Introducing a new category to the site with interviews today and I’m going to try and focus on people deep in the culture in one way or another. I thought I’d kick it off as strong as possible so I sat down (via WhatsApp) with Mr. Sabotage aka SBTG. During my last trip to Singapore I was able to visit his studio and talk in person. So many things he said really stuck with me then so I wanted to capture them for a wider audience. Not only is he an extremely talented and successful artist and designer, but he’s also a very humble and kind person. Hoping everyone enjoys this as much as I enjoyed our exchange. Be sure and visit his online shop and pick up your own piece of art.
SG: Welcome Mr. Sabotage. Let’s start with an intro if you don’t mind.
SBTG: I’m Mr. Sabotage, brand owner of Sabotage & Co. or SBTG. I’m an artist and run a company that designs and customises sneakers and clothing. We also collaborate with all sorts of brands with our signature aesthetics to tell stories.
SG: How did you get into the business of customising sneakers and clothing?
SBTG: Customising has always been in my DNA as far as I can remember. As a kid I would safety pin up the straps of my backpack and doodle on my sneakers and jeans. And fast forward all that, I won a sneaker custom competition on Niketalk.com in 2003 and got an order for 72 pairs immediately after… I started my business and the rest is history. 13 years running now.
SG: Wow that is great. Very few people get to pursue their passion and make a living out of it. You work a lot with sneakers but do you consider yourself a “sneakerhead”?
SBTG: Thank you. It’s tough and involves more mental stamina to exhibit the talent. No, I don’t consider myself a sneakerhead. I do not subscribe to the “collecting” aspect of it. To explain it, I would position my role more as a creator than a consumer. I find collecting way too decadent and notice it’s like an addiction for many. I don’t see it as a positive thing as it feeds into “wasting the world away” kinda monster.
SG: That makes sense. So, it is interesting that while you live in the world of sneakers so to speak, wear sneakers every day and depend on sneaker consumers to continue your business, you don’t see the need yourself to do so yourself.
SBTG: I find that my work doesn’t really attract the “collectors” or “sneakerheads” as they subscribe to a very different buying habit. Of course there are overlaps along the way where some of our releases seem to get more unintentional “hype” but yeah, we love customers to come to us for us. And that number is growing all over the world. I view my role as an artist like a journey not a destination and am constantly on a mission to improve and elevate the expression. And the more years I go, I find myself being able to put out less to convey a bigger message in a way. So, my answer to you is every new project is my favourite.
I grew up skating and listening to punk rock so I really repel from fashion and trends. It’s just who I am and the way I respond to things. I question things all the time. I take time to form my own opinions all the time.
SG: Personally, I’ve never been a fan of “customisation” because all I had seen was people taking the theme from one existing design and applying it to another model. Or putting people’s names or ideas on a shoe. What made your work stand out was the fact that you are taking shoes and putting your own designs and aesthetic to them. What are your thoughts on how that comes about and what customising means today and what you see out there?
SBTG: You know it’s the same deal in the world of custom culture. It’s such a broad spectrum with so many tribes and beliefs. Like many provide a service where they are skillful to airbrush portraits of cartoons or cereal box arts or wolves and superheroes on shoes. That’s not who we are as we operate like a brand with our own aesthetics and philosophies and even soundtrack.
It’s like custom bikes and food. Not every garage does custom with an aesthetic that aligns with you just like not all spaghetti carbonara is the same. Or like not every restaurant serves a spaghetti carbonara to your liking. I guess it’s really finding your niche, and I feel in the “custom sneaker” category, I have found my own niche. It’s a sweet spot that I totally appreciate to be in. Odd and alone…
SG: Obviously when you are producing a design to be sold directly it is one thing. But tell me what it is like working with New Balance or Puma or Nike SB to mass produce a shoe with your design. How does that typically work and how long does it take?
SBTG: It never felt like working with the brands vs. working with people that believe in you and becoming friends in the end. Nothing corporate about it really. It’s usually as casual as this whatsapp convo right now. It usually takes a year to from concept to design to sampling and release.
SG: I was lucky enough to visit your studio in Singapore earlier this year and one of the things we talked about was your logo and the use of camo in your designs. Would you mind telling me your thoughts behind that and what it means to you?
SBTG: It’s the same as being the odd one in the lot so I chose to camouflage my name in another language. Like a secret handshake.
SG: So, the use of Arabic letters is concealing the real characters? Not all things are as they first appear?
SBTG: Yes! For those who know, know…not dying for more to know us. We are an indy company not striving to be huge.
SG: Where do you draw inspiration for your work? Be it music or arts or other artists?
SBTG: I love military aesthetics fused with punk approach. Kinda like stealing from everywhere to form something new. You know like how punk flyers where made before computer graphics? And along the way, we really love painting camouflage.
SG: For you as a skater Vans and Nike SB make sense as shoes to work on but where do New Balance and Puma fit in?
SBTG: I used to skate in Puma Clydes in the 90s and was issued New Balance in the Army.
SG: Ah ok. I think a lot of people don’t know here but there is compulsory military service in Singapore and New Balance are (or were) standard issue right?
SBTG: Yeah NBs were standard issue in the 90s.
SG: I know you have said you don’t consider yourself a sneaker collector but I’ve seen you have some crazy Jordan 1’s and Dunks right?
SBTG: Yeah the Jordans are 1985’s. I buy them whenever I have an opportunity. It’s more like a conversation piece to remind the young that those were from another era. They are not rare or anything, just old and I feel that if anyone is dropping stupid money, it should be on these. (but don’t tell anyone…) I laugh every time people go WOW when the same Jordan launches.
SG: For me as a kid the Jordan 1 is that grail. My parents thought I was crazy wanting a $65 shoe I would grow out of in six months. Do you have a favorite model or a shoe like that? Something that stands out and has memories attached to it?
SBTG: Same for me – the Jordan 1. I started hunting for AJ1 1985 in the mid 90s. So, there were no replicas except the 94’s and it was hard with no internet. But only the 85’s. Anything after has no value to me.
SG: Thanks so much for your time. Any last comments or thoughts?