Nash Money: Customising life

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Words: Alex Synamatix, Adam Scotland & Jamie Szulc
Photography: Aaron Dixon

Alex Nash a.k.a Nash Money is one of the world’s most renowned sneaker customisers. A leader in his craft, Nash set a precedent for a more in-depth kind of sneaker customisation that goes far beyond merely spraying up the outer of a pair of kicks. Nash grew up as an avid sneaker fan, something which was later reinforced by a job at footwear retailer size? and backed up by a healthy sneaker collection. He eventually found the inspiration to begin crafting his own sneakers, which has since grown from a hobby into a full time career. His talent has taken him around the world, taking part in various exhibitions, shoots and special projects and even seen his work recognised in the famous V&A Museum. In the latter part of 2009, Nash saw the release of his first shoe, the DC x Nash Cadwell, receiving massive praise from the sneaker world and helping Nash secure his place in sneaker history as more than just a customiser.

During the mad rush surrounding the release of the DC x Nash Cadwell Shoe, we managed to steal the man of the moment away for an hour or so to have a chat over a nice cup of coffee. We got a chance to hear about everything that goes into his customisations: his inspirations, the processes involved and the feeling that comes with the finished product. We wanted to give Nash a chance to talk about some of the stories behind his work, as well as filling us in on some exciting projects for the coming year. So, let’s get right down to it…

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What made you decide to chose the Moccasin stitch?

When I started working at size? I was wearing a pair of Snipe, and they were moccasin shoes. For me at the time, my theory was that I needed to sharpen up my style and look a bit more dapper, and then I’d appeal more to women than girls. So I was well into my moccasins, and then I fucked them up and I couldn’t re-buy them!

It wasn’t about bringing the moccasin to sneakers, it was about bringing the moccasin to the Air Force 1 initially, because with the Air Force 1 you can see how it’s built and it’s such an old school shoe – it’s got really basic construction. Today everything is seemed or glued, and you can’t really see the mechanics of it, but with the Air Force 1 you can see how it’s constructed and you can deconstruct it and put it back together and make something look manufactured. It was just the idea of it – I thought it was a marketable product for Nike in a sense. The Air Force 1 alone is bigger than some brands.

Is it important to you to have that strong theme in each of your customs?

Yeah, I think it’s good; companies do it for a reason! People want to buy into something or understand something, and it’s always nice to tell a story. Sometimes I might come up with a theme before I make the shoe and target the theme, or sometimes I’ll make the shoe and then slowly come up with one. I think it’s integral – all my shoes end up having a story.

Do you spend a lot of time sourcing specific materials, leathers or bits & bobs?

My first shoe is the most basic custom that I’ve done, and every custom I do I like to think that I’ve kind of elevated in my style, learned something new or tried a different technique. In that time I’ve built up so much shit in my house! I’ve got cut up shoes, I’ve got fabrics, I’ve got so much stuff and a backlog of ideas.

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What about the electric blue that you’ve featured in a lot of your work? Is there a reason you’ve chosen that colour? Is there a story behind it?

I don’t know. I think I just like it! It’s one of my favorite colours and everyone has a colour. I think blue kind of expresses me as a person; I’m quite a chilled, passive person, but the electric side of it is also like ‘I like to have a bit of fun’. You know? I’m not serious. I think [colour] describes personality and i think if you’re a red person then that says something about you, or if you’re earth colours, like greens or browns, then you’re very rustic, and I’m that blue. I am electric blue.

Do you have a list of things that you would one day like to create?

It’s all that! (flicks through an overspilling note book). It’s ideas, like a backlog. I just don’t have time! I don’t have a workspace at the moment. I’ve got thousands of ideas and I just wish I could do them all in one go.

Has there ever been any custom sneakers that you’ve attempted to create and had to give up on?

Yeah, I’ve got quite a lot of sneakers at home that are half finished.

I’ve got these 93’s, I think they’re called the ‘biscuit’ colour-way, anyway they’re really light tan nubuck with a purple kind of sock, and what I did was I cut the side panels off so it’s just the sock on the top and then I died the tan bit black. What I was gonna do was drill a hole into the air unit and attach a valve cap so you could pump the pressure, then I was gonna pump silver paint inside the air unit. I was thinking about calling it ‘Solid Air’. I know that’s not the ethos of Nike, and I know they would probably never do it because the whole thing about the air unit is that you can see inside the shoe, but at the same time it’s different. Especially on the ’93, the air unit is quite fat and round and there’s a lot of air unit popping out of the shoe. I think that would look sick! Like a tie-dye air unit that you can’t see through. So I was thinking, put that in and then glue the valve cap on the side, and then have one of those little pumps with the pressure dial in it… I still haven’t got round to doing it.

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How long, on average, does it take you to create one of your customs?

Depends really, I have to hype myself up a bit. Sometimes I’ve got the whole idea there and I know exactly what I have to do and it’s just a matter of sitting down and making it. When my Mum does knitting, she’ll sit down and knit like an hour every evening and slowly do the thing, and I’m not very good like that. I like to just work, like 24 hours solid. Also, it’s building up the courage to do stuff as well.

In total, a couple of days. If you were thinking about the work that’s involved, like a couple of days solid working, but sometimes you have to build up the courage to just cut it up. You have to analyse the shoe. The Visvim x Air Max 360 hybrid is made from an Elk skin leather Visvim FBT… that’s £275! Then the 360 sole is another £130 –  that’s like £305! And the Visvim FBT is one of my favorite shoes.

Are Nike’s your favorite style or are they easier to customise?

As brands go, Nike has the widest palette of shoes that I like. Also, with the way they are manufactured and put together, I can work with and I can relate to it. If I was doing what I was doing with Gola, I don’t think I’d be as popular. I don’t think Moccasin Gola’s would have sounded too good! Nike pumps so much into advertising and are really respected for what they do, and their shoes are amazing, I’m kind of working off their advertising, working off their press, working off their popularity. At the same time, it wouldn’t work with any other shoe because, like I said, the initial idea was ‘Moccasin Force 1’. It’s not moccasin on a sneaker, it’s ‘Moccasin Force 1’. That’s the theme and the marketing thing that I thought Nike would really relish. I really see it working. I can really see all the guys in New York, Hip-Hop guys, really relishing them ‘cos they think it’s a dapper shoe (the Air Force 1) and it is dapper the way they rock it – all whites.

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You’ve obviously got a decent collection of sneakers. When did you first regard yourself as a sneaker collector?

I’m a pretty amateur sneaker collector! It’s a weird one. On a day-to-day normal person level, yeah, I consider myself a sneaker collector, but on a level of sneaker collectors, I don’t consider myself a sneaker collector. I had maybe 120, 130 [pairs] but I’ve kinda calmed down a bit. I don’t buy sneakers that much anymore. I bought the ‘Skippy’ New Balance, the Sneaker Freaker ones. I really love them! Just to be supportive of them, and the fact that I love the colour-way, I love everything about it! Sneaker Freaker have always supported my work and I just wanna show the same love back, but that’s not the main reason I got them – it’s just a good excuse to buy a pair of shoes!

I don’t consider myself a sneaker collector – I’ve got a lot of shoes… about 80 pairs. When you’re with something all the time, it’s just like “I have to have those!”. When you’re working in a sneaker store you’re like “I have to have them! I have to have them! I have to have them!” and every week you’re buying a pair of trainers. Then when you leave, you stop doing it, and you’re like “Do you know what? You can’t have every sneaker you want”.

So how does an avid sneaker fan pass his passion onto his children?

Uhh he doesn’t! It’s really bad. When my daughter was at nursery, her mum would drop her off at size?, where I was working, and she’d hang out. She’d come at the last hour of my shift and she’d hang out at the store, and all the staff would play with her and she had the freedom of running around the store. At the age of 3 she knew what an adidas Trefoil was, she knew what a Nike Swoosh was, she knew what a Dunk was or a Jordan.

I was taking her to nursery and some kid ran up to her and he was like “Look! I’ve got a dinosaur on my shoes!” and she was like “And what?! I’ve got a Nike Swoosh on my shoes”. All the mothers turned and looked at me in disgust, and it is. I don’t want my daughter to be a ‘consumer’ person. At the point when that happened I was like “You know what? I gotta calm down on the sneaker thing and not emphasise it”. Obviously, before then she had more than enough sneakers, but now I’m just like “She only needs sneakers when she needs sneakers. She doesn’t need more than one pair at any time”. She still likes her sneakers – I think it’s good for her as well, that she can go to the playground and her mates will be like “I like your sneakers”, but at the same time I don’t push it too hard.

A lot of the time I’m working and sometimes when I’m with her and I’ve got a project on it’s really difficult to keep her entertained and also spend time with her. So I try and get her involved with some of my shoes … with the ‘Bel-Air Max’ she helped speckle the sole. I want her to feel a part of it and I want her to learn from it as well.

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We’ve recently seen the release of your ‘Cadwell’ sneaker as part of the DC ‘Life’ collection. How did that come around in the first place?

I had a show at Trust Nobody in Barcelona and it was during Bread & Butter, so at that time there were a lot of brands and companies there, and the guy that organised the exhibition was doing a lot freelancing for DC. We sat down and had dinner and they really liked my ideas. We weren’t talking about a project, but they liked what I was doing and so we just organised to have another meeting in Berlin. I sat down and Damon Webb was there, who is the founder of DC, and I had this whole mood board and theme of old English country with fabrics and stuff like that and I had the shoe mocked-up there, drawn and everything, and they really liked it.

They wanted to do something different. They didn’t wanna do a collab where it was just mucking about with the SMU, they wanted to a collab where it was designed, they wanted to do something slightly different from normal.

How did you come up with the concept of fusing that British heritage with the modern sneaker for the ‘Cadwell’?

Well my favourite word, when it comes to my work, is juxtaposition. It’s always mixing two different styles and making things compliment each other that make it different. So, with the Cadwell, my theme is moccasin stitch with sneaker, so that’s a juxtaposition within itself. I wanted to do the same with the fabrics, colours and design. So it’s got the crep sole from the shoe, it’s got the moccasin stitch from the shoe, and on the colour-front the juxtaposition of electric blue with earth colours. The moccasin stitch and the crepe sole with the sneaker is all a juxtaposition. It’s about English heritage and it’s about having a different style. I guess street-wear came from the States, that’s the huge thing there, and to express yourself without taking from purely American style you have to like dig deep into the heritage.

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Was it easy working with DC?

It was a learning experience, definitely. [It was] my first project, and to be honest, I was really keen and eager and just wanted to get it knocked out. I learned a lot of stuff – there’s a lot of things that go into it; contracts and CADing things up and just the whole production. I think it went pretty smoothly – there are things that you have to overcome. Sometimes there’s a wall or barrier… You just have to appreciate that. I’m a person that likes to solve problems and likes to work around the problem. I like to accommodate peoples needs, and the fact that DC wanted to do something with me is a great honour.

How does it feel to have your own sneaker on the shelves of sneaker stores around the world?

Fucking amazing.

Has it sunk in yet?

It has now. The process of the shoe took a year and a half, so after a year, there’s no hype there, there’s no nothing. No one knows about the shoe and it’s not out there – It’s really hard for me to realise what I’ve done. But then with the press launch and the public launch, the size and the magnitude and sitting here with you guys doing interviews, that’s when it’s like “Fuck. How the fuck did I get here?!”. I’m really lucky to be here, and I’m thirsty for more. I just wanna make nice stuff, that’s it. I think instead of panicking and analysing what you’re doing, just carry on. I think I’ll always do customs, I’ll always do artisan stuff because that’s where I came from, that’s what inspires me the most and that’s where my ideas emanate from. So, if I can come up with an idea for something and move it to a product, that’s the easiest way. It’s my sampling, it’s kind of my prototype way of doing stuff.

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Tell us about your forthcoming collaboration with Second Son…

Umm, well [it’s] long overdue I think! I think with just so much going on, you just find it hard to sit down and do something, but at last we’ve done something. We’re just doing a T-shirt, hopefully maybe a sweater as well. It’s gonna be launched early 2010. Like I said, it should have happened a long time ago, and it’s not due to them or due to me that it didn’t, we’re just so casual and so chilled that we just didn’t get round to it.

It’s my cross-stitch style with a T-shirt. It’s visual, but at the same time it’s simple, it’s not too loud, it’s just quite subtle I think. I really like it. I really, really, really, really, really like it! It’s my first T-shirt, and I can’t think of anybody better to do it with than Second Son. I can’t wait to do the photo shoot for it and I can’t wait to do the stuff around it, and to press it and hype it. It’s just integral to what I am and what I’m about. I’m really excited about it – I’m wearing one now actually, underneath this jumper.

I really love the Second Son brand. I love what Will does, I love what Rufus does, and I love what they’re about – they’re not serious. I’m not serious about what I do – it’s a hobby… and that’s how [Second Son] are, you know? They love to joke about with their T-shirts and what they write. They just don’t take themselves seriously, and that’s what I really love about them. You kinda need that around you to keep you rounded as well. I can imagine it’s really difficult for some people, when they’re constantly getting people like “Woo, you’re the man that did this!”, it can get to you. You just gotta keep grounded in your roots and be normal.

Is there anyone else you would like to work with?

What I’m trying to do is work with brands that are not integral, so I’ve got a Lacoste shoe coming out, which I’ve designed again from scratch. That will be coming out in 2010. I’m not gonna go work with Es or Vans, purely on the basis that DC is a skate brand. I think working with DC and working with Lacoste are two things that can go in tangent, and I think Nike could, and I’d really love to work with Clarks. I’d really like to work with certain brands, but I don’t want any of these brands to clash. I wanna carry on a relationship with DC and I wanna carry on a relationship with Lacoste, and I don’t think those things clash. The Lacoste shoe will look completely different to the DC shoe, but it will have the Moccasin thing in there. Working with Clarks… obviously they do the Moccasin shoe and the Wallabies and whatnot, and I really want to work with them, hence why I’m mentioning it! So that one of them reads it, and they come to me!

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So, is that the plan now? Straight back into the lab?

Yeah, after this whole thing with DC is over, the interviews are over, then I’m gonna get back to work. I need to get my website up and finished, which should be done anytime soon.

What can we expect from the website?

I don’t think there’s anywhere you can see my whole collection. The website will be informative on everything I’ve done, it will give you that more in-depth thing about me and who I am and why I’ve done my thing. There will be a little ethos on every single shoe – why I’ve done something, what it involves, the story behind it, the theme behind it. I think some people that look at my shoes don’t know what I’ve done, unless you know what the shoe is, so there will be a little section where it says what I’ve changed, what I’ve used, and the techniques I’ve used.

There’ll be my blog updates, there’ll be videos, there’s a bio about me, there’s press, like all the press that I’ve had – representing all the people that have represented me in the past. There’s the gallery that will show all the photo shoots that I’ve done with Second Son, all the parties that I’ve been involved with, all the events I’ve been involved with – It’s just a good archive of what I’ve done. I’m gonna try and do a couple of customs that will come out at the same time, so if people want to see them they’ll have to come to the website.

When can we expect to see the first Nash x The Daily Street collaboration?

[laughs] Fuck, umm, there’s a list here, I’ll put you down.

There’s such a long list – right now it’s just a one man show. I do all my costs, I do all my marketing, I answer all my emails, I customise all my shoes, I design all my designs, I do all the photo shoots, I do my own website with someone that does websites… but right now it’s just like a one man show, and it’s really difficult.


A big thanks to Nash for taking some time out of his very busy schedule to sit down and chat with us about everything he’s been involved with. His DC Cadwell is still available from Ryouki, Urban Industry and other DC Life stockists. Keep your browsers locked on for more information throughout what is set to be a big year for the man himself.