With a penchant for high-heeled pumps and Lycra get-ups, Glaswegian Kim Mailing has become the most unlikely frontrunner in the customising game. From design college to a stint with Ralph Lauren, it was the birth of her daughter that spawned the creative machine that would become known as Qustom Queen. With a name that predetermined her destiny in life, QQ has brought the ‘heat’ in more ways than one, no thanks due to her signature ‘hyper-colour’ paint. Fresh from a gallery stint in the Big Apple where she brought the ruckus, we caught up with the honourable lady to get the goss on how a refridgerator and a blow dryer are her main tools of the trade. All hail the Queen….
We’re not quite sure what to call you…what do you generally go by?
I sometimes get confused myself! My real name is Kim Maling but my alter ego is Qustom Queen
There’s an interesting story into your name isn’t there?
I’d never looked into the history behind my ‘Maling’ roots, but always knew the English meaning of ‘Kim’ (not Kimberley) to mean Royal or Ruler. When I traced my father’s side of my family, I found out that my ancestry is Norwegian, and the meaning of Maling is ‘To Paint’ so when you put my whole name together, it comes out as Royal Painter! I found this out a few months ago and have been known as Qustom Queen for around five years or so. True Story!
When did you actually start messing around and painting sneakers?
My first shoe painting experience came after a two day search in Glasgow for navy blue heels back in the late nineties. When I couldn’t find any, I bought a bottle of Dylon leather paint and painted some old cream ones I had. By my standards today, they were awful, but they did the job. After my daughter was born I started to experiment on some beaten Air Forces – then I did a pair for my kid’s dad, mum wanted crystals put on hers, my sister wanted a pair for the gym, friends started lining up too, it was all great practice. I found better paints online and put up a MySpace profile and registered on a few forums…
Did you see it as more than a hobby?
Actually I put my Estate Agency career on hold and did a fashion course at Cardonald College in Glasgow with a view of going to the London College of Fashion to do a Shoe Making course, which was actually unrelated to customising would you believe? I also worked part time for Ralph Lauren while I was studying. Almost at the end of the first year, dealing with some struggles and being pregnant on top of that, I lost my job and fell way behind at college. I made a decision to leave my course with a view of finishing afterwards. When I think back, it was the best thing for me, if I had finished, I would most likely be doing something completely different.
Did you face the ‘novelty’ of being a girl in the game?
I’d like to say it hasn’t greatly affected me but it definitely has made an impact. One male customer liked the idea of a chick customising for him! I also get a lot of female clients buying for themselves and their partners. On the other hand, when I post my work on forums I still get feedback like ‘clean work dude’ and ‘you did a great job on these, man’ so a lot of people just look at the work rather than the person behind it. I want to be recognised for my talent and achievement, not my anatomy!
You seem to shock a lot of people as they would not consider you to have the ‘look’ of a customiser….whatever that is!
I am still to meet a ‘typical’ customiser, I don’t think there is a look but they generally don’t wear four inch heels or lycra. I am who I am. I do get very surprised responses when I answer the ‘so what do you do for a living’ question.
Delving into the actual work, you spent a lot of time doing intricate designs before hitting your niche with ‘heat sensitive’ customs. How did you stumble across the paint?
Stumble is the right word, I found the heat sensitive additive completely by accident. I was originally tracking down one of the Hypercolor tees, then I started to look into the technology behind them and finally managed to get the right stuff to mix into my leather paint. My first pair ‘The Hunter Vs The Hunted’ have an orange and black tiger print and when exposed to heat, the orange changes to white, giving a zebra pattern. I still have that first pair and they look as good as the day they were painted, so the paint holds up really well. I’m still using it a lot…
Is it hard to use?
If I didn’t love my hair so much I would have pulled it all out by now! It is very transparent and you have some limitations on the colours. For example, as the ‘cold’ colour, green can change to yellow but yellow can’t change to green, also you have to mix the paint in a cool environment so that you get the right shade. I have to alternate between hot and cold to make sure the finish is even at both temperatures, so it often means many trips between a hairdryer and an open window. I have been known to put them in the fridge for a few minutes too! All this makes it a slightly longer process than regular paints, not to mention the huge cost of producing the paint itself.
Practice makes perfect?
Sure does! I live in Scotland, so painting at a cold temperature is not an issue, but during summer months I have to make sure I am in an air-conditioned room, paint multiple thin coats and make lots of trips between that hairdryer and fridge. The whole point to this application is a colour changing surface and I have to make sure I don’t get confused about where my hand has touched! The final stage is to lay a matte coating over the top to protect it which also raises the temperature at which the change takes effect.
Is summer your busiest time?
Summer is my season and it seems my customers are in agreement with me there. Last summer I had a four week waiting list at one point because I won’t rush or squeeze extra orders in. I have a lot of repeat customers who will back me up on that. The best advice I can give anyone looking to pick up a pair for summer is to get in early. The heat sensitive customs have definitely opened doors for me. Since I first posted the Hunger Vs The Hunted pair I now stock exclusive Heat Sensitive ranges in MILO (San Diego), Sole Food (NYC), and Crowns (Glasgow).
How’s the trophy wall? You won the prestigious title of best customizing designer at the UK Urban Fashion Awards in 2007.
I don’t measure my success by a trophy. I have had so many successes since winning that prize including my own fashion shows and events, being involved in the planning of a Cancer Research fund raiser, media features, travel, my work on display at the Brooklyn Hip Hop Festival, JayZ owning a pair of my sneakers and being interviewed on BBC Radio 1Xtra with a huge listening audience. I never would have thought that I could say all that and I’m both happy and blessed to have the opportunities I have been given.
Tell us about your recent show in NYC. We hear you caused quite a ruckus!
New York is my happy place. I had two shows while I was there, the first was the launch of my ‘Lipstick and Lawlessness’ heat sensitive heels at Sole Food NYC which is a boutique just off Canal Street dedicated to custom sneakers and art. I will definitely be working with Sole Food NYC again, they sure know how to make a girl feel welcome. At the event I had a chance to meet some other customisers such as Revive, Mateo, one half of Remix Da Kicks, Flykicks and Pink Eye. It was really great to meet them.
Next up was an event in YUME BKNY alongside Mizzee Customs. It was awesometastic working alongside him and his amazing work. Mike and I go back a few years, he invited me to what was the very first showing of my work in London, and if he hadn’t, I would never have found out about the UUFA awards. I also attended SneakerCon in the Times Square Art Centre and couldn’t believe that a few people recognised me, I was so flattered! This trip was the first time I had taken my heat sensitive kicks with me and I recorded the crazy reactions they get. These can be viewed in my ‘Qtube’ youtube channel, this one is Volume 3 the reaction cam edition. It’s pretty funny.
Does the reaction inspire you to keep searching for that next eye popping technique?
Absolutely, I definitely need to step it up to a level where the box will need a health warning on it. For me, there is nothing better than watching the reaction when people see the kicks for the first time. I have some great ideas and a few other paint additives that I want to try out when I have some time. I can’t deny though, heat sensitive will always be my baby and until I tire of what can be done with it, I will continue. You can expect to see a few new projectsover the next few months including a UK exhibit which I may even take on the road depending on how well it goes. Hopefully I’ll get a collaboration done this year if anyone I respect like that will have me! As always I will be adding to my Qtube randomness. I have had such a great start to the year I need to keep it up. I have so many big plans, but my short term goals and achievements will dictate the outcome of where being Qustom Queen can take me.
Thanks Qustom Queen!
For more information, or to order a custom hit up QQ’s MySpace today!
Big ups to our friends at Sole Heaven for continuing to hook us up with fantastic customizers to interview!