So you want to get a job in sneakers? You've been following all these cool people on Instagram and Twitter and for some reason the whole idea of working in footwear appeals to you. Couldn't be that hard, right? Strap on a dope pair of kicks, pull out your colored pencils, and get moving, right? Wrong. "Working in sneakers" is something of a misnomer, especially to those interested, because "sneakers" is the smallest part of it. For most jobs in sneakers it doesn't matter what you're wearing, only what your job is.
But you don’t have to take our word for it. We spoke to some folks in the industry that have been around for a minute. These are the people that will be reviewing your application when you apply for a job, so if anyone’s opinion matters, it’s these guys'.
It's a bit of a myth that you need a college degree to break into the sneaker industry. In fact, some of the sneaker business' most important executives and influential people today have gotten to their positions without an expensive diploma. Here, insiders at three sneaker boutiques break down what's really important when it comes to recruiting new talent.
No brands are as big as Nike. For many looking to break into the industry, the best opportunities will be local and on a much smaller scale. Concepts' general manager, Deon Point, explains that when the shop is looking for new people, he hires based largely on personality. An incredible amount of skill is crucial, but what Concepts needs is people with vision who are going to fit in.
"You could be the most talented person in the world, but if my designer doesn’t get along with you it’s not going to last long," Point said. He added that Concepts is looking at the older generation to draw talent from. “For us it’s very difficult to find someone at a young age that is open minded enough to think beyond what’s already happening in the industry today." Point wants people in their 30s that have been around and understand what's going on. But the store also wants to see something new because Point has had too many applicants and interested parties who present ideas that are well trod. A coloring book portfolio isn't going to catch anyone's attention in a good way. Concepts already knows what they're doing. And it's the team they already have that is doing it. If all you have to present is a minor development of what they or any of their competition is doing, best to stay on the sideline and continue to be an observer. Only gamechangers need apply.
Deon is quick to mention that most of the names you know from the boutique brands didn't go to college, so picking a particular major in school isn't going to necessarily be a leg up. Instead it's about drive, interest, and imagination. Skills can be developed through study, but imagination cannot be learned.
No matter what you do, be better than everyone else. Including everyone who has applied in the last few years. Point explains: “Footwear is a funny thing, it’s become so big now, and everyone wants some piece of it. It’s going to be very difficult to stand out. I haven’t seen anything that has stuck out to me that’s made me say, 'Hey let me give this kid a shot.'”
When he's looking to fill a role at Kith's stores, general manager Lucas Monroe has one sure fire way to hire someone he knows is going to work out: pick a person who comes to Kith a lot. Retail work happens with a team, and that team has to put personalities aside. The hours are too long to spend with people who don't work well together. So when there's an opening, he looks to the people who are already spending their time around the store. He looks to the people that already get along with his staff.
“A lot of people that work there now used to be customers of the store, some people that lined up for releases, or would just come to the shop a lot and were friendly with people," Monroe said. Since each employee basically starts from the bottom, the skills aren't as important as the person. Any experience that can be brought in will be useful to the journey of whoever they hire. But Monroe prefers a hard worker and a positive attitude over a resume that's a mile long.
“It’s a lot of work," Monroe said. "It needs to be something deeper beyond, 'Oh it would be cool to work in a sneaker spot. Oh, it would be cool to get whatever shoe I want.' It needs to be something deeper.” If you're worried about keeping your free weekends, seeing your family on major holidays, or the idea of working more than 12 hours at a time with a genuine smile on your face is cause for alarm, retail isn't for you. Keep coming, shopping, and hanging out. But keep your day job.
Use the experience you already have.
On the other side of the pond, Offspring has made the news over the last few years with some banger collabs. They're a slightly larger company than some of the better-known American boutiques because they're run by the same people who also run Poste and Office, their sportswear offshoot. Together, they operate 153 sites. They're still a small operation on the corporate end, but have more of a big company vibe because of their size. Aman Tak, the buyer for Offspring and Poste (as well as the dude who develops their collaborations), said that the size of their company allows them to invest in their staff.
“A lot of us were part timers while still at university but due to opportunities given we were able to make careers for ourselves once we graduated,” he said. “This ethos is still carried through today.” That cooperative commitment and personal relationship with the brand means that they take work very personally. If you want to work there, you have to operate in the same way. "We all share the same passion and approach to work," Aman explained. "We look for someone that shares this and someone that can bring a new dimension to an already diverse mix of people."
If you want to be a part of this team, experience is going to get you there before a degree. But don't worry that you wasted your money or your time; whatever degree you get could help even if it doesn't seem super relevant to the sneaker industry. "Experience, a good grounding, and working from the bottom up, can be just as valuable if not more, than studying for three to four years," says Aman. "A lot of us here did degrees that aren’t even relevant to the fashion industry, but our backgrounds in retail and strong understanding of how our business operates has helped us progress." It's about work ethic, passion, and a handful of experience. Whatever enables the blending of those ingredients is going to be the right path.