UTP Exclusive Interview: SBTG x NON Beijing – “Straight To Hell” Custom Vans

Video and photo credit:  Betaphats Studios
Some info about NOW OR NEVER


In the world of sneakers, customization has always been present. People have this need to put their personal touch on them. Sometimes it’s as simple as swapping out laces. Sometimes it’s as complex as taking apart an entire shoe, and reconstructing it with an entirely different material. There are many who are making a name for themselves in this growing custom sneaker culture, but only a handful have been able to successfully get their artistic creations reproduced by a major brand, and when you look back at all of the shoes of this genre, you have to show respect where respect’s due, and that’s with our friend here, Mark Ong, aka Sabotage. His claim to fame, is of course the Royalefam Nike SB Dunk Low aka “Sabotage Dunk”, one of my all-time favorites, but he’s also helped create some other successful releases for the likes of New Balance, DC, a custom pair of Nike’s for Kobe Bryant, and the list goes on and on. He’s always been into the punk scene, and grew up skateboarding in Singapore, so naturally, you’d think he would’ve already done some work with Vans, right? Well, no he hasn’t, and we hope that we can help get something setup for him real soon, or at least with us, on some custom project of some sort! Which leads me to our exclusive interview we have obtained with him. Being able to get closer to his roots in skate and punk rock, Mark has decided to switch his focus to Vans sneakers. He’s always worn them, but he’s sort of been loyal to the athletic sports brands that he’s been lucky to collaborate with over the years. Mark thought it was important to first reach out to the true base of Vans fans. Those who give a fuck about what he’s doing, and those who get it. Well, he’s come to the right place, and we’ve officially converted him to the dark side!


Enjoy the conversation we had a few days back, and check out the awesome video that him and NON Beijing created for this collaborative project above.

(interview starts after the jump)

Hey there sir. How’s everything going?

Things are great. Thank you for asking.


Awesome. Where do you currently reside?

I am currently and have always lived in sunny Singapore. It’s really hot out here.


I bet the humidity is a killer! How’s the sneaker customization business going?

It’s ok now. Feels like its coming back up again. I took a 2 year break and got sucked back into it recently, but yeah it feels like it could be good if I put my attention to it.


When I first got your email, I was so stoked that you wanted to reach out to us to be the original info source for these new custom Vans that you are working on. (More about that later). I’m humbled, and grateful that you chose us. In the realm of sneaker blogs, we are amateurs.  We aren’t here to make money, and we don’t have a steady feed of information coming our way. It’s a hobby. A passion project if you will. I still have a day job that pays the bills, and the sneaker debt, lol. I have been extremely fortunate to have rubbed elbows with some awesome people who send me promo pairs, or allow me to secure my size (which means a lot to a sneaker collector!). I usually resort to my own personal photos, providing reviews and personal opinions which give a more authentic perspective on a particular shoe. Hopefully, that attention to detail is something that you recognized in us. After all, we are the OG Triple OG Vans Sneaker Community!

Yeah!  I mean that’s where the message comes from the purest source. I still believe in being 100% independent you know? Why not? I reached out to you guys because I recently started using Vans as a canvas and I am super stoked !! Now I hope it doesn’t sound cheesy but after the 2 year break I feel born again as far as painting on sneakers go. And as far as reaching out to the right audience is concerned, I feel that UTP would be the best platform.


I am very grateful for that! Think back as far as you can remember. What was the first shoe you customized, and what made you do it?

Aside from doodling on my shoes during class, I think the first shoe I ever put in effort was on a pair of Airwalk Velocitys.  I did the Full Cab into Half Cab thing, where I sliced the ankles and duct taped them (stitched after), I painted the blue suede to black and painted the Airwalk logo yellow. I remember being mad into it.


So awesome. Now, for the question that a lot of us want to know…The Nike SB Royale Fam “SBTG” Dunk put you on the world’s stage. What was that like, seeing something you created, reach legendary status in our sneaker community?

I feel so blessed. It was really a case of being in the right place, right time, and surrounded by the right people to have that opportunity presented to me on a platter. It’s been almost 10 years trying to repeat that same thing and travelling hearing stories from so many people who I think deserved that and didn’t get it.  I realize how fortunate I was / am, and I guess not many know this, but that shoe was designed in 2 hours.  I thought of it for longer than that of course but yeah, designed in 2 hours.


You were in the zone! How about some of your other cool projects? Your collab with Mita on the MRT580SM was another thing of beauty. I’m a big NB fan, and before the Vans community blasts me, I am the first to admit that I’m first and foremost a sneaker enthusiast, and not a loyalist to any brand. As with most sneaker”heads”, we start off down that narrow path (see: Phife Dawg), and then we start to learn about the rest of the awesome limited sneakers that all of the other brands create, thus me being a huge advocate for Vans. Nobody can touch their authenticity, style, and depth.

Thanks man. I designed that shoe with Shigeyuki Kunii of Mita Sneakers. He was kind enough to share a production ticket with me to make that happen. From that project,  I learned that we had a bigger responsibility as creators, to create shoes for others than for ourselves. Kunii-San chose the colorway and put the objective on the table, and it was to design the shoes for the younger generation of collectors. We could have gone the old school / heritage route but decided otherwise. The project was a big success with more than 300 people queuing up during the launch in Tokyo.

I do agree with you on how Vans is second to none in terms of authenticity, style, and depth. I regard myself as a skateboarder first before an Artist / Designer and I choose Vans as part of my identity.


Yeah man. Sometimes you have to push design into new untraditional areas, otherwise you stunt growth and evolution. It’s a fine line though, but if something is of quality and substance, I feel that eventually it will get it’s shine.

Enough about those other brands, let’s talk about this new project you’re working on with Non Beijing. Can you tell us about them, and the Vans sneakers that you have been working on?

I’m so excited about this interview and project you have no idea!  NON is short for Now or Never, it’s a store in Beijing that stocks clothing. They are the only store in China that officially carries the brand Fuct. I got to know them through Instagram and met one of the owners in Tokyo through the Fuct Distributor that i was paying a visit to. I told them that I loved their store and they told me they were SBTG fans. I was stoked, and from there the friendship began. We stayed in touch with Paco (NON).


What made you guys choose Vans shoes as your medium?

Before I get there, I must share about my break from customizing sneakers. I got burned out after about 10 years of producing more than 3000 pairs and started to expand my craft into making art. Most of it consists of Signs, Paintings and Objects. I did a travelling show titled Acoustic Anarchy which expressed my roots as a skateboarder and influences from punk rock. It was like a journey of rediscovering my style before it got out of hand to where it was going with the sneaker thing.  Fast forward, the aesthetics of Acoustic Anarchy caught the eye of Paco and he bought a piece for the store. From there, the conversation led to painting some shoes for NON, and my muscle memory asked if he wanted some Air Max’s and his reply was that he doesn’t wear Nike, only Vans. At that moment, I knew I was in for a fun ride and it might be a long one, and here i am talking to you. So just for info, SBTG x NON will consist of a collection of Custom Vans: a Sk8-Hi, Sk8-Mid, Era, and a Slip-on, titled “Straight to Hell”. The collection is for the NON friends and family crew. I would think a few pairs would go to selected fans of the store.


Nice. Vans are synonymous with being customized in some type of way. In fact, that’s what made Vans so wildly popular back in the day. You’d stop into the Vans showroom with your own fabric or material, ask them to construct your favorite model with it, and come back in a few weeks to pick them up. Even the iconic checkerboard pattern was created, because Steve Van Doren noticed that all the kids were drawing checkerboards on their shoes. He convinced his dad and uncle that they needed to do checkers. This is still the basis for their entire Vans Custom Culture contest, held each year.

 What do you notice about the sneaker community in SG?

I guess as far as collecting in general is concerned, it’s a combination of passion and hype.  It can get kinda too nerdy for my liking at times but it’s going really strong here from what I see.


I’ve never been able to put a word on the Singapore Vans scene, but you pretty much hit the nail on the head. They’ll pay top dollar for the most rare and hyped stuff, but they also have social groups where they meet up in person. We don’t even do that here, and also, nerdy isn’t a bad thing either. It’s a genuine, innocent, raw feeling. It’s excitement, without any fear of what others think. At least they know who they are, and embrace that. I wish I could say the same about a lot of folks who make up this sneaker/streetwear subculture! What about Vans fans in particular?

I feel that the aesthetics of Vans still has that same energy as when I started getting into sneakers. The element of “style” is very important, plus it’s the official footwear of skateboarding in my opinion. It has that impression that the wearer might be a skater. If the shoes have ollie holes, even better. It’s more than collecting. There is a lifestyle element to it. Now I can appreciate that.


Exactly. The classic Vans shoes are first and foremost skate shoes, and we can thank the skateboarding culture for giving Vans a world-wide acceptance. Under The Palms reaches all over the world, as a result of that. We have a significant amount of friends and followers from your country, Singapore, which I would’ve never imagined in a million years. I was born and raised in the suburbs of Los Angeles, so I’ve been around emerging trends and subcultures all my life, and you don’t recognize those influences because you’re a part of them, until you see them trending across the globe.

Skateboarding has been around in Singapore since the 80s and has never left, so there has always been a subculture around it. Music, Arts you name it. We have been watching from here through magazines, movies and MTV since then and English being our first language, it gives us the advantage in terms of communicating with the rest of the world. Vans is huge here Bill.


You touched on english being the primary language of Singapore, and no doubt that has bridged a gap with us here in the USA, and across the globe. No matter your race, religion, or politics, we all share a common love for sneakers, and I hope that by creating and nurturing this community of Vans fanatics, that we continue to convert more and more people to the dark side, that is Vans! I was put in touch with you, by a friend of mine, Eddie Nelson, who created the highly popular Facebook group “Strictly Vans”. I’ve been a supporter of his since I first came across his group.  He was smart, in that he found an original way to tap into the Vans community, that I failed to recognize. I was convinced that I had found every single one of us who was into Vans. I don’t think he knew what a monster he was creating, when he first started SV. Shout out to Eddie on linking us up!

Yeah im so grateful to know you and Eddie. We were talking about punk rock this afternoon and exchanging music references. Bad Religion and AFI was the topic of today.

The SV community is so helpful, I even got reacquainted with old friends Faisal and Fariz from Kadir Warriors. Those cats are OG first Gen heads in SG. Seriously, I had no idea Vans had a scene and collecting / trading community. I’m glad to find UTP and SV. I feel very comfortable here.


Yeah man, the Kadir Warriors have been holding down the Vans community in SG, and an interesting background about them, is that they are all first cousins, and their dearly departed grandfather’s name is Kadir, thus they’re all his “warriors”. That’s a perfect example of that passion you spoke of earlier, found in so many SG people. So do you have anything lined up after this project, that you can speak about?

I always have multiple projects going on. It keeps me excited. It’s really getting busy especially near the end of the year.  For sneaker collabs, I have projects coming up with Kickslab and Mita next year.  A project with a motorcycle brand, a couple of paintings here and there. As far as Vans is concerned, I’m gonna do something fun with my old friends from Kadir Warriors.


You’re one of the few pioneers in the sneaker customization world. With that being said, what do you think about the progression in custom sneakers, and this whole bespoke reconstruction genre, where artists have been basically creating an entire shoe from scratch?

As I mentioned earlier, I got burned out so I have not taken much notice to what’s going on lately. Being old testament, I drew a line before not to do decon / recon and focus on adding on an original base. I do feel that the whole bespoke reconstruction genre is border line bootlegging and at the same time you gotta take your hat off for the hours and precision put in to their work. All due respect, just my opinion.


I can agree with that. I guess whenever there’s a void that needs to be filled, such as quality of materials or craftsmanship, then there’s always going to be someone who figures out a way to serve that demand. Thus, we are seeing Jordans being reconstructed in ultra premium materials, restoration / repair paint jobs, and de-icing of soles. I may have just thought of an idea for a future collaboration project. Would you be down?!

I thought of an idea too! Let’s chop it up.


Oh fasho! Well, there you have it folks. The one, the only, Mark Ong aka Sabotage. I thank you for your time, and thank you for giving us the exclusive on your latest project with Non Beijing. Where can we find you at by the way?

Thanks so much for having me. I’m real honored to be welcomed into this community. NON Beijing is psyched and says hello to all of you.


For the new art I was talking about, you can see this video:



produced by Betaphats Studios


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Thanks once again Mr. Sabotage!

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