

Format: You mentioned in a previous interview that you’ve thought about form vs. function when customizing shoes, but there was no explanation. How do you relate to the two when designing?
Mark: I don’t really recall it, but if you wanna talk about form vs. function in terms of customizing a factory stock shoe, function would mean wearability and durability as there is only so much you can modify with its form. I would compare it with web design where we are constantly searching for ways to break the technical boundaries and restrictions to enhance the aesthetic functionality.


Format: There is clearly a great attention to detail in an SBTG custom, from the lace-lock to the box. How important is it to you to create a full package?
Mark: It is very important to me aesthetically, as well as the experience of the customer when he receives it. It’s the same as when a kid gets a new toy or gadget that they have longed for. The whole initial first look at everything that comes with the product kinda experience.

Format: Many of your customizations incorporate the same materials – denim, lace locks, and so forth. Why do these particular materials appeal to you?
Mark: It creates depth in texture and increases its aesthetic value.

Format: One of the most common elements of your work is the lace cover. How did you initially develop the lace cover, and why have you used it so frequently?
Mark: It is from the 90s when I was skating and wearing a lot of skate shoes. Many of them came with lace savers. I’m just incorporating that element into it. I am also very particular of the “view up there” when you have your shoes on. When I look down at them, I don’t just wanna see laces and tongue.


Format: To what degree do you feel creatively limited when designing shoes?
Mark: By the canvas. The outsole and sock liner almost entirely dictates what colors can and cannot be used in the custom job. If it’s a neutral color like black or grey, you are ok. Any other color will determine its outcome color scheme.

Format: Given an unlimited budget and timeframe, what would you like to create, specifically as it relates to shoe customization?
Mark: I would really spend time to experiment on making my own sneaker.

Format: What is it about the military aesthetic that interests you?
Mark: Aside from me being in mandatory military service, I simply just developed a love for it – its strict protocol and systematic design values.


Format: Most of your work is done using Dunks and Air Forces, and the same is true for many other customizers. Why Dunks and Air Forces?
Mark: As cliché as it sounds there is no doubt that these shoes have the best construction and silhouette for designing.

Format: Please describe your collaborations with Metamphibian. What unique issues arise when collaborating on shoe customization?
Mark: It is definitely a step outside our comfort zones. The ability to use both our strongest painted elements to form something totally new that both of us couldn’t have done alone. A total new look and color combo has been discovered. A very refreshing experience that boosts our drive.

Format: Many people purchase customs because of the 1 of 1 appeal. You produced 12 pairs in collaboration with Denim and Sole. How important is it that your designs are limited edition?
Mark: It will be limited by default. There is only so much of the same design that I would paint as a matter of fact. I wouldn’t paint more than 12 pairs of the same design. I would have serious phobias of my job if I did so.

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Shane Ward

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