Benji Blunt x adidas Superstar 80s “Dragons”


I’d say Benji Blunt was back but recently it’s been as though he never leaves. The unstoppable UK-based artisan continually shells out silhouette after silhouette, adorned with his intricate customizations that go far beyond simple colorway changes, and each time we’re honored to drop our thoughts on his work. However, as usual, he hasn’t done up another pair just for kicks. Involved this time is Canadian-based shelltoe collector Ken Tham, who’s joined us today along with Benji Blunt to rap about these crazy fire-breathing basketball shoes.

Alright KT, let’s start with you, how’d you meet Benji?

Ken Tham: Just like so many other shelltoe lovers, we met via the Superstar Database (aka SSDB) when he first signed on. We’ve been friends ever since.

And how’d this collaboration begin?

KT: Having seen Ben’s designs get bigger and bolder – and feeling my own penchant for personalised goodies growing – it was a no-brainer to work on something special with him.

Special indeed! This was a long haul, wasn’t it B? Can you tell us why it took so long compared to some of your other kicks?

Benji Blunt: Well, we started the design process almost a year ago, KT will tell you it was longer but it wasn’t.

KT: Yes it was! Over a year in the making, but I was in no hurry. I knew things would get done right and to spec. I’m a business analyst and project manager after all, and I know better than to rush greatness. End to end, I’d say it probably took sixteen to eighteen months, although the ideas and concepts really floated around in pockets of time over that span. That is, whenever Ben was able to squeeze me in [laughs] if not for a brief window over the last few months (living arrangements notwithstanding) it may very well have been next year! Thankfully that window was ever present, and he worked like a madman hell-bent on forging ahead!

Yeah, Benji’s a man in high demand these days. But wait up guys, why do you have different understandings of the time it took?

KT: Because I’m too lazy to check SSDB PMs [laughs] and he’s probably thinking from when the talk ‘got serious’. Me? I’m thinking the clock started from when I first said ‘hey, I’d like a custom pair!’.

BB: Right. But anyway, I have this kind of back and forth going with a lot of people, some of whom have been waiting a considerable time. It gives you time to iron out issues with design and base shoes and all that jazz. We really worked hard discussing options, knocking up draft designs, and then things do (and did) change when work started on the shoe itself.

Alright, so KT what directions or ideas did you supply?

KT: The dragon is a powerful figure in Chinese culture, so I thought this would be a nice character to have. I didn’t want a traditional Asian dragon, opting for a more modern and simplistic image. I wanted it clean and wrapping around the shoe, a nice flow. For the color, I always liked ‘midnight’ navy, you rarely see it (à la the NY Yankees), and I thought it would be a nice compliment to the ‘glow’ effect I sought. I wanted the details to ‘pop’, but in a subtle way and on a nice backdrop.

Back up a minute, and please excuse my ignorance, but you live in Canada and you’re Chinese?

KT: What are you, a caveman D?

[lots of laughter]

KT: Surprise! Canada has Chinese people here, yes. My wife is also Chinese, therefore my kids are Italian [laughs] I mean Chinese. We’re all Canadian born and bred. Well actually, the wifey is from the US, but moved to Canada around age four, hence why she has dual citizenship. We’re first generation which is why we don’t act or eat or behave like other Chinese, for example those who recently came to the country within the last five to ten years. Those would be the mainlanders right from China or from Hong Kong or Taiwan.

Makes much more sense now, thanks for clearing that up for this American meathead. And your kids, how did they come into the picture?

KT: I had to have my kids’ Chinese names and images, after all, these kicks were a tribute to them. And I thought the cement detailing would be a great compliment to the colorway, and was initially just on the stripes and kanji; Ben’s suggestion for the heel turned out great. An awesome job on the cement work, as was Ben’s reflective scales, which are one of my favorite parts. Ironically, this pair I actually sold to Ben years ago… funny how it’s come back full circle.

Wait wait wait, you sold the base pair to Benji for him to have as a personal pair and wear?

[KT laughs]

KT: Yeah, Benny got my base pair probably a month or two into when he joined SSDB a few years back. It’s an all white Superstar 80s, he can probably confirm an exact sale date! Yeah, crazy irony that it came back to Canada, same shoe, just all macked out!

Really now, that’s sneaker karma. Back to the design details, was there anything you absolutely insisted on?

KT: Insisted on? Not really. We collaborated really well over the months and were never up in arms [laughs]. Our discussions on the concepts, design, materials – everything basically – were always for the better. We stayed close to the original ideas, yet kept within his limitations. If anything, Ben was spot on where he needed to be, especially on the components close to me: the color, achieving the glow effect, my kids’ facial imagery, and most importantly their names. Lets face it, one small mistake in Asian characters and it throws off the meaning entirely!

So what are your kids’ names and what do they also mean symbolically?

KT: My son’s name is Wy Yun and my girl’s name is Yun Yeen. The meaning of my sons name is hero and my girl’s means beautiful, radiant.

Well sound KT, two beautiful choices! Please tell us a bit about your two kids, and your decision behind putting them on the shoe?

KT: Having gone through some personal issues, and seeing whats going on in the world, it’s reinforced within me what truly matters in my life: my kids, my family. I can’t get enough of them because it’s fascinating to see a little of me in them; seeing how they see life and how they react. Watching them grow. One has to treasure the good things in one’s life. For me, thats my kids. My other love or habit or obsession I’ve been told is my sneaks. What better way is there to enjoy both, than to immortalize them on a beautifully rendered custom pair?

Jeez, that’s dope man, well proud. So do your kids know about these or is it a surprise?

KT: Nope, nobody has a freaking clue these are out there [laughs] actually my wife may have had a clue a few months back when I was getting help clarifying their Chinese names, as I had to consult her because there’s no way I was gonna fuck up their names! I would spend the rest of my life with that error on my book! When I get ‘em and crack ‘em for the first time, that will be special. They’re going to freak.

I bet they will. Alright B, technique first, what new methods or features did you apply to these shoes which you haven’t done in the past?

BB: Creating the concrete effect was new for me, having it as the fill for the kanji was particularly tricky, there are little flecks in there that glow blue in the dark.

What is a ‘concrete effect’?

BB: It was an image KT sent me, a grey with flecks or traces of darker and lighter greys with some sand colours too… like concrete. I also created the snakeskin scale effect in a slightly different way than I have on other shoes.

How so?

BB: Rather than paint the snakeskin or burn it, I used a matte base that varies in shade and then painted a high gloss pattern using a secret recipe I cooked up.

Any lucrative learnings or major mistakes along the way?

BB: Always. I think the more details involved the longer it takes. Not just that each extra detail adds time, but that time increases exponentially (if that makes sense). Each element takes much longer than it would if it was an isolated element. You have to slow right down so mistakes aren’t made and things are as clean as you can get them. I did the tongues twice too [laughs] and learned a bit about the metallic leather paints there.

Why? What happened with the first tongue?

BB: Metallic paints don’t cover well, so you end up with too much body to the paint surface. In the end I used glitter.

And as for final touches and extras, what can you tell us about those bits and bobs?

BB: I hit BBoyLaces up for the laces, great quality. I’m still paying for those by the way, gonna have to do something about that [laughs]. I included a leather tag, debossed with my signature ‘B’. The colour wheel is a promotional item I developed a while back so people can mess with the colourway on a shelltoe-styled graphic. You spin it and the safari print moves though hues of the colour spectrum. I love them and so do my kids; simple things get me like that. The box is something I have wanted to do for a while. It has divided sections inside, made of foam board; one houses the shoes in an upright position and the other two are for laces, tags, and cleaning materials. Actually it’s the third time I have used the new box, but those other trainers haven’t been published yet.

Right and those boxes use magnets to click closed, don’t they?

BB: Yes, that’s right.

Damn cool. In the end result, what is your favorite part or the part you’re most proud of?

BB: Sounds weird but I like the simple logo-less heel tab, not something I am used to seeing, except when it’s a developmental stage in the painting of a shoe. I like that it allows you to appreciate that familiar heel tab shape. I like grey too, especially grey nubuck. KT got a family member to draw the kanji for me, I pretty much transposed these exactly as they appeared, which adds a real personal touch for KT, I would imagine.

Any words on kanji itself, as a feature in your life and on these shoes, KT?

KT: The kanji was important because this was representative of my kids – their history, where they came from, their culture – and regardless of background, everyone should be proud of their name and where they came from. Besides their images, I thought this was a special touch, and that it would carry a lot of meaning.

I agree and I think it was a great concept for the pair. Before we close it out, any final thoughts from you B?

BB: Other than my favorite bits I just mentioned, I guess I’m just glad that KT is happy; this was very much his vision. I had designed dragon supes before but the styling of this one is different. It’s like a stencil and it doesn’t fit into the typical idea of an oriental dragon. Working harmoniously with KT was satisfying, I’m lucky to have had no bad experience with my collaborators, such as him.

Sounds like he loves them for sure Benji! Lastly, KT, what will you do with these? Wear or showcase?

KT: To me, these are already my most prized pair, and not solely because of the make or model, but what they represent. I’ll rock these, but only on special occasions. I’m proud of these, not only for how they turned out of course, but because of the connection to my kids. You can bet there will be a pickup visit to their school one day where my kids will beam with pride, and the look on their friends faces will be worth it.

Fellas, wow, what a collab. Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me and lay out your brain patterns. Hope these make it home safe and KT gets to pick the kids up from school in some of the coolest Supes around.

written by Dylan Cromwell

photography by Len T Jubbins

shoes contributed by Ken Tham