Custom sneaker designer Zhijun Wang of ZJ Design takes some time out to chop it up with us about all things New Balance. Zhijun is the brains behind such customs as MT580 “Panda“, 1600 “Pigeon” and the HS77 “Dragon Boat Festival.” Read on to find out his process of creating custom sneakers, China’s New Balance trend and why the words “classic and tradition” go hand in hand when thinking about the New Balance brand. (All photos provided by Zhijun Wang)
How do you feel about the currently state of the sneaker game in Beijing?
As we know the sneaker culture in China was imported from Western world, it has only been less than 20 years since sneakers became popular. The sneaker game is still within the starting stage nowadays. Everyone’s effort can make a change to this game in future.
Do you collect New Balance sneakers? If so how many do you own?
I am not a collector, just collected a few pairs for the collection. Most of my sneakers are for daily wear. I have around 20 pairs of New Balance. At the same time, I also buy some for customization. One of my favorite collections is the amazing “Pigeon” by Jeffstaple.
Are you seeing a trend of people in Beijing are wearing New Balance’s?
Yes, indeed. In recent years, I can see more and more people wearing New Balance sneakers on the streets. Personally I think it is because of the materials, design and comfort of New Balance. There is also a small group of people who are into the high-end sneakers, such as those made in the UK or US. Some of them even get obsessed. Luckily, I am not one of them.
What do you feel is the most important part of a New Balance shoe? Why?
Classic and tradition. After over 100 years since its establishment, New Balance still keeps its factories both in the UK and the US in such a fiercely competitive business world. New Balance keeps its promises to make better shoes for people by perpetuating its uniqueness and styles.
How do you feel about the amount of New Balance’s being released in the last year or so?
I prefer those crossovers which were made based on ideas from all over the world, especially the Black Pigeon 577 by Size? x Staple x NB.
Do you have a favorite silhouette that New Balance produces? Why?
The NB993 (Made in USA) and NB1500 (Made in England). I can feel the subtle difference when I wear them. The feeling is quite special. Maybe it’s due to the different factories which has their own uniqueness, but both are awesome.
What do you see New Balance doing differently than other brands?
New Balance will not lower its standard to fit all different markets or customers, especially with respect to materials used. In many high-end products from other brands, we can hardly see premium quality materials are used. But, we see them in New Balance products. That shows everyone that sneakers have attitude.
When designing custom sneakers what do you think about?
I usually collect some ideas that are related to my daily life. I need to spend time for deliberation of these ideas, and only start working when I’m ready. I want each of my work is originated.
Would you ever want to sell any that customs that you make? Why?
Currently I only make one pair for every customization, haven’t really think about selling them. Making customized sneakers was my dream when I was a teenager. When you really love to do something, you will do everything you can to make it happen. If I make those sneakers repeatedly and sell them for money, it will affect my innovation and cost a lot of my time and effort. I should make better use of my idea, my time and effort, to produce more exiting works. If I have the opportunity to work with some of the sneaker brands and come out with some crossover, I will show the very best of my design with professional customization standards, to share with more sneakerheads.
Why did you choose the 1600 and the 580 as the first and second runners for the “Animal Pack” project?
It is purely by chance. I only have a rough idea when I first started, and record it on a notebook. When I see NB1600 and 580, especially from the behind, ‘Bingo! They are just what I am looking for.’
What do you want people to take away from this custom project?
In this “Animal Pack”, I want to symbolize the panda and the pigeon from a personal perspective. When I was young, there were many people feeding pigeons in Beijing. I could often see the pigeons flying in the sky. I’ve like pigeons since then. I like the Pigeon by Jeffstaple, that’s why I custom made this NB1600 “Pigeon” as a tribute to him. Also, Panda is the national emblem of China and it has never been in a custom project by Chinese designer. I want to show my love to the panda. From the time that I decided to work out this idea, to think more in details, to drafting out the design, to measuring and cutting the template, I collect different materials and practice my crafting skills at the same time. And finally I share it on internet with others and get feedbacks from them. No matter the feedback is compliment or criticism, I feel like gaining experience from the whole process.
Any last thoughts or comments on New Balance you want to leave us with?
I hope to have opportunity to work with the brands like New Balance in future, and hope sneaker brands to give more understanding and support to customization sneaker designers. Thank everyone for your love and support! Salute!