Artist Interview with YBK Customs: An Artistic Take On Exclusive Sneakers
Interviewer: Meera Shah, Director at Galleria Meera
Two teenage London-based students launched a creative art business customising sneakers during the 2020 lockdown. Galleria Meera is here to celebrate that.
So we caught up with Alex Edun and Henry Cudjoe – owners of YBK Customs to hear more about their amazing and inspirational journey.
Meera: Henry and Alex, tell us a bit more about yourselves!
Alex: I am sixteen-years old and I live in England. Roughly six years ago, I moved to England with my family from Nigeria to study. As well as pursuing a career as an artist, due to YBK I would also consider myself a young entrepreneur. I also really enjoy sports – I play elite rugby at an under 18 academy level in Northampton Saints Junior Academy and Ultimate Rugby 7s National Academy. Depending on where my artistic pursuits and rugby lead me, I intend to go to University to study a degree in Graphic Design.
Henry: I am a seventeen-year-old student and young entrepreneur looking to develop and pursue my artistic ventures through YBK and through other opportunities that I come across. Creativity is something that comes naturally to me and it is something that I can say has been a passion of mine for as long as I can remember, hence the reason why I decided to challenge myself by starting YBK with Alex.
Alongside my art and A-levels I also play rugby; I found that by branching into sport I can find common ground and a link back to projects involving art. Off the back of Alex customising a pair of boots for Luke Treharne (Wales 7s), I was also able to get into contact with Dan Bibby (England National Rugby 7s player); now I am currently working on a pair of boots for him.
Meera: That sounds great!. Tell us more about when and how did your professional art journey begin?
Henry: In May 2020, just under a year ago from now, schools in the UK closed and Alex and I found ourselves in a very relaxed situation, since our GCSE’s had been cancelled. Our friend Maxwell spontaneously sent a message to our group chat asking if anyone wanted to start customising trainers after seeing something on Instagram. Although we didn’t expect anything to come out of it, we said why not. We then brainstormed and came up with the name: Your Best Kicks (YBK) and created an Instagram account. I then started by doing a bunch of sketches of potential designs to post and help to build a following. From that we got our first order. We began to grow our Instagram account and ended up as we are now.
Meera: How exactly did YBK customs come about? And what was it that made you both decide to work together?
Alex: We were initially doing a Powerpoint presentation about entrepreneurship and sneaker customisation for a school project, but we carried it on after handing in our presentation. Since we had spent roughly two school years prior working closely in the same environment on our GCSE art coursework sketchbooks, we were good friends and had already spent a lot of time working together. So, it wasn’t at all a difficult answer when we were asked if we wanted to work on the project together.
Meera: Dedication is always rewarded sooner or later, so great job!. What mediums, equipment and techniques do you like to use and why?
Henry: We currently use Angelus Leather Acrylic Paints, standard paintbrushes as well as detailing brushes amongst other Angelus products like their deglazer, finisherd etc. and common art supplies like tape, craft-knives etc. We decided to use Angelus products because after doing some research we found that they were the recommended brand for paints as it is durable and of good quality. Although it was more expensive, we were willing to invest in what we had a passion for. Regarding techniques, we use the standard technique of planning out the design, ensuring the proportions are correct, and mixing the right amount/shade of colours. In terms of our individual painting technique and style we differ; my style is bolder and smoother whereas Alex is more sketchy, however we both take our time with details and ensure a quality finish.
Meera: I’m actually curious to know: what are your favourite sneakers to use as a canvas and why?
Alex: I can’t say my personal favourite because I’m yet to try the lot out. Although, I find that Air Force 1s are a very reliable canvas. I would love to customise a pair of Jordan 1 lows. That could be in the running for my favourite.
Henry: At the moment my favourite sneaker canvas is an Air Force 1 (AF1) as I am most familiar with those. I have done some snakeskin Jordans but AF1s are my preference because the leather has a better grip. I am currently working on some Mizuno rugby boots so my opinion may change. Hopefully, I will get to try out a whole range of different canvases.
Meera: What would you both say is the inspiration behind some of your favourite designs?
Alex: My top three would be the Simpson, The Godzilla vs Kong fan art pair and the pair based around my heritage as a young Nigerian (the latter two are work in progress). The inspiration for these designs is as follows. The Simpson was simply based around some digital art and an already made custom I had seen online. I really liked how they turned out and how vibrant the colours were. The Godzilla vs Kong Pair were based off clips from the movie trailer which were put together to suit the silhouette of the shoe. I thought it would be a substantial challenge to work from the movie clips and test my skills as an artist. Lastly, even though the Nigerian heritage pair are yet to be created, the inspiration is deeper than just my surface level roots as a Nigerian. It is a mixture of that combined with elements of the two tribes both my parents come from.
Henry: My top three favourite designs are the graffiti design, the grey scale butterfly design and the Attack on Titan design (AOT). All three of these designs showcase my creativity as I was given a lot of freedom whilst creating. For the graffiti design I was given some photos to use as a guideline then I began to create as I painted. The design is a mixture of Chris Brown’s graffiti monsters and my own original creations. For the grey scale butterfly design I was asked to do a design that Alex had done but I decided to put my own spin on it (post confirmation from the client) and changed the colour way and the design itself, here I also created as I painted. And finally, my no.1 favourite design at the moment is the AOT design. With this design I was given a title of a TV show then I began to create. I created the background from scratch and used characters from the TV show as the main attraction. I am currently working on two big designs so my opinion may change but at the moment these were the most enjoyable to create hence why they are my top 3.
Meera: Okay, so say if you could turn back time, what is the one piece of advice that you would now give to yourselves when you first started out?
Alex: The one piece of advice I would give myself is that although researching via the internet, for example YouTube, is great, make sure to consult people with experience near you. This is because in the course of customising, I have found my parents had some advice to give me which turned out to be really helpful and made things easier for both Henry and I.
Henry: If I were to give myself some advice, I would tell myself to record the process of creating a design and engage with my followers. I would make sure to get more than one post out of a design to show different forms of content, like videos, because at the start we only posted the final picture then moved on.
Meera: Having started this venture at such a young age,I’m interested to know what are your plans for the next 5 years?
Alex: I plan on going to university to get a degree in graphic design. Career wise, I am still figuring out what I want to do. Two things that will remain constant will be: we will continue to grow YBK and ourselves as artists, and I also intend on carrying on with my rugby. This is because it is important to me to have a good balance in all that I do.
Henry: I also plan to go to university and get a degree in something art-related or maybe Maths. I’m still undecided. The constant things in my life will be YBK and my sport, predominantly rugby. This is important because like Alex, I like a balance of work and activity.
Meera: That is truly important, we all need that balance in our life and it’s something that needs to be strived for. Guys, it’s be a pleasure getting to know you both more, and I wish you every success in the future!
Henry: Thank you Meera!
Alex: Thank you! And you!