photos by Andy Hur

by Gerald Flores

Legos have been used to recreate works of famous artists and even full stop-motion movie scenes. But for some reason, the plastic construction toys have never been used to pay an ode to sneakers. That was until graphic designer Tom Yoo decided to combine two of his passions.

You might have come across his work on your Instagram feed or your favorite sneaker blog. Yoo has become known for his Lego re-creations of flagship Air Jordans and other hyped sneakers. Although his page is mostly filled with renderings, Yoo has been able to build a handful of them in real life. 

We armed the artist with some plastic bricks and commissioned him to build the Infrared Air Jordan 6. Here, the man behind the Lego creations breaks down how he makes it all come together.

What got you into Legos? 

It started at Christmas. We went to this white elephant gift exchange at our friend’s house. There were all these gifts and there was a Lego set that was the Back to the Future DeLorean. Everybody was just ragging on that gift, so I ended up taking it home because Back to the Future is one of my favorite movies. 

I was looking at the instructions and there was a part on it that said there was a guy, just a regular guy, who had the idea for the Back to the Future DeLorean and Lego ended up making this set. 

It was racking my brain. What could I make that I love and no one else has done. Off the top, I thought Jordans. I’ve loved them since I was a little kid. I’ve loved them since I was 9 and there wasn’t really anybody else making them in a 3D form. From that point on for 6 months, I started working on Jordan models. 

How does somebody get Lego to make your design into a set?

Anybody can upload design to the website. When you get 10,000 votes, they’ll start the process to review your project internally on Lego to make sure there’s no licensing issues and everything checks out. You’ll get your attribution on the box and on the instructions and it'll be sold at the Lego store.

It’s really rare to get the 10,000 votes. It’s a real long shot. I’m at 600 votes and I don’t think I’m anywhere near there. I’m not banking on it. I designed six, but I’ve only made five of them. 

How long do they usually take to build?

The one I just made is about 744 pieces. On average, each model is 600-700 pieces. It takes a few days to put together. I need to make sure all of the pieces work. It takes a while to make sure everything is right. 

What’s the hardest part about making a design come to life?

Getting the pieces themselves. On the program I use that Lego provides, they have every single brick that Lego makes and every single color that they make. You can go crazy and make whatever construction that you want. 

When you want to take your design and turn it into a physical Lego, there’s a problem because they don’t actually sell every piece and they don’t sell every piece in every color. So you have to go to a website, Bricklink. It’s basically an Amazon for different sellers out there selling spare Lego parts out of their homes. You have to purchase it and to wait for it to get shipped and hope that it’s in good condition. There’s only limited parts in limited colors. You have to work with that to make your own design. 

You need a lot of abnormal Lego bricks to make these designs come to life and some vendors charge an arm and a leg for some parts. [It could be upwards of $10 per brick.] Add that all up and the prices can get crazy.

So there’s this underground Lego community? How similar is it to the sneaker community?

It’s pretty similar. Legos are something that a lot of people get into while they’re younger, and it doesn’t go away. A lot of people I talk to are 40 or 50-years-old and they have these stores online selling on-by-one Lego pieces, and they enjoy it because it’s their passion. These people really love Legos and they turn it into a lifestyle. Same with sneakerheads, they have that dedication like the Lego community.

What do you do as a full-time job?

I’m an artist full-time. This is just one aspect of my art. Do I want to be the Lego person for the rest of my life? No. I have other design ideas that I want to do on top of this. Lego art is not my only thing. I do have other things that I want to branch out in, in the art world. 

My hope is that I can parlay this into doing collabs with people like the Hundreds or Nike. I have a lot of ideas that I want to put out. The next step is to figure out how exactly I’m going to distribute this. I don’t want to go the route of selling the instructions, so you can build it on your own. I want to do it through the fine art process where you commission me to do it and I’ll build them by hand.