La Vie En Retail with Alex Gumbottom
Episode # 5 — @gumbottom
For the 5th episode, we caught up with Boston-born, NYC-raised & now Paris-based very good friend of ours Alex Gumbottom (yeah, because of his love for the gum soles). He’s the real OG sneaker & streetwear collector, who’s famous for his really giant collection of “grails” and on-feet Instagram posts. Aside from being a Director of Retail Sales for a luxury brand and working between Paris and NYC, Alex helps us to make Sneakerdraws a better product for both retailers & sneaker-lovers.
A (Author): Hey Alex! Nice to see you as usual. Please introduce yourself
G (Gumbottom): I am actually 40 y.o., and I have lived and breathed the culture for over 20 years. I grew up on the Lower East Side of NYC in the 90s and was one of the pioneers of the niche skate, sneaker, and streetwear scene which had now become a billion-dollar industry. In the late 90s and 2000s, we were a small group of people sharing our passion for hip-hop, skate, and style.
A: So, you got into sneakers almost two decades ago… What’s the Boston community about back in the days?
G: The scene wasn’t much of a scene actually. In the beginning, you would find the stores in your city that would have those unique pieces that you couldn’t find at your Footlocker. You would make friends with the guys who worked there and they would give you a heads up when a cool piece would arrive. In Boston, I had Jay, Dan, and Oliver from Bodega when they opened in 2006, and before that was the one and only Deon Point from the ass-end of the tannery in Harvard Square. The scene for me was the exchanges I made with these people and their knowledge and culture we passed onto each other that made it all worthwhile. Jay would go to Japan and come back with all sorts of crazy pieces and hook up his hood customers! It was an amazing time!
A: Well, I’m not gonna ask you about BOSTON or NY. But what’s the difference between the cities in terms of getting buying sneakers?
G: So having lived in both of them and experienced the sneaker culture first hand, the NY scene was definitely bigger and it was the best city to access the most coveted releases in the USA. In Boston, we got a lot of nice pieces, great SBs, and Js, but we didn’t get those Parra Burgundy or Kaws Current! For those, you just had to be in NYC!
A: Tell us something about the sneakers in the “golden era” (the 90–00s). How it all started for you? And, for example, how difficult was it to get what you wanted back in the days? Who was the “sneaker influencer” or maybe had the best kicks besides MJ?
G: So in the 90s I was just a young lad, so I had to beg my parents to get the kicks I wanted. The way I was introduced to the Air Max was through the OG Infrared 90. I begged my parents for a Jordan 4 “Military Blue”, so they took me to the Nike Factory Store in Wellesley, MA. Of course, they didn’t have my size but they brought the AM90 Infrared and I was like… “Wtf is this? Big ass bubble? I came for a Jordan 4 and you want me to buy these?!” Anyways my mom convinced me to buy them and, man, they have become the reason and the runners that have always been the DNA of my collection! So MJ had directly influenced my love for running shoes… Bizarre, right?
A: What was the last sneaker you purchased in NYC before going to Europe?
G: Doernbecher Jordan 3 (restock)
A: Coming to France. Talking as an expat to an expat, I know how hard it could be. Was France really welcoming back then? And how did you get to know the community, the stores & etc.?
Q: Well when I first arrived in Paris, I met some really passionate people that loved everything about sneakers! They were speaking about shape and materials… This wasn’t really a topic of conversation in the USA scene! The French sneaker community was quite welcoming actually. For an American guy coming from nowhere, I met some great people that really helped immerse me in the culture. This was one of the great points of the Paris sneaker scene in 2012–13.
Retail stores were also a great place to go, share the culture, and find some great pieces to cop from time to time. When a collab would drop in 8–9 years ago they would hype it up for months, so people would really immerse themselves in the shoe and we would all anticipate its imminent arrival. Then on D-day, we would go the night before camp together and cop our pairs.
A: What’s the very first pair you got in Paris?
G: Air Maxim 1 “Germany Camo” from Colette
A: Oh, Colette — the taster-maker at its time. Your thoughts on Colette compared to all things you saw in the US? Was it just the right person at the right time, or something bigger? And how it defined European retail?
G: Colette was a unique boutique created at the perfect time by a true visionary. The variety of pieces that I saw in this boutique and the energy I felt when I entered those doors were truly legendary. No other store in the world has been able to make me feel like that for the moment! Every time you entered that store you were excited to see “what am I gonna find today”. From Arsham’s “Future Relics” to Kaws’ Companions to Tom Sachs’ Mars Yard… Well, Colette had it all! I’m sad to see it go but better it goes than to become a caricature of what it once was.
A. How would you describe the changes in the global sneaker culture right now? Is it good or bad? Or is it just a logical “evolution”?
G: The global sneaker culture has become a multi-billion dollar industry. Before you would connect on forums and trade regional pairs with other passionate people. You would make an exchange, share and learn from each other and get the shoes you wanted in the meantime. Now, any pair from any location is accessible with money. Before even if you had money, some pairs were impossible to find. The thrill of the hunt was half of the fun.
The sneakers have now stepped out of the niche and into the limelight, the consumption rate and distribution have increased by 100 fold. And talking about retail, the accessibility for normal people to buy the pair they like and just wear it has become nearly zero. This, for me, is a shame. I believe this is the strategy of some brands to make it nearly impossible to have your pair. Which in turn creates a resale market that provides hype and free marketing for the brands. It is kind of ingenious but is it ethical? No, it’s business!
A: Yeah, I feel it. Resell is blooming and it’s more about “the hustle culture” instead of “the sneaker”. But what do you think about all that fancy tech & startups appearing around sneakers? About “unicorns” like GOAT & StockX and other less known.
G: Tbh, everyone is trying to capitalize on the booming market. I don’t blame these start-ups for trying to emulate what StockX is doing. It’s a business mindset and natural. I don’t love it myself because it has diluted a niche market I love very much, but I don’t blame them for doing it.
Fun Fact: As of April 2021, StockX has notched a $3.8 billion valuation. Another major player, GOAT is currently valued at $1.75 billion.
A: I know you’ve been involved in numerous partnerships with European retailers helping them shape the future of retail. What were the challenges they’ve been trying to solve?
G: Every retailer wants to build an authentic community. The problem is that some have the power to do it and some don’t. Big corporations own most of these boutiques and they are tied up in red tape. Their sites are botted to the teeth and they can’t do anything to fix it. Unfortunately, from a business standpoint, it’s very costly to fix the system and then have it hacked by teenagers 2 days later, so at some point, they just gave up. I think the biggest issue for shops is to keep a real community because people get really mad that they can’t buy anything from these shops online. This makes it very hard to build a positive & non-toxic community!
A: What do you think are the challenges of sneaker retail now? Do you see any solutions?
G: Now… Same. The challenge is to get the product into the hands of the real consumer. This becomes challenging because the brands like it very much when their shoes cost big money. Stars want to wear it and it becomes an iconic piece of plastic overnight. For example, Travis Scott wears new shoes just to watch basketball? This is free marketing! On the day when some people will stop following this trend and they will get sick of paying over retail for shoes… When this happens the real-real challenge will begin!
A: For your experience, any advice/recommendations you can share with retailers to take their game to the next level?
G: Most retailers just want to have happy clients and make their objectives. I find most shops to be quite welcoming and very happy to still share the culture & the knowledge with people. My advice is to find clever solutions to make your loyal customers happy! That’s the best thing any shop can do. Use these hot products to reward their real customer base!
A: If you could wear the same kicks for the rest of your life what would it be?
G: Air Max 1
A: Your personal sneaker all-time Top5?
G: My top 5 always changes but in no particular order: Air Yeezy 2, Air Max 1 “Amsterdam”, Dunk Low SB Medicom 2, HTM Flyknit Milano, Jordan 1 “Chicago”
A: Your collection is full of top sneaker heat, some people would even say «full of grails», but what does the term «grail» mean for you?
G: For me, everyone’s “grail” will be different. I think, a “grail” is a pair you really love, that you hunt down like it was the only thing on earth you wanted. But for each person, there’s a reason they call their grail a “grail”!
A: Dunks are making big moves over the last 2–3 years, huh. Do you remember your first pair? (Still have ‘em?)
G: Nike SB Dunk Low “Shark” (brown box era/2002) and I still have them, some are separated.
A: Supreme New York. You have a pretty huge collection of rare items. What’s it in the 00s? And what’s your all-time fav Supreme piece?
G: My favorite supreme piece has to be the punching bag. It’s such a great-looking piece and can really make a statement!
In the 2000s, Suprême was very niche. It was a pit-stop for every skater on the Lower East Side, who wanted a deck and cool tee. Its cult following arrived when real influential people began styling their wardrobe with a piece of Suprême to give an edgy vibe. It took them from the underground straight to the penthouse!
A: Which pairs are waiting for the most now?
G: I’m waiting for 3 releases this year: AJ1 Fragment x Travis Scott, Off-White x AJ1 Canary Yellow, Nike x Tom Sachs Mars Yard.
A: Is there any advice you’d like to give to the younger generation of sneaker-lovers?
G: Don’t get influenced by your friends. Wear what you like, make your own look, and set your own trend!
A: You’re not only a sneaker & streetwear collector. Let’s talk about “contemporary” art, I know you have tons of artworks & art collectibles. Who’s your favorite artist? And what’s the most important (for you) piece you have?
G: Honestly, I love Daniel Arsham and I purchased every relic that he made! The cassette tape is one of my favorites (thanks again, Colette)!
A: And before you go. Let’s pay some respect to the locals — what’s good “on da hood”?
G: I truly enjoy all the Parisian shops! I love the guys at FP, at Kith, Vega. All good friends and great people! Even my local FL (Champs) is great with really passionate staff who love sharing the culture.
That’s all for Episode #5. Thanks, Alex, for your time and everyone who read this article!
With love from Paris & Hamburg
To sneakerheads, collectors, skaters, retailers & people who just love the kicks worldwide
Peace out ✌️
Main cover art photo courtesy of @hadoxfr / @footpatrol_paris