OKEMOS, Mich. – Keith Whitfield, Keaton Woods and Lonnie and Leonard Smith love shoes.
Whether they are Jordan 1 Retro High Travis Scott, Kanye West’s Yeezys 350 Zebra or Nike’s classic Air Force 1 ’07, the four high schoolers trade and sell footwear at school or on streets, hoping to obtain a trendier, costlier or more fashionable sole.
They are sneakerheads and, last month, they opened a store in Okemos called House of Soles to take their hobby to the next level. There, they buy, sell and trade sneakers, mostly used, some basically new but pre-owned, according to the Lansing State Journal.
“Every time I would get shoes and would not want to wear them anymore, I would start selling them on the street,” said Lonnie Smith, who is 16 and the chief executive officer of House of Soles. “I thought might as well get a shoe store to make it safer and had my family help out.”
He and his twin, Leonard, had been selling shoes given to them by family members to their classmates at Haslett High School, where they are juniors, and to others besides.
Their mom, Nadia Sellers, was shocked to learn her sons sold shoes after-hours, sometimes at midnight, through social media or word-of-mouth.
She didn’t want them to risk meeting strangers in an unknown area. She recalled a 17-year-old killed in Detroit three years ago during an attempted sale of Nike Air Jordans to a someone he didn’t know.
“These guys were meeting people at midnight to sell or buy shoes. That is not safe,” Sellers said of her sons.
So she invested to help them open a brick-and-mortar location in Okemos. A crowd-funding campaign covered the other costs.
The store, she said, “is a very safe place for kids and parents. Hopefully more parents will start to realize kids are doing this, and if they’re still doing it meeting up with strangers, they’ll stop.”
Younger people are more drawn to the sneakerhead culture, said Joseph Eno, an older family friend from Memphis, Tennessee, who came up with the store’s name, which is a combination of Footlocker’s flagship store, House of Hoops, and a name suggested by Sellers: Twin Soles.
“A lot of it has to do with the influence of Travis Scott and Kanye West,” Eno said. “I think the biggest change was when Kanye left Nike to go to Adidas and they became popular again. Air Jordans are popular because of Travis Scott and they are at the top again.”
Employees at the store build a rapport with potential buyers and sellers. Sneakers are appraised by employees using a smartphone app and knowledge of an item, its condition and rarity.
“We look at the market and what they’re going for,” said Whitfield, who is 16 and the main appraiser. “We try to make the price negotiable and kind of up their way.”
The inventory on their shelves has quadrupled since opening day, and the stock of shoes is on a steady rise, the teens said.
Existing stocks come from the Smith’s closets, with the shoes over size 14 coming from Leonard, and from a Cash for Kicks weekend event held in October.
“I wanted to show people that these young African American kids are more than drug dealers and gang bangers or kids out here doing things they shouldn’t be doing,” Sellers said. “I wanted to show that they could be entrepreneurs at 16.”