If The Shoe Fits…
Jaysse Lopez Found Salvation In Sneakers And Is Now Enjoying His Kicks
By Stacey Gualandi
The first SneakerCon to hit Sin City can be summed up in one word: chaotic. Thousands of so-called “sneakerheads” took over the cavernous Las Vegas Convention Center to chase the latest Chucks, rubberneck for rarified runners and angle for Air Force Ones. The roar of the crowd was deafening, the atmosphere electric; and calmly holding court at the center of all those customers clamoring for canvas stood the reigning King of Sneakerdom, Jaysse Lopez.
“Thank you for allowing me to make a dollar with you,” he says to the crowd. Funny thing is, it isn’t some throwaway line. Lopez means it.
In just 3 years, the tatted, dreadlocked entrepreneur and his wife Joanie have amassed a small fortune buying and selling new and used “kicks” on consignment at their flagship Las Vegas store Urban Necessities. At 38, that success has earned him street cred, and a new moniker, “The Willy Wonka of the Sneaker Game.”
“I’m not doing it for money,” says Lopez. “I have to show people that if they change their attitude and stay positive and consistent, that you can change everything. Not just for yourself, but for everyone around you. I may not have the best practices in the world but I’m persistent and I know what my role is. I stay grounded and humble because I could lose everything at any time.”
Lopez knows because he’s been there. In 2001, after a rebellious childhood, he admits,“at 15 I didn’t think I was going to make it to 21….I was a unique child. I meant well, but struggled with direction.” His mother Maria gave him twenty dollars, a one-way ticket to Las Vegas, and an ultimatum: Get your life in gear.
His early years were filled with plenty of hardships. He lived in a park, homeless and penniless, not far from the store he would eventually open 13 years later. He says it’s hard to go back now. “There were a lot of cold hungry nights…it was terrifying. I am humbled I went through that because it prepared me for this.”
Ultimately, it was an addiction to sneakers, the perfect life partner, plus a short, unsatisfying stint in the corporate world that put Lopez on course. He pulled himself up by his bootstraps—daresay, shoelaces—and that became his salvation.
“It’s hard to revisit what our past looked like,” says Joanie Lopez. She admits while the growth of UN was unexpectedly fast, “we went through a lot of tears, disappointment and losses, but it was all worth it.”
Now NFL, MLB and NBA players know Jaysse by name, even Celine Dion sings his sneaker praises. [A fact not lost on his proud mother, who now works for her son!]
All this attention may soon land him on television. Veteran producer Jon Zucker says a Lopez rags-to-riches reality show is in the works. “He is a symbol of this city,” says Zucker. “The indomitable spirit of the human will, despite all the odds….”
What a difference a few years makes. As Lopez wrapped up another successful SneakerCon, he surveyed the crowd, with 62 of his most coveted sneaks [worth over $150 thousand] stacked on display behind him. His achievements aren’t lost on him, but he hopes his own difficult journey will inspire other young entrepreneurs to believe in themselves. And, to follow in his shoes.
“I took a gamble on myself and it paid off for me.”
Images courtesy of urbannecessities.com and Stacey Gualandi.