Life, love, and sneakers

By CAMILLE DODERO  |  February 18, 2006

Brands bank on it. “It’s a starting ground for trends that will filter down into the mainstream market,” says Carey Platto, New Balance product manager for classics. “We can put something out to the higher-end collector community that wouldn’t yet be accepted in the mainstream and test it, essentially.”

This all might seem marginal: Niketalk.com has about 45,000 registered members; those pigeon-stitched Dunks that ignited the Lower East Side ruckus were limited to a mere 150 pairs worldwide. And even a brand like Reebok concedes that the high-end, hard-core-collector market is barely a fraction of their total business. “Less than one percent, easy,” says Steve Gardner, whose company just released “The Ball Out,” a collaboration with New York boutique A-Life that created 84 pairs of Victory Court Pumps handmade out of tennis-ball felt. “But in terms of its business impact and halo to your brand, it’s ... way greater than one percent.”

Retail game
IN LACED WE TRUST. That’s not only what the circular, dollar-bill-seal-modeled tattoo on Spungie’s forearm says, it’s also the tagline for the 31-year-old’s Columbus Avenue sneaker-and-skateboarding shop, Laced. Opened on January 3, the NYC-style boutique is sparsely stocked because Spungie and his partner Alex Ligouris are still waiting for their brand-footwear accounts to begin. The shoes exhibited on the walls are mostly from the personal collection of Spungie — who’s wearing a zip-up sweatshirt, super-saggy pants, and a black Red Sox hat sideways over a nylon doo-rag. He pulls rare shoes from display cases delicately, the way careful DJs slip albums from their sleeves. Like the Nike Heineken, an SB Dunk with the Dutch pilsner’s green-and-white colorways and white-lined red-star that sells online for between $300 and $611. Or the Nike “P-Rod Mexican Blankets,” a skateboarding shoe sewn with the trademark South-of-the-Border rainbow fabric that was designed for young superstar skater Paul Rodriguez, son of the homonymous comedian. He points out a Mardi Gras–themed Air Force 1. Those Diamond Dunks. And in the back room, those red-and-navy Johnny Damon Pumas, the Roma JDs.

“Sneakers,” says Spungie, “are the new baseball cards.”

Even though he’s tried to keep the specialty shop’s arrival on the down-low until he gets more supply, the doors were open for two days when Niketalk.com users started posting about it. Such is the nature of sneaker-nerd hype. “These kids get online, they talk all day long in all these chat rooms about what color’s better, and who has this, and what store has that,” says Spungie. To people like Spungie who’ve been immersed in the culture for over a decade — he’s a skateboarder who managed Concepts for 10 years before this — sneakers used to suggest something real about their owner, an attitude, style, or background. Back then, sneaker lovers mostly came out of hip-hop, skateboarding, graffiti, or basketball. Now they come from Google. “It’s just amazing how many kids have an opinion on the whole thing now. You don’t even know the kid; been in the game for like six months. And he’s got the right to open his mouth? Get out of here.”

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