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Julie Ilagan - New Zealand Sneaker Customizer Interview


Hapsari Listya
October 27, 2022

After her dad asked Julie @julie.ilagan, to customised his sneakers, she's been addicted to custom her own pairs and even getting some customers worldwide. She loves custom sneakers because it gives new "life" to aged pairs and everyone can value their pairs even more!

What was the moment you first got drawn to sneakers, and which pair of sneakers triggered your passion?

Well, my dad is a big sneakerhead; in particular, he collects basketball shoes. Like most sneakerheads, his collection piled up against the walls; enough to fill up a whole room! To this day, his collection continues to grow. I guess his admiration for each pair and associating it with people, basketball players, storytelling, and lifestyle, made me appreciate and look at shoes differently.

I was also inspired by the variations in texture and materials, bright colours, and unique styles. Surprisingly enough, the simple Nike Airforce 1s which was designed as a basketball shoe by Bruce Kilgore in 1982, triggered my sneaker passion. It was the idea that something so simple in design (and eventually becoming "mainstream" had the potential to be completely one of a kind... and that would be through the art of customizing.

All images via @julie.ilagan

What’s one moment or trend in the history of sneaker culture that resonates with you?

The uprising of sneaker collaboration culture for sure, but more so, the rise of customisation culture! Quite often, people forget that art and fashion completely go hand-in-hand. It's how you could wear art and express yourself without saying anything at all. I think customised sneakers do exactly that. It paves the way for self-expression, storytelling, and creativity.

Since the late ’90s and early ’00s, and its association to Hip Hop culture and graffiti art; custom sneakers have taken fashion to another level. It demonstrates as well that art could be worn out and seen by the world, and that it didn't have to be on a flat surface hung up in a gallery for it to be called art!

Please describe how it feels to you when you get and wear a new pair of kicks?

It's truly a great feeling and quite rewarding actually because usually I would have been eyeing up a pair for some time and waited until I've saved enough to finally purchase it. Each pair of kicks is an investment!

I guess it must be the way I have been shown to value shoes in terms of their design and construction when working for an NZ footwear designer, Kathryn Wilson. I feel like an ultimate baddie, taking on the world as my runway! And once I've broken into them, it feels like home.

What are some of your favorite creators/designers or brands and why?

There's too many to name! But on the top of my head, Golden Goose is one, for their desire to preserve traditional craft through artisanal practices and ensure that each piece is authentic, touched with life, and perfectly imperfect.

I also have an admiration for Coperni. Their architectural cuts, are almost origami-like mixed with a ‘sportif’ silhouette. Not to mention how they recently made history with their Spray-on dress at the SS23 fashion show! It reminded me a lot of Alexander McQueen's iconic spray-painted dress at the SS99 show.

I heard you're a sneaker customizer. When did you start custom sneakers and how did it begin?

I started custom sneakers during the very first Covid lockdown, so only 2 years ago! I remember I was in my final year of university, completing my projects at home (I studied for a Bachelor of Fine Arts). I was actually painting onto textiles and fabric because my project looked at sustainability and linked it to traditional artisan garment making in the Philippines.

Then, my dad interrupted me and asked if I could paint over a pair of sneakers he had where the leather was starting to deteriorate and colour fading in some areas. I painted Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck posed with a basketball, taking inspiration from Space Jam. Immediately, this sparked something in me...

I was drawn to the idea that customising sneakers is sustainable in the sense where it can give a new life, transform it into something new, or simply just cover up a flaw as it ages. And because there's this personal design added to it, we can value the product even more.

How do you find inspiration for custom sneakers?

I find inspiration in a lot of things - nature, childhood, colour, shapes, and pop culture. But since I work closely with customers, I see it as a co-creation.

It's mainly their ideas and stories, and my aim is to bring that vision to life! It's a matter of being able to listen carefully, but also connect to some level and understanding their personality, style, and aesthetic. I want the shoes to compliment them as a person!

What is one sneaker collaboration that doesn’t exist, but you wish/think should exist?

Me x Nike! Ha! no, but ideally that would be a dream! And no dream is ever too big!

Though there are so many creatives and amazing talents out there, a sneaker collaboration I wish existed would be Filipina Tattoo artist, Whang-od with Nike. At 103 years old, Whang-od is the world's oldest traditional tattoo artist (located in the Philippine Cordileras). I think it would be truly remarkable and iconic, and perhaps unexpected, for a collaboration with her and Nike.

Merging the traditional art of hand-tapped tattoos with contemporary sneaker silhouettes. Leather, like skin, and ink visually showcase the design. Her legacy could live on for years to come.

What are some of the current pairs of sneakers in your rotation?

I am an artist, but I am also a fitness freak! So I am constantly on my feet and like to move. I think shoes should definitely complement your lifestyle, so for me, comfortable shoes is a must!

At the gym or doing anything that requires my body to move, my go-to is my Nike Air VaporMax Flyknit 3 or Nike Blazer Mid '77. Otherwise, I turn to my customised AF1s or my Nike Dunk Low 'University Blue'. It's all about how comfort meets style.

What is your ultimate holy grail sneaker that you have not managed to acquire so far?

Probably the “Murakami Drip” RTFKT x Takashi Murakami x Nike Air Force 1 Low. I have always been a huge fan of the works by Japanese artist Takashi Murakami, and the idea of something fun, playful, and colourful on a shoe excites me!

Other than kicks, what are some of your daily essentials or treasured items?

Daily essentials would definitely include my ESWB, lip balm, and sunscreen! Though as much as I also love my clothes, sneakers, and jewelry, I am quite content just being surrounded by loved ones and doing what I love! I don't think any materialistic things could replace that sort of "treasure".

Where can people find you on social media?

Instagram: @julie.ilagan

Do you have a sneaker collection that you wish to showcase or share with the world? Or maybe you have some hyped deadstock that you wish to sell. Join Ox Street as an early community member in our beta stage today and get $25 SGD off your first order (while discount slots last).

An ailurophile who loves bake cookies and listen to indie music!