Kick Starby Andy Davis / 16.09.2010
Alex Nash has a novel way of making a living. He takes apart and rebuilds sneakers to make what he, and the rest of the world’s sneaker freaks call, “customs”. His work is the bleeding edge of sneaker culture, having designed mass production models for everyone from Nike and DC to Lacoste. This the high art of street fashion. Ol’ Nash Money, as he’s known, has been in the Republic for a few weeks now working on a show for the SABC. He’ll be representing his styles and sharing his skills at the STR.CRD festival in Cape Town next week. We got to ask him some questions.
Mahala: A lot of people in South Africa have no idea what it is you do for a living. Can you describe and explain it?
Nash: I customize sneakers, but not in the conventional sense. I don’t simply paint on a sneaker, or apply graffiti textures to it. I destroy and rebuild them using stitching techniques and utilizing labels and fabrics from other garments to come up with a custom that looks more like a manufactured product.
Where is sneaker culture going? Is it a kind of “high art” and does it drive the overall direction of sneaker manufacture?
I think its not so much where it’s going, but rather a case of where it’s gone and how far it has come. The sneaker as a shoe has gone from being about function and sport to more of a lifestyle thing. Sneakers, customised or not, have become part of people’s everyday wardrobes. I always say, life is sport. Running to the train is sport. Work is sport. In terms of whether it’s “high art”, sneakers have become a means of expression for some people. Concepts like Nike ID are the way forward because today’s market knows exactly what they want in terms of style and expression. People demand different things and want to have some form of individuality. Do customising and customised sneakers have an influence on the overall direction of sneaker manufacturing? Absolutely. When I started in 2004, not a lot of people were doing shoes that juxtaposed moccasins and the sneaker, deck shoes and the sneaker, hiking shoes and the sneaker and now we see that hybrid quality in many manufactured sneakers.
Sports shoes have always been about function primarily and fashion second. Is that starting to invert. Are sneaker freaks just hip hop versions of shoe queens?
I would say that people are into kicks for different reasons. For instance you’ll find a guy who’s got thousands of Adidas shoes and became a fan of Adi gear cos he was into a soccer team or a player that was sponsored by Adidas when he was a youngster. For them, the sneakers and gear have nothing to do with vanity or super consumerism. Then you get the guy who’s trying to reclaim his youth in a way, by buying the re-released versions of sneakers he dug as a kid. Of course some cats do get sucked in or passionate about the whole thing. Whether it’s a vanity thing or just an addiction is to be judged purely on a case by case scenario. Not everyone is Damon Dash, and the sneakers really are more about lifestyle.
When you take a new pair of sneakers and do work on them, are they meant to be worn, or should they be put in a display cabinet?
I put so much time and effort into each sneaker I customise, that I tend to be very precious about each one and keep every custom I have for exhibiting purposes only. I never wear any of the kicks I customise. In fact I make them in a size smaller on purpose so that I am not tempted to wear them. The one time I wore a pair of kicks I customised I really regretted it, but in the same breath, they are made for wearing in terms of finish and quality. They are completely wearable.
What do you prefer, customising once offs or designing a shoe for mass production?
I like doing both. I like to design a shoe for mass production because I don’t have to work out the logistics of trying to get to the end result and I have access to more resources. I like customising once offs because I have more control of what I’m doing when I’m doing it and the process doesn’t have many factors or individuals involved in it. I don’t have deadlines and approvals (most of the time). I also quite enjoy making the shoes by myself and I get more satisfaction in that process and end result.
Will a customised shoe last as long as a mass production model?
A customised shoe is a lot stronger in some cases as a mass produced sneaker and the pro’s of a customised shoe is that it is easier to repair and restore it’s original state. Should a custom kick be worn? Well, it is up to the individual whether they wear it, shoes are made for wearing. If you can afford it, rock it!
You’ve spent some time in South Africa what have you been up to?
I’ve been working 12 hour days, 7 days a week and haven’t had a chance to do much yet. But luckily the project that I’m working on for SABC 2 affords me the opportunity to learn about the different cultures and languages in South Africa. Part of this process includes trips to places like the Lesedi Cultural Village, Credo Mutwa Cultural Village in Soweto, the Hector Pietersen Memorial and the Mai Mai cultural market, which I have been finding very enjoyable and informative. I have managed to slip out of my hectic schedule and hangout with some interesting people and see what the Johannesburg nightlife is like.
I’ve met some really dope people here who are all doing their own thing, like the Pink Lyte girls, Vie and Thithi, who’ve been taking care of me. Hardy who organized for me to come down here, Scoop from Vuzu, Smiso OkMalumeKoolKat from Dirty Paraffin and the other cats from the Gallery in Melville, like Ayanda, Sanele, Thami and Mkay. Did a shoot with Tiisetso whose blog Urban Mosadi blog is dope as hell, which Scoop and Eric Macheru were in as well and was shot by Leeroy Jason for the STR.CRD mini magazine. I got to go to the Blu & Exile gig thanks to my man Raiko and the Pink Lyte chicks got me running the streets, going to clubs like Inc, Mi-Bar, Latinova, all over…
What do you think of sneaker culture in South Africa?
I think it’s really cool. Been hanging out with the Gallery on 4th cats and everyone seems to be representing here. Loads of people seem to be clued up with the trends and styles. There seems to be a lot of sneaker heads, so I have literally spent my entire time talking about sneakers every time I go out. S
What do you think of SA in general?
I’m a bit disappointed really. Thought there’d be lions walking around and that I be riding zebras from place to place… you know I’m joking, right. SA’s a beautiful country, I’ve been here before and its got great people, dope energy and some beautiful scenery.
Have you seen examples and ideas from South Africa that you’d like to take back and incorporate into your work?
Well yeah the SABC 2 Your Heritage Your Edge project is basically facilitating that process for me. The concept of the initiative is for me to customize sneakers inspired by the 11 official languages in SA. So I have been exposed to so much that I actually schooled some South Africans the other day on some cultural heritage stuff. Besides the project, I have been inspired and the trip has given me ideas that I plan to take back and incorporate into my other work. Loving the Ndebele style and also digging those Sotho blankets.
How do you respond to the charge that sneakers are a kind of consumerist fashion fetish – and high end sneaker culture is the sharp end of that, driving more sales of sports shoes that are not essential must have items, but rather signifiers of status – especially in a country where the price of a pair of new Nike’s could feed a family for a month?
Eish! You making me feel guilty with this question. I guess people adapt to there environment. Some times I feel I got it hard in London, paying bills, making sure my kid has what she needs in life. You must help yourself before you can properly help others. My response to that is, if it’s not sneakers it will be something else. As an avid sneaker collector it’s about quality not about quantity for me. And hopefully that’s how other people who buy kicks approach a purchase.