State of Sneakers is a new series where we go into the mind of entrepreneurs brave enough to open their own sneaker consignment shops and talk about what makes their business successful, trends they see, prediction forecasts and their niche.
For our inaugural piece, we chop it up with Michael “Mikey” Nguyen from Index, located in the heart of Portland’s Chinatown district. For those who don’t know, both Nike and adidas‘ headquarters are located in the area, thus making Index neutral ground in the sneaker war between the Swoosh and Stripes. And rare college athlete exclusive Jordan sneakers often make their way into Index’s door, not just Oregon Duck joints either (but they definitely go ridiculously hard for their home state).
“You’re seeing a lot of people getting introduced to the first ‘sneaker.’ So with that and the limited quantities the footwear industry releases, it’s simple economics — supply and demand.”
Location is key to networking
Thanks to their incredible proximity to Nike WHQ and adidas Village, Index is blessed with connections to tastemakers that directly dictate the direction of the market with fire sneaker designs, rare collaborations and even rarer player exclusives (PEs) and samples. These sometimes 1-of-1 sneakers make it into Index’s doors not only as artwork, but a piece of history for a lucky buyer with deep pockets.
Often times, thanks to Index’s access to such gems, NBA players make the trip out to the store when they’re in town playing the Trail Blazers or during the offseason. Guys like Langston Galloway, Anfernee “Ant” Simons, and P.J. Tucker are some shop regulars. Here’s what Mikey was able to tell us about dealing with superstars, who are just regular dudes like the rest of us.
“Man, dealing with NBA stars has always been fun and the interactions are always great. It’s cool to see some of your favorite players come into the shop and be able to get to know them on a personal level. Depending on the player, just like any other customers, each have their own style and likes. That is what’s amazing about the sneaker industry, there’s a sneaker for everyone. I can tell you P.J. Tucker is all about the old rare stuff like AF1’s and PE’s, samples too but his size is hard to come by.”
Continuing on that point, I asked Mikey what it’s like to price something like a PE or sample and because of his numerous years of experience and touching some serious grails, he gave us the scoop.
“Portland and Beaverton is the Silicon Valley of the footwear industry. We are blessed to see a lot of rare shoes throughout the years, actually my entire life,” he starts off saying with a laugh at the end. “We have THE best knowledge of samples and PE’s in our industry as a consignment shop. That’s not to brag, it’s just the truth. The amount of knowledge we have goes beyond just opening our brick and mortar in 2013, but back to the late ’90s and early ’00s. With experience being around PE’s and sample we understand what the market is and what people are willing to pay,” he finishes.
While being in Portland is a major key to networking, the local community is one that uplifts one another and I got to see that first hand while I was out there a couple of years ago before the pandemic hit.
To understand Portland, you need to understand the city’s geography and why Chinatown is integral to not only the city but also to creatives and especially to the culture. Mikey breaks it down below.
“Chinatown in Portland is the center point of the city. It connects people that live east and west of the city and is separated by a million different bridges. We chose Chinatown not only for its geographic location, but we wanted to continue off the strength of Compound Gallery — as at the time, it was the only street culture business in town — and grow the neighborhood as the epicenter for creatives in the footwear and street culture industry.”
Mikey continued by telling me about addition spots in Chinatown that makes a difference in the community on a daily basis:
“Chinatown was home to the first Footwear Design Academy, Pensole, founded by D’Wayne Edwards and Suzette Henry, who both come from Jordan Brand and carved their own path to educate students wanting to find their own way into footwear. Deadstock is the first sneaker-themed coffee shop in the world and continues to play a pinnacle role of connecting people in the industry or people wanting to get into the industry — all while providing exceptional snob-free lattes. Since 2013, when we first opened, Chinatown has grown to include other retail shops that complement each other such as Unspoken (retail boutique), Laundry (vintage sports apparel), and Produce (now closed).”
With a strong community built on a love and passion for kicks, our conversion quickly transitioned to exactly that, sneakers.
“That is what’s amazing about the sneaker industry, there’s a sneaker for everyone.”
Every March, we see college hopefuls take to the courts in the NCAA tournament in fresh sneakers, sometimes exclusives, that we all either have in our collections, have on a wish list, or hope they release to the public. Looking back on 2021, I asked Mikey what were some of the biggest trends he saw through sales. Some of what he said I expected and some of it took me by surprise.
“Dunks continued to dominate in 2021, both lows and highs. Insert any color blocking schemes and it will sell out. Jordan 1’s have always been popular, particularly the OG highs, but over the part year or two the number of lows and mids have increased in popularity and demand. I’d have never thought I would see such a high demand for lows and mids EVER. When mids are selling for 2-3 times retail value, it’s hard not to take notice and understand that our industry is growing. You’re seeing a lot of people getting introduced to the first “sneaker.” So with that and the limited quantities the footwear industry releases, it’s simple economics — supply and demand.”
We also talked about the growing importance of collaborations and how they steer the market.
“Another big trend from 2021 are collaborations. Even thought collaborations have always been hyped, you are now seeing brands collaborate more and more each year. Just look at Jordan Brand with Travis Scott and fragment, the Jordan x Union LA stuff, Nike x Off-White, etc. In the ’90s, you’d typically only see athletes as great endorsers for the brand. But fast forward 20-30 years and you are now seeing footwear brands collaborating with celebrities, artists and entertainers. The reach with electronics and social media platforms continues the exponential growth of footwear and street culture.”
On that note, I asked Mikey what he expects this year to bring for the sneaker industry.
“I think the trend will continue to be the same throughout 2022 with Dunks, Jordans and collaborations dominating the demand for sneakers. I also think you’ll see an increase in demand for New Balance. I predict they’ll have a good year based on the amount of people that inquire about them through Index.”
Like Mikey mentioned previously, endorsements from designers and fashion icons lead to sneaker sales. That directly ties into current events and in 2021, there was a lot happening in the world.
Current events and sneakers
Last year, Travis Scott’s Astroworld festival resulted in the deaths of 10 attendees and hundreds of injuries. In the months that followed, Scott was basically cancelled by the internet because he didn’t immediately apologize and people felt he was being insincere. Just a few days ago, he said that he would launch and charity initiative for those affected, there is currently a court battle happening in regards to this.
With Travis being a huge player in the footwear industry in the last few years — helping bring back Nike SB and Dunk hype as well as raising the prices on Jordan 1’s with his collaborations — I asked Mikey if the news had any impact on sales.
“We didn’t see any impact from the Travis Scott tragedy. His collabs have still been in high demand. However, I think Nike and Jordan are being cautious with his future collaborations as they have already delayed some releases, for example the Cactus Jack x Air Max 1.”
Before the end of last year, we also found out that Virgil Abloh passed away fighting cancer. For those in and out of the industry and culture, the loss was humongous. I asked Mikey about the days following the news.
“It was almost exactly the same as when Kobe passed away. As soon as news of his passing broke, we sold about 95% of Off-White collaboration shoes. We didn’t even have time to pull it. It’s unfortunate to see something sad happen have such profound financial implications to the market.”
Talking about the market, Mikey also shared his insights into the future of the sneaker economy and specifically the resell market.
“I believe the sneaker market and the resell market will continue to do well and grow,” he starts off saying. “Economists predicted a major impact to the economy as we continue to deal with it [the pandemic], however, the sneaker industry, more specifically the resell market, have show positive growth.” He continues, “2020 was our best year of business at a time where we had to be shut down for 3-4 months of the year. People still wanted shoes, so the demand was high and at the same time, due to financial hardships from the pandemic, people needed money so they looked to their shoes as liquidable assets and sold them.”
Like our weekly Rock, Stock or Flip? column suggests, sneakers are a tradeable commodity and knowing when to buy or sell can definitely keep you in the green or help you get out of the red.
Advice for entrepreneurs
Finally, as an entrepreneur, I asked Mikey what advice he has for those looking to either start their own consignment shop or get into business for themselves.
“Do right by people. Treating people with respect and integrity will go a long way. Whether it be your employee, customer, or anyone walking into your store. There are no shortcuts so do your due diligence in knowing the industry you want to breakthrough.”
Spoken like a true boss.
March Madness pick
So who does Mikey have winning the tourney? None other than No. 1 seed Gonzaga. I wonder if they’ll get a nice exclusive sneaker if they win this year…
For the latest rare sneaker finds at Index, follow them on IG, their stuff goes quick.
You can follow along with March Madness through the NCAA’s official website.
Head over to ULTRA’s IG to let us know who you got.
March Madness starts tomorrow, March 15, with the First Four to decide the last 4 teams in, and will end on April 4, with the Championship game.
Photos via Mikey Nguyen/Index Portland