When you start collecting sneakers in fourth grade and literally own a pair for every day of the year by the time you graduate high school, it seems like a natural next step to open your own sneaker boutique. But that wasn’t always the dream for Rosewood San Diego creator Dante Rowley.
After graduating from college, Rowley had plans to create his own art gallery, but needed a way to make money while getting it off the ground. He found a spot in the East Village of San Diego in 2013, and began selling his own collection of sneakers alongside works of art from a rotating roster of street artists. Before long, fellow sneakerheads started bringing him shoes to sell, too. “It took off and we were like, ‘This is more of shoe store than an art gallery.’ And that’s basically how the business started,” Rowley said.
Though he still displays work from new artists every couple of months—such as Justin West, who produces album and music video art for rapper A$AP Rocky—sneakers are now the focal point at the small downtown boutique, which carries both new and consignment styles. And thanks to a burgeoning sneaker market, business is only getting stronger. “All walks of life come in here and buy limited-edition sneakers now,” he said. “We have whole families come in and buy NMDs.”
Rowley said the store experienced one of its best first quarters in history this year, thanks to the closing of a nearby rival’s store and an uptick of influencer social media posts that resulted in word-of-mouth buzz. However, some styles and brands are having more success than others, with Nike slipping in popularity and Adidas gaining a bigger following, Rowley said.
Adidas NMDs and Ultraboosts are some of the shop’s best-sellers, while Rowley can hardly keep Yeezys on the shelf these days. “We bank on selling Yeezys every week to pay for most of our stuff, because they’re the most expensive shoes we have,” he said. At Rosewood, the Yeezy 350 v2 sells for around $650, while the v1 goes for $1,000 and the high-top 750s sell for as much as $1,300. The Adidas Y-3 and Nike’s self-lacing HyperAdapt are also admired by customers, but are much more expensive and don’t sell as often, Rowley said.
Though Rowley and some consignment sellers stand to make big bucks from offering these styles—Rosewood gets 20 percent of the final sale price and can mark shoes up as high as 70 to 80 percent when purchased from wholesalers—he said the typical price range for a sneaker is around $250. “A lot of stuff we sell would be sold out in regular stores or they wouldn’t have seen the style for years,” Rowley said. “Customers will come in here, maybe pay $100 or $200 extra, and get a pair they won’t see anyone else wearing on the street.”
Appealing primarily to the 16-to-30-year-old male crowd, Rowley said the majority of Rosewood shoppers and sellers are repeat customers, with some sellers bringing in as many as 50 or 60 pairs each month. “They’ll go find all the shoes and make it so it’s sold out everywhere else,” he said. “They do the work for us.” As for the store’s shoppers, Rowley said many of them call or message the store every day to find out what’s new in the shop.
Though it does offer a handful of styles that are popular on the East Coast—Air Force Ones, for example—the shop’s assortment consists primarily of more laid-back, West Coast sneaker styles. “Over here, everything is pretty minimal, so that’s why Vans and Chucks are really big,” Rowley said. “The NMDs and Ultraboost are really light and low cut, so you can wear them with shorts.” Lightweight materials like Nike’s Flyknit also sell well, along with a range of athletic shoes. “San Diego has a big workout culture, so there’s a lot of running shoes that are seen here,” Rowley said.
Another culture that has a sizeable influence on the type of sneakers shoppers are buying: popular culture. That’s because younger kids are looking to rappers, athletes and other celebrities to see what sneakers are on trend, then buying accordingly. “When younger kids like it, then you have people my age who kind of emulate that,” Rowley said. “It’s almost the effect of what Jay-Z does. He’s older, but he takes all these younger rappers’ styles and uses them for his own. And that’s kind of what you have to do with sneakers now, too.”