When Junghoon Son began customizing sneakers back in middle school, little did he know it would later become his career.
More commonly now known as VANDYTHEPINK, the designer initially started out in the world of customisation as a way of rejuvenating tired footwear, a move that soon led to him doing the same with the shoes of friends and family, such was the unique appeal of his work.
“I used to play with footwear a lot when I was younger," he tells Highsnobiety via Zoom from his Virginia HQ.
“After a year or so of wear, sneakers look dirty. I don't come from a very wealthy family, so I’d have to make slight customisations to my sneakers to keep them looking fresh. Soon enough friends were asking for me to do it for them too, which is how it all started.”
Since moving to the States from Korea at the age of 18, VANDYTHEPINK has garnered a loyal IG following of over 150,000 thanks to the customisations he shares via his account.
From Air Jordan 1s and Louis Vuitton garment bags, to collaborations with HIDDEN and Takashi Murakami, VANDYTHEPINK has seen both his popularity and demand increase ten-fold, so much so that he landed himself an official Clarks Originals collaboration that's dropping on October 6.
After the designer posted a trio of reworked Clarks Wallabees to his account earlier this year, the response was more than well received, to say the least.
“I was in talks with Clarks before I played with the Wallabee, but we had a few options of which silhouette to work with,” he explained.
“The skeleton graphics were one of the customs I was using at the time, and I wanted to play with it on the Wallabee, so I did. I posted it on Instagram and following the positive responses, the decision on which shoe to go with was kinda made for us.”
While this is was the first time VANDYTHEPINK had taken his customisations to a Clarks silhouette, the brand has long been a part of his life.
Throughout middle school in Korea, as a result of a strict uniform, the only garments that could be played with were footwear or a backpack.
And while backpacks were of course the cheaper option, VANDYTHEPINK's admiration for his then recently-discovered Clarks meant he was taking the footwear route.
“I remember seeing some older kids wearing the classic Wallabee and thinking they were so cool. I knew I needed them,” he said.
“When I told my mum how much they were, she laughed. It wasn’t until I got to high school and I saved my lunch money that I managed to buy my first pair of Clarks Natalies. They looked like the Wallabees, but were a little bit cheaper.”
When it comes to customising footwear, VANDYTHEPINK is open-minded. Where other designers might look to create a one-off take on a Nike x Sacai Waffle, or even make a buck on a wild pair of Jordan 1s, the Korean is all about honesty.
"If I want to collaborate with someone or something, I have to have a feeling towards it and believe in what I’m doing," tells me. "I’m not motivated by money or a contract, for me it’s about feeling a certain way about a certain product, and knowing I can put an honest spin on it."
Refreshing? Yes. Although when it comes to the choice of silhouette, he can be a little more selective. "I always look for a shoe that has a good amount of blank space so I can really work with it," he explains.
"The Wallabee has enough room that you can change the concept and put your own mark on it, which is really the aim in everything I do: to have a VANDYTHEPINK say on products."