photos by Shaie Williams

The door to Soled Out Shoes opens ahead of business hours and there’s already a positive energy in the air. Owners Fabian Salas and JonJon Lucero pack away sound equipment, fresh out of the box, having just finished recording the first episode of a new podcast. Shining new and like-new shoes line one wall in organized rows: Jordan Retros, Dunks, Boosts, Slides, Revenge X Storms, and more. Clothing racks feature designer shirts. Exotic snacks are for sale, too—including Oreo flavors from Japan—plus a blinking prize machine where customers can win new kicks. This local business feels welcoming and professional—and it was opened in 2021 by two teenagers. 

Big Shoes, Big Money

Sneakers have been a major industry since the 1970s hip-hop scene turned shoes into fashion accessories. Then came the explosive rise of Michael Jordan and Nike’s release of the Air Jordan in 1985. That’s when high-end sneakers became wardrobe staples. Collecting sneakers grew into its own subculture. Sneakerheads chase shoes new and old. 

According to Allied Market Research, sneaker sales topped $130 billion in 2021. Nike, by far the market leader, continues to offer vintage styles in classic colorways along with new designer styles. But Nike isn’t the only player in the game. Established companies like Adidas have their own must-have shoes, and smaller companies also cater to collectors, building hype with sold-out limited editions. Fans scramble to snag sneaker company collaborations with famous designers like Louis Vuitton or celebrities like Billie Eilish and Bad Bunny. The demand creates an opportunity—especially for a couple of young people willing to work hard and take a chance.

High School Hustle

JonJon Lucero is 18 years old and a recent high school graduate. Fabian Salas is 20. These Amarillo natives started their sneaker hustle while attending Caprock High School. “We used to resell off the streets back before this,” Salas says. Independently, both developed shoe-related Snapchat followings, posting photos of sought-after sneakers with the asking price. Almost every pair sold immediately.

Lucero says he’d finish the school day and start selling shoes, sometimes three to four pairs a day. Volume was high, and both had begun buying with the intent to sell. But Lucero had to be careful. “I didn’t want to buy any bricks.” In industry parlance, “bricks” are shoes that don’t sell and just take up space. “Because that’s me putting out money that I can’t really afford to lose.”

Was there a friendly rivalry between them in those days? “A little bit,” they both concede, laughing.

The two respected and competed with each other. Then they both ended up attending Sneaker Con, a convention in Dallas. A friendship started and they began hosting pop-up sales together.

Salas’s mother, Jacinta, took notice. At the rate he was making money, she worried he might be up to no good. “Every time I left my house, she checked the inside of my boxes and asked, ‘What’s in here now?’ I said, ‘Shoes. You check them!’” 

Finally, his mother told him, “If you’re making this much money selling shoes, then you need to open a store.”

Open for Business

Fabian Salas’ family already owned a building on Grand Street, with half of it occupied by Carrie’s Cakes and Cupcakes Too. The sneaker duo took over the other half. “This was actually a storage room,” Salas says. “We had to do a whole bunch of renovating.” They put in the work, from texturing the walls to installing flooring.

They shared the transformation on TikTok. They also filmed the day they signed the paperwork to make Soled Out an official business. It’s the first time either of them mentions any real challenges: their age. Lucero was just 17 at the time. “In order for me to be on anything, I had to be 18,” he says. “Fabian signed up as sole proprietor. It was a partnership in our head.” What made them trust each other that much? “Wasn’t much to lose,” Salas laughs. 

The day Lucero turned 18, they made the partnership official.

The storefront opened in June 2021. Videos show sneakerheads lining up nearly an hour before the doors opened. Customers built towers of shoes at the register, cashing out at $820, $1,600, $1,730. Salas and Lucero moved more than a hundred pairs of shoes that day. 

They still work hard to keep hot shoes in stock, focusing on quantity and networking at major sneaker conventions. Watch videos of the Soled Out Boys at sneaker conventions and a couple of things stand out. First, even the sneakerheads seem impressed by their business acumen at such a young age. And second, these young men know how to haggle. “That is something that you have to learn,” says Lucero. “My employees know how to do it now. But we had to teach them.”

“I really think you have to be broke,” says Salas, “because you got to really think about it. Back then, say I didn’t have $200, and this dude is selling shoes for $230. I’m like, ‘Man, I need to make a little bit, will you take $170?’ Even when you finally have the cash, you gotta keep that mentality.”

Sneakers as Collectibles

Sneakers represent the perfect mix of fashion, sports, practicality, and nostalgia, so of course people collect them. Like so much else, the market exploded during the pandemic, according to Lucero. “My grandpa told me, ‘You should really think about getting a job, because it’s a pandemic. Nobody’s going to want shoes. People are going to save their money.’” 

But people stuck at home found comfort in hobbies. From baseball cards to vintage cars, prices skyrocketed for anything collectible. April 2020 also saw the release of the critically-acclaimed sports documentary The Last Dance, focusing on Michael Jordan’s last season with the Chicago Bulls. Literally overnight, it drove shoe prices up. Jordan Retros started selling for $400 or $500 a pair.

“Chicagos were going for two bands plus,” says Salas. “Chicago” refers to the Air Jordan 1 in the iconic Chicago Bulls red and black, featured prominently in The Last Dance. Sneaker designs often come in multiple color schemes called colorways. Popular colorways earn nicknames. “Two bands plus” means the shoes were selling for more than $2,000 a pair. 

Modern Marketing

The owners of Soled Out consider themselves business owners but are working to become influencers. “Whenever we first started, we only recorded YouTube whenever we went to events,” Lucero says. But they saw their contemporaries leading camera crews and managing big productions. “I started thinking, these people are not only recording at events, these people are recording on a daily basis. The reason we didn’t do that was because we didn’t have a reliable cameraman. We didn’t have a reliable editor. And so I said, why don’t we just do it ourselves?”

Do customers enjoy being part of the content? “They love it,” says Salas.

“It’s a vibe when you come in here,” adds Lucero. “They want to shout themselves out. I feel like some people come in just to get tagged [on social media]. Sometimes younger kids come in that see us online. To us, we’re not famous, we’re regular people, [but] it’s cool whenever they’re asking to take pictures and stuff like that.”

They’ve created a podcast, Sold Out Unlaced, to serve as their latest platform. “The first episode is about life before the store,” Lucero says. “We talk about everything that led up to getting the store. It’s going to be about business, roadblocks that we hit and finding the way around.”

Get Your Kicks, Get Some Cash

What’s the best way for customers to find the shoes they want at Soled Out? “Come into the store in person. A lot of shoes fit different. We’d like for them to try them on and actually get a feel for them. If they don’t like one, we’ll help them find the right fit.” 

For people looking to sell shoes, Soled Out is always on the lookout for new inventory. Gone are the days where they would take any sneakers they could find. Now, they’re looking for popular shoes in new and like-new condition. “We’re mostly looking for Dunks, Yeezy Slides, Foam Runners, Jordan Retros,” says Salas.

Advice for Those Moving Up

What advice do the Soled Out Boys have for other would-be young entrepreneurs? “I think if you want to start,” says Salas, “you need to start early. Because you shouldn’t be afraid to fail.”

Lucero agrees. “No matter what you do—as long as you’re passionate about it, whether it’s the craziest thing in the world—as long as you’re 100-percent passionate about it and you believe that you can do it, nothing anybody will say should stop you.” 

Visit Soled Out’s primary location at 2128 S. Grand St., Amarillo, TX, 79103. You can find some of their most popular shoes and branded merchandise online at soledoutamarillo.com. Follow their adventures on YouTube as @thesoledoutboys and their podcast @soledoutunlaced, and find them on TikTok as @soledoutamarillo.

Never Too Soon to Give Back

Despite less than two years of business, Salas and Lucero are already re-investing in their community. They sponsor a Caprock High School program encouraging student attendance. After each six-week period, the school gives coupons to students who meet the following requirements: no more than two excused absences, no more than three tardies, and absolutely no unexcused absences. Eligible students receive a free spin on the Key Master machine (see previous page) for a chance to win prizes—a $5 value with the potential of landing them a $200-plus pair of shoes. They are also entered in a drawing to win a $300 gift certificate, enough to purchase at least one pair of designer shoes.

For Thanksgiving, the Soled Out Boys purchased and delivered meals. (Yes, they documented it on TikTok, and it included all the makings for a satisfying turkey dinner.) “This year we just wanted to help out families,” says Lucero.

Author

  • Ryan McSwain

    Ryan is the author of the horror thriller Monsters All the Way Down and the superhero meta fantasy Four Color Bleed. Alongside his fiction, he’s written for all the best industries in Texas. With his wife and two children, he’s happy to call Amarillo home. You can find him at ryanmcswain.com.

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