Before Kanye West was the most important rapper in the world and known for his Adidas sneakers, he bought his shoes at Sportie LA, a mom-and-pop store with two locations in Los Angeles that’s been in business for more than 30 years. What makes Sportie LA unique isn’t that it’s one of the last independently owned sneaker stores that’s a throwback to the days of sporting goods shops, but that it is a digger’s dream, a hodgepodge of old and new sneakers, many of which can’t be bought anywhere else. That’s what brings in footwear fanatics and celebrities alike. In the age of cool-guy sneaker boutiques that are peddling their cachet, no shop is more authentic that Sportie LA.
His reverence for the store was such that he name-checked them in an unreleased freestyle over the “The Truth” beat he made for Beanie Sigel, rapping, “Definitely Kanye, peace to Sportie LA/ That keep my shoe game early like the grave shift.”
The sneakers Kanye was buying from Sportie LA varied, but he was particularly fond of the store’s selection of hard-to-find Adidas models. In a 2002 interview with former Complex editor-in-chief Noah Callahan-Bever, Kanye rapped, “How I stack my paper, got Adidas in every flavor/ Excuse me officer, I don't know Rod Laver/ Or Stan Smith, what they don't understand is/ How I got that color in canvas.”
Kanye’s love for Adidas is well-known. Him wearing a pair of Marathon TRs, which recently re-released, on the cover of the “Get Well Soon” mixtape is lore to collectors of the Three Stripes.
To find out the connection between Kanye and Sportie LA we went straight to the source and talked to Isack Fadlon, the owner and founder of the store. Here’s what he had to say.
How did you start Sportie LA?
My sister and I started it in ‘85 with the help of our parents. I just finished high school, I was starting at UCLA, and she wanted to open a store. I was really into sports. Anything sports-related, I’m in. We said, let’s open a sneaker shop. For years, it was a hobby. A small 800-square-foot store. Then in the early ‘90s when the sneaker craze began, we happened to be at the right place at the right time, and we happened to have some rare shoes that people wanted and very few people had.
How did Kanye West start shopping at Sportie LA?
I remember back in the day, we had been around for awhile. I think he got involved with the sneaker game early on. You saw the picture of him at the party with Ellesse in 2005 [at our store]. He had already known us at that point. Then he got involved with us. That’s when he started coming to some of our events. We happened to be the source for his kicks for quite some time.
There was an old interview where Kanye said he went to your store to get rare Adidas.
I think that’s one of the things that attracted to him to our store. For a long period of time, we had the limited [sneakers], whether they be Adidas or some of the other brands. Specifically Adidas, which he was a big fan. I saw him a couple of years ago at the Footwear News Awards when he was awarded, we bumped into each other, and he said, “Oh, man, I remember those blue and yellow Adidas that I got from you years ago.” He remembered that off the top of his head.
What was it like to have Kanye name drop your store in the “The Truth” freestyle?
Somebody that relevant in the music industry to drop our name is humbling and really inspirational. It would be on his mind, his shoe culture, we were part of that. It was a gratifying experience for us and one that we cherish. We’ve been in the game for 30 years, and it’s great to be part of celebrities and influencers lives, but we also deal with people on the day to day. You bump into people, whether it be Kanye or others, who have stories about their shopping experience at Sportie LA. They have stories of that rarity they found, of digging through and finding that gem, because we have so many crazy and rare shoes. So many people have those stories and after 30 years you feel good about it.
Kanye said you guys got him sneakers early. Was that true?
He [would call] and he would drop in. He was a regular for a while. He’d come by anytime he was in the neighborhood and see what’s up. We’d bring out the rarities that we’d think he’d like and most of the time he was into it.
You see a lot of mom-and-pop stores closing or already out of business. Does that affect you?
I think about it a lot. We’re not a new boutique. We’re still mom-and-pop. We’re still independent. I always the independent sneaker shops would survive unlike stationery shops. When the big box shops came in, stationery was dead. We’re so dependent on influence and style, and we’re the independent flavor for the fashion and sneaker world. To see these shops close, one after the other, it’s completely disheartening. We don’t want to become to become so similar. We don’t want to walk into 10 different stores and see the same thing. What the independent stores provided the consumer was variety, the uniqueness. We still have some of that, of course, but it’s waning. It’s becoming less and less prevalent. It’s reality. Part of it is a lot of the vendors and manufacturers are pushing direct-to-consumer. They needed us early on to tell their story. Now, with social media, the brands can tell the stories the way they want.
Do you ever think of turning Sportie LA into a sneaker boutique?
People hit us up all the time. Because of the nostalgia, they’re rooting for us. We’ve thought about it, we’ve been given some offers. It’s something we think about regularly. You can see when people who have studied the history of sneakers, it’s gone through iteration after iteration, and we’ve seen it all. I think 2018 is going to be a pivotal year. We’re going to see a lot of change. Store closures: whether they’re national, regional, or independent.
Kanye is now the most influential person in sneakers. Is that weird that he used to shop at your store before all of that?
It is strange, because it wasn’t just Kanye. Jay Z was a regular customer. Snoop Dogg was a regular customer. Those guys have powerful voices in the music industry and beyond. It’s gratifying that they put their trust in us. It’s not that we made a sale. It’s that they trusted the product mix we had, our assortment. Or if they kept coming back to us, like Kanye, and we realized that we’re doing something right.