Young Edmonton entrepreneur caters to sneakerheads and 'hypebeasts'
‘I'm all about my fashion. My fashion’s everything to me’
Marcus Neugwou still remembers his first pair of high-end sneakers.
He was in Grade 10 and had saved up for months to take home a pair of $800 Gucci high tops from Holt Renfrew downtown.
"Then the addiction got way worse from there," said the Edmonton rapper, who goes by the name Spyderr.
"I'm all about my fashion," he told CBC Edmonton's Radio Active this week. "My fashion's everything to me. Fashion is what speaks before I get to introduce myself to anyone ... just like my music. I'm really picky with what I wear."
Spyderr, 22, is one of many patrons who bring their beloved sneakers to a budding Edmonton shoe cleaning and detailing business called The Shoe Shine Shack.
On Friday, he was picking up his black Balenciaga high-top speed sneakers and dropping off his all black Nike Air Force 1s.
Sneaker culture growing
Driven by a thriving fashion, arts and music scene, sneaker culture — marked by sneakerheads and "hypebeasts" (a sometimes disparaging term for people who spend hundreds and thousands of dollars on rare and haute couture shoes) — is growing in Edmonton.
Shane Breau, owner of The Shoe Shine Shack, discovered the city's growing sneaker communities on local Facebook and Instagram groups, and at Edmonton's annual sneaker and streetwear trade show Sole Good.
"It's kind of like a flea market for sneakerheads and hypebeasts," said Breau. "Once I went to that and saw the level of passion and the amount of people walking through the doors, and the money that people were dropping on all this stuff, it really put into perspective how much of a market there was for sneaker culture here in Edmonton. There is definitely a culture here in Edmonton and it's definitely growing."
Breau, 26, started his business cleaning shoes out of his downtown apartment bathroom almost three years ago.
His shop now sells high-end sneakers on consignment, along with shoe horns, shoe trees and laces in every colour of the rainbow.
His clients include women, men, students, engineers and city administrators, who bring in their hiking boots, dress shoes and other footwear. But he's always had a soft spot for sneakers, and fashion.
His go-to is the Nike Air Max; he has owned a pair of that particular brand since he was 10.
"I remember always being very excited for back to school shoes, and my brother could care less," he said. "But now I'm getting paid to appreciate and love fashion and shoes."
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He worked in civil engineering technology but decided to start his own business after being disillusioned by construction work.
Word of mouth and social media posts of before-and-after shots of the shoes he's brought back to life helped the young entrepreneur expand from an operation out of his apartment bathroom to a booming business in the pop-up retail and studio space of Vacancy Hall, on the lower level of the Mercer Warehouse at 103rd Avenue and 104th Street.
"We're living in the capital city," said Breau. "So there's lots of money going around, there's lots of money being invested into the Ice District.
And when people are spending money on high-end shoes, they need a shoe cleaner.
Follow your passion
Now employing other young people, Breau's budding business has also donated more than 200 pairs of shoes to charities like the Edmonton youth shelter YESS (Youth Empowerment and Support Services).
His advice for young aspiring entrepreneurs is simple: follow your passion.
"Find something that you're passionate about, because if you're not passionate about it ... you might lose some steam," said Breau. "If you're passionate about it, you'll just keep going."