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Sportie LA at 30: Founder Isack Fadlon Talks Longevity in Retail

It all started with a pair of Reebok Freestyles.

These were the first pair of shoes sold at Los Angeles-based sneaker shop Sportie LA when it opened in 1985. Located right across the street from Fairfax High School on Melrose Avenue, Sportie LA has been one of the world’s preeminent independent sneaker retailers for over three decades. Famed for its enormous assortment of shoes (the retailer actually has several locations on Melrose in order to better accommodate its entire stock), Sportie is in part the brainchild of Isack Fadlon, who left his job as an attorney to manage the shop full-time, and hasn’t looked back since.

Thirty years later, Sportie LA is still going strong. Cementing its status as one of the first shoe retailers in the world to offer limited-edition sneakers, last year Sportie opened a stylish new outpost in the heart of Melrose Ave. between Fairfax and La Brea, devoted exclusively to premium and limited-edition product.

Having played an integral role in the development of the sneaker scene as we know it today, Isack Fadlon is perhaps more knowledgeable than anyone on what makes a hit sneaker. As the brand celebrates its 30th anniversary, Vamp recently chatted with the Sportie LA co-founder on past hits (and misses), and how trends continue to change.

VAMP: It’s rare for a trend-driven independent retailer to stay in business for 30 years. How has Sportie pulled it off?

Fadlon: Yes, a 30-year history as an independent retailer—especially in the sneaker world—is rare. We grew up in Los Angeles, attended Fairfax High School across from our flagship store, and we’ve nurtured Sportie LA as it’s become a part of the community. Our loyal customers embraced us in such a way that it has helped keep us who we are. Our DNA is tied to LA culture—it’s a culture that we are proud of.

VAMP: What have been some brands/styles that have remained cool from the start?

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Fadlon: Over the years, a plethora of brands have come and gone. However, there have been, as we all know, brands and styles that remained prolific and reached iconic status. The Converse All Star comes to mind (of which we had a specific wall from our nascent days), the Adidas Stan Smith (which progressed in different colors and materials), the Puma Suede (a classic that was developed in a variety of colors) and the Nike Air Max ’95. And of course, one can never leave out the Nike Air Jordan.

VAMP: Any memorable flops?

Fadlon: Hmm. Yes, but there have been flops in every industry. There was one brand (Skins) in particular that attempted to create a Skin and Bone concept, meaning the bone (or foot base) was a constant and the skin (upper) was interchangeable. The idea was unique and sparked interest right away. It was a disruptive technology. But when it came out the reception was…tempered [laughs].

VAMP: What’s trending now with your customers?

Fadlon: We are back on classic, it’s a heritage phase. Naturally, our customers always look for the newest and most progressive styles; however, there is a resurgence of the simple, classic vibe that was so prevalent in the late ’70s and early ’80s.

VAMP: Brands like Puma and Nike are both trying to target women to drive growth. Have you see any increase in female customers at your store? Are they buying more sneakers?

Fadlon: There is enormous potential for women-specific product. When we opened 30 years ago, many women would simply buy men’s styles. We now see more women-specific product. Women demanded it through their purchasing power, and brands like Puma, Nike and Adidas have responded well. We anticipate further growth in this category as well as in the children’s category. It’s heartwarming to see our customers return to us with kids of their own. They want to make sure their kids are styling just as they were and continue to be.

VAMP: What have been some highs and lows in terms of the business? How has the move to e-commerce effected Sportie LA?

Faldon: We are starting to see, in the sneaker industry and in general, more mergers and acquisitions, which leads to larger retailers and possibly fewer independents. In terms of e-commerce, it is definitely changing the game. However, we have been exploiting that for some time now. We are fortunate to be known internationally and have our global customer base grow exponentially.

VAMP: How is Sportie LA celebrating its 30th anniversary? How might you be benefiting from the increased popularity of sneakers during this milestone year?

Fadlon: Over the last 30 years, we have become experts at throwing a party. We’ve had countless launch parties for brands, for releases, for collaborations and just for fun. This year is no different, except that we will be doing more of it. We have a lot to celebrate, including decades of friendship with customers and colleagues. We are poised to continue to develop some new ideas and concepts. We are lucky to be in this industry. We wake up every morning amazed that it’s been 30 years. It still feels like yesterday that we were writing our first order and selling our first pair of sneakers