The secondary sneaker economy is booming, spawning national and international conferences, knock offs and clandestine import/export businesses that sometimes illicit cease and desist requests from Nike. No one’s crunched the numbers for this market yet but judging the Instagram feeds of sneakerheads around the world, who hoard deadstock as well as show their gains (selfies with wads of cash, huge sneaker collections in elaborate display cases, appearances on Judge Mathis, profiles by NBC), things are pretty good, $3000 for a pair of Air Jordans 1s on eBay good.
Raleigh, North Carolina native Derrick Winje, 24, is part of this entrepreneurial class of sneakerheads except he doesn’t resell sneakers for a living, he repairs them by mail.
Winje’s one man enterprise Raleigh Restorations, popped up in my Twitter feed a few weeks ago when a Nike Talker I follow speculated on how much money RR made doing restorations. Intrigued, I jumped into the rabbit hole of the internet and stalked RR’ Instagram feed and Facebook page where he markets his business. On these feeds “before” and “after” photos document his triumphs as a first class restorer, reinforced by reader comments praising his skill and work. Busted toe boxes with canyon sized creases and yellow soles of Jordans restored to their original glory, looked like they were assembled by child laborers, i.e. factory fresh to def. Suddenly my decade old, adidas Decades Low with the cracked sole and craggy toe box looked like they were ready for a second style coming.
This week I reached out to Winje, who is originally from Omaha, Nebraska; and picked his brain via email about his full time, mail centered business run out of his home. Here’s some of what was said.
How and why did you get into the sneaker restoration business?
When I was younger my family never had much money but I still wanted to wear Jordans and Allen Iverson’s (my all time favorite player) shoes but [I] simply couldn’t afford them.
My mother would match however much I could obtain from savings when my birthday or Christmas came. I took care of them and remember I wore my black/blue 18’s for 4 years; and made sure they only touched hardwood and took them off immediately
after finishing a game. It came time where after so many wears there were issues that couldn’t be avoided. I ruined quite a few pairs trying to do stuff everyone does, sharpies, white out etc. It just grew from there and I educated myself on the craft reading anything I could; related, not even sneaker related, just thinking outside of the box.
How long have you been restoring sneakers?
About three years now.
What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
Getting others to cooperate and read: it would save me a TON of time. I would have said mixing colors to match but now a certain company is making premixed/matched colors for just about every sole. I can’t say their name because I’m still waiting for that sponsorship (*Ahem* ANGELUS, I’m looking at you).
What is the usual turnaround time on a restoration?
It varies job to job as each project is unique.
To date, how many sneakers have you restored?
Let me check… a LOT. I can’t even fathom a number.
Jordans, judging your Instagram feed, seem to be the most popular brand. How many Jordans do you repair a week?
Again, there isn’t really an average number as each job varies, sometimes it’s one, sometimes its four or five.
Most difficult restoration you’ve had so far?
A pair of 2003 white cement 3’s sole was super soft and almost unwearable: faded elephant print, yellowed tab, stitching was coming undone, creased, everything was wrong with them.
What are your thoughts on the sneaker resale economy? Personally, I don’t get caught up in it because I don’t really buy new
sneakers and very few catch my attention. I am a pretty simple person when It comes to sneakers, I really like Iversons, mainly The Answer 3-6. I have most of what I want when it comes to Jordans. I basically weigh the price I’d pay to have a certain pair
and then think about how much I actually want it, usually I won’t pay over $150 for a pair and haven’t done so in a LONG time.
To answer the question, I think it’s corrupt. People who actually want the sneaker don’t get it because someone is too caught up in making a few 10 or 100 dollars reselling a size run of a release.
Do you operate from your home or a standalone store front?
My business is run from home. I am on shelves at a few boutiques
and stores with my product Ice Cream which restores yellowed soles and rubber. I am also pursuing and talking with other shops on expanding and going all over the US with my product.
Is your business a full time operation or part time?
It is my only and full time job.
Walk us through a typical day at your business.
I wake up (it varies) but try to be up by 8am. I always check my phone to
go through my emails, check Instagram, check my Facebook business page as well as my personal Facebook page (for sneaker pages).
If there are any pressing emails or customers who are ready to send their shoes or seem like a serious inquiry I respond to them before eating breakfast and working. If it’s a shipping day (Monday’s and Friday’s) I, hopefully, have all the packages already packaged and just need to sort and print all the labels. I do this before 5 so they get on the truck and are on their way. The rest of the day I’m working on orders in the order that they came in. Throughout the day, and while I have downtime between painting coats and letting them dry, I’m posting on Instagram or checking emails and other forms of social media.
I don’t really stop at any certain time.
I try to go to the gym everyday around 5 to get away and get some relief. I then come back eat dinner and usually go back to work or pacakge more orders for the future.
Whats your process during restoration? Do you listen to music while you work? If so, what do you listen to?
Yes, I wouldn’t be able
to work all day without music. I like a lot of different genres and certain bands. A few bands/artists are: Slipknot, Childish Gambino,
Charles Hamilton (his older stuff), Breaking Benjamin, Basshunter. I bounce between stations on Pandora which are: Eminem, Slipknot,
Kanye West, and House (or techno as most people would recognize it as). The music is always coming from my iPad Mini which sits
on my desk and I also pull up pictures if I’m putting a logo or something on a shoe for a visual reference.
Do you work alone? Yes, [but] my girlfriend tries to help with packaging, labeling and bottling Ice Cream (for icy soles) when she can. She works a 9-5 so it’s really great of her to help after working all day!
Any advice for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
Yes, GOOGLE AND YOUTUBE! Seriously, half of the questions I get could be copied and pasted into Google or YouTube and you’d know how to do it. There was hardly anything out there when I started and I didn’t get handouts nor did I ask for them. Yes, I got a few tips here and there but I learned the most when I made mistakes. I try to help when I can and answer simple stuff. But, at the end of the day, it just eats up my time answering all these questions that could easily be done
by a simple search.
Did you go to art school? You’re nice with the paint. Haa, thanks. Just Mrs. Jansen’s art class in middle school. I could always draw but switching to a brush is a HUGE difference. That and just getting an airbrush a month ago is another learning curve but I won’t stop.