After being laid off from his advertising job at the start of the pandemic, Ng Poh Hian didn’t know what would happen next. He felt lucky to have experience in a creative field, but at the same time, he realized he wasn’t truly expressing himself. His next move was obvious, some would say a No-Brainer*.
But Ng Poh Hian’s journey to creating No-Brainer* wasn’t always so clear. Even though Ng Poh Hian, better known as Bob, had been collecting sneakers since 2005, he hadn’t considered sneakers as a canvas for him to get creative. After Bob purchased a custom pair from fellow Singaporean, Mr. Sabotage, he became inspired to look at sneakers in a new way.
Now, No-Brainer* is in its third year, with Bob creating custom sneakers inspired by Japanese Americana where East meets West. Unfortunately, a lot of Bob’s work has been targeted by replicators, with his designs being stolen and reproduced for the replica market. Bob’s designs have become some of the most popular colorways on the replica market and have even fueled false rumors of “upcoming” Nike releases.
Learn more about No-Brainer* as we talk to Bob about the sneaker culture in Singapore, dropping out of school at 12, starting art school at 23, and protecting his designs from replicators.
Nice Kicks: Tell us about yourself. What’s your name? How old are you? Where are you from?
No-Brainer*: My real name is Ng Poh Hian, but everyone addresses me as Bob. I’m from Singapore and turning 34 this year. I’m a sneaker customization artist/designer aka No-Brainer* (@nobrainer.psd) and an art director.
Is anyone in your family an artist? How did you get introduced to art and design?
No, none of them are, neither do they show much interest in the arts. I was never formally introduced to art growing up, but the earliest memory I can recall, would probably be how much I enjoyed doodling on my textbooks. Needless to say, I never really did well in school and dropped out at age 12. My love [of] designing truly emerged when I was 17. I was introduced to streetwear brands like Bape, Takashi Murakami, Futura2000, Kaws, and Bounty Hunter which inspired me. I guess you could say that’s when it all started, before I enrolled into art school at age 23.
What made you interested in sneakers?
Back in 2005, a friend of mine introduced me to a pair of limited-edition Nike SB Dunks. It was probably the uniqueness and exclusivity of the sneakers as well as the inconspicuous knowledge of its existence (If you know…you know).
What’s the sneaker community like where you’re from?
It’s definitely not as massive as compared to other countries. When I first started my sneaker collection in 2005, the community was really small. We used to queue overnight at carparks just to be able to buy a pair of sneakers I could barely afford. Unlike the present day, there was barely any information about the next sneaker release. Everything was based off word-of-mouth. Moreover, there were only two stores in Singapore that were known for limited edition designs. It was really hard yet fun. In the past few years, Culture Cartel and Sole Superior have held events here. SneakerCon was canceled due to the pandemic and ever since, it’s been pretty quiet.
When did you first start designing sneakers? How did you start? What made you interested in designing and customizing sneakers?
It all started after I purchased a customized Vans Authentic from Mr. Sabotage aka SBTG custom sneakers. I’ve always been a fan of his work ever since being in the sneaker scene. Amazed with his craft, I started customizing sneakers as a form of creative expression.
I created my first design about 3 years ago. Back then, I was still an Art Director in the advertising industry. Despite the nature of my job, I found it a challenge expressing my creativity in advertising due to the commercial system and limitations that came with it. When the pandemic hit, I was laid off from my former company. Looking at things now, I’m low-key glad it happened, as it opened a door to devote my time to my no-brainer*.
What was the first sneaker you ever made?
My first design was a 3-piece series with Vans Era and Vans Authentic. I named them ‘no van-dalism’. It was inspired by SBTG and VISVIM with the play of Native American beadwork.
Did you go to art school? Are you self-taught or did someone teach you how to design?
Yes, I graduated from an art school as a graphic designer. As for my skillsets in design, they are mostly self-taught and through my experience as an art director.
How would you describe your style?
I would say no-brainer* is quite an eclectic mashup. It’s a mixture of Japanese Americana so you’ll see a fusion of Japanese and American concepts and elements. Like East meets West. I love bringing different worlds together.
How do your customs add to the sneaker community?
To be honest, I think No-Brainer* is still like a newborn baby and at a modest stage. I hope that my designs and originality could give others a refreshing outlook of sneakers that have never been seen before.
How do you decide on a colorway? What inspires your designs?
The colorway usually gets chosen based on the inspiration that could come from lifestyle, pop-culture, or even materials. Past designs that have been used are things I genuinely love such as old-school anime, Alice in Wonderland, vintage bohemian and New Wave fashion, American Graffiti, Hip-Hop and NFT.
How has your work developed over time?
As mentioned, ?I’m still relatively new so I’m still constantly experimenting and trying new ideas, concepts, or techniques that I’ve never done, each time I drop a design.
Is your creative process structured or do you find yourself more of a free-form artist?
I would say it’s probably coming more free-form. When ideas come, I try my best to pen them down immediately. The downside is that it affects my workflow.
What’s the biggest challenge for you as an artist?
Being based in Singapore, the biggest challenge is probably the stability in being able to support myself from my work. I’ve been blessed and extremely grateful for the people who have been constantly supporting my work.
We’ve noticed that you’ve had a problem with people ripping your designs and just to be clear — is it Nike or Nike replicators that are ripping your designs?
Nike Replicas from China. They’ve done it a couple times now and are still constantly at it. I often get messages telling me about how popular they are in the rep market. [Funny enough], some youtuber made a video about the rip offs. On top of that, there’s been rumors that Nike will be dropping a sneaker labeled the “Koala” Dunk, which was another colorway based on the replicas created by the rep market. I’m curious to find out how this rumor even started.
How do you feel knowing that your designs are being ripped?
My first reaction was bittersweet. I guess I’m glad that my design is worth ripping. Other than that, it’s never a nice feeling when someone rips off your hard work.
Have you tried to put a stop to the people that are ripping your designs?
I haven’t, neither do I think there’s anything I can do about them, even if a brand like Nike does it, I don’t think I’m able to legally protect my designs from such an occurrence.
Social media is essential for exposure, but it also puts artists at risk of having their work stolen. As an artist, how do you protect your work?
Currently, I don’t have? a clue on what is the best way to protect my work, but I won’t stop sharing my work to the world just because of a couple of mofos.
Would you ever be interested in designing and manufacturing your own sneaker?
As for now, I enjoy working on originals like Nike, Converse and Vans. I grew up with their sneakers and they mean a lot to me. I feel part of me using these brands showcases parts of me in my designs.
What’s your favorite pair of shoes that you made?
My favorite seem to be ever changing, but if I would have to make a choice it’s a tough fight between the FL-CDG Dunk “Pointman on Mars,” because I always wanted to create something with my favorite artist Futura2000, I see it as a fan art piece. The other one would be my Otomo Katsuhiro Dunk that hasn’t been released yet.
What’s your favorite pair of shoes that you own?
Diamond SB Dunk Low aka Tiffany. Got them in 2005 and I still have them till today.
What’s been your favorite moment in your career thus far?
Hands down would be when I sold my first pair of custom sneakers on my web store. It’s a pair of custom Converse Chuck Taylor 70s. I will always remember that.
What are you hoping to achieve with your work? Where do you see No-Brainer* in 5 years?
It would be an absolute dream to work with Nike. I envision no-brainer* traveling around the world in large sneaker events like ComplexCon.