Store: Leaders 1354
City: Chicago
Founder: Corey Gilkey
Year opened: 2002

Leaders 1354 has been a staple in the Chicago streetwear community for almost two decades. Originally founded by Corey Gilkey back in 2002, the shop was operated in the historic Hyde Park area of the city before moving to its current location on Madison Street. The “1354” is a nod to the address of the original space.

It has been a stockist of big brands for the community over the years. Nike and Adidas highlight the footwear offering, while popular names like The Hundreds, Billionaire Boys Club, Crooks and Castles, and LRG have been stocked in the stores. Leaders has also given its supporters and customers a consistent offering of in-house apparel to rep their favorite Windy City boutique.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about Leaders is what it has been able to do with helping develop local talent. Chance the Rapper and Vic Mensa frequented the shop when they were coming up. Other local boutique owners, Lavelle “V-Dot” Sykes of Succezz and Dave Jeff of PHLI Worldwide, also credit Leaders general manager Diego Ross with giving them their start in streetwear. The team behind Fat Tiger Workshop—Joe Freshgoods, Vic Lloyd, Rello, and Desmond Owusu—also cut their teeth there. 

“I started off interning. That was a very happy moment. I was just like, 'Yo, I just want to be part of the store, do whatever I have to do to make it.’ So I put in my work and one day I remember I was in class, I was going to a community college in Chicago, and the owner basically called me and was like, ‘Yo, [someone] didn't show up to work,’” says Freshgoods. “It sucked because my OG got fired, one of the guys I looked up to, but I pretty much came in and the rest is history.”

Freshgoods credits Gilkey with instilling in him a lot of business practices he still uses to this day. 

“There's bits and pieces that I didn't realize that I learned from Corey until I got to the point where I'm at now. I give Corey all due respect. I don't know how he was paying me. Corey always told me when I had my brand, ‘Yo you're not a real brand unless you paying taxes,’” says Freshgoods. “Now, I'm a brand that pays my taxes and I hate brands that say they are a brand, but they don't have nothing legally right. I understand that and that was one thing I thought was some hating ass shit to say back in the day. But he was really putting me on game. Sometimes you don't realize because you're learning.”

Leaders is more than just another store to the locals. It is a goal. It showed the community that they could aspire to run a business, and that it was actually possible. While other boutiques might stray from their initial identity in efforts to achieve more mainstream success, Leaders has remained the hometown hero, cultivating countless success stories from the city’s scene, and creating a hub that reaches far beyond just clothing and sneakers. 

“There can't be a Chicago fashion scene without Leaders. Leaders has helped the careers of many artists in Chicago. You know how buildings become historical landmarks and shit like that? Leaders is like a historical landmark,” Freshgoods tells Complex. “Leaders has to exist in Chicago because of how much it has helped out the local Chicago scene. Everybody in Chicago has watched it grow. It's like it's a part of us, so it's not going nowhere anytime soon.”
​​​​​​​—Michael DeStefano