Interview with Dominic Ciambrone
Bryam Villacres Pictures
Let’s start at the very beginning. Can you introduce yourself?
My name is Jaysse Lopez and I’m from Perth Amboy, New Jersey. Puerto Rican descent. Section 8 boy. And I didn’t know we were poor. I was having too much fun, you know what I mean? [Those weren’t] things you focused on when you were a kid. I’m, like, the modern-day Al Bundy, sneaker version.
You said modern day Al Bundy.
So, like, I have my own Peg, she’s hot. She cooks, unlike Peg. She reminds me that I’m not [special] every day and always has something really witty and sarcastic to say to me. I go to work and try to sell shoes. I like to sell shoes and I have a lot of sarcasm. And instead of going to Polk High and scoring three touchdowns in one game, I started with a shoe and $40.
What was your start in collecting like?
My first pair of real sneakers was in 1990 when the Air Max 90s came out. The first sneaker that I saw a fucking ad that I was like, “Oh shit, I need this, mom, I need this” was the Air Max 90 Infrared. They were $110 back then. My mom worked in a warehouse for $2.34 an hour. She put them aside. When she took them out, they weren’t even my size anymore. I broke out of them. Damn, I wore them until the midsoles burst, mate.
So you had toes that were dragging?
Yeah. I tore them. Of course I tore them up, but that’s all I had. Then in high school, my mom remarried and I had a pretty cool stepdad. He was always trying to motivate me. He knew I was a fucking mark, like most kids, especially when you don’t give a fuck. So he was like, “Okay, if you get A’s, I’ll buy you some shoes.” He didn’t really buy me too many shoes since I never really got an A, but when he bought me shoes, I hated that everyone was going for the same shit, which was Jordans. So I passed up Jordan Playoff 8s for Derrick Coleman British Knights, you know what I mean? I missed a few good ones. I’ve let a few slip by where even now I’m like, “What the fuck was I thinking?”
Well, that’s the thing. You just wanted shoes to wear and stand out.
Yeah. It was never with the intent of “Yo, this will be worth something.” Once I finally got a job and was buying sneakers but still living at home, I remember saying to my mom, like, “Yo, I’m hungry.” She’d be like, “Oh, well, why don’t you eat those sneakers you just bought?”
When did you open the store?
September 17, 2014.
It’s been eight years. So how did Urban Necessities come together?
Ten years ago, I lost my job. I met a girl. I told him that I love sneakers and that I thought I could sell shoes until I found another job. I submitted over a hundred applications. I was either overqualified or underqualified for the shit I applied for. I was kicked out of my apartment because I live beyond my means like most people. Six months later, I started selling shoes. The Area 72 Barkley Posites was the first shoe I sold, intending to buy three so I could sell two, keep one.
Joanie gave me some cash and we bought 18 and returned 17 for, like, $200 profit. And she said, “I think you’re onto something.” I never really made a fucking dollar, but I was building a brand. Inadvertently. I approached Boulevard Mall about hosting a trade show, and they said, “You should open a store.” And I’m like, ‘I don’t even have a pot to pee in. I don’t think I could generate enough in the long run to open a store.’ So they made me a special offer.
I opened in a hallway that had been closed for five years in a store that had been closed for seven years. But it worked. It’s been eight years since something started with $40, and so far it’s had sales of nearly $130 million.
I think what you’ve done is a very unique model. You don’t consider your store a resale store. It’s a brand—Urban Necessities is a brand. What made you move to Vegas in the first place?
My daughter’s mom moved here and my mom was like, “Yo, you gotta be closer to your kid.” So I tried to make it work. For my first six months, I was homeless. I slept in parks, ate in garbage cans, begged and sold bottled water. I showered in the fountains in front of Caesars, now I have a store at Caesars.
It’s crazy. This story shows how you can transform your life. If you have a dream, you can pursue it.
Yes my guy. It took me a while to realize that I just had to be consistent. As long as I constantly put effort into all the bullshit I didn’t want to do, sooner or later they could sort themselves out too.
I think consistency is what drives true success. I had to do the same shoe over and over again and I hated it, but guess what? It created a name and a staple and that’s what you have to do sometimes.
If we were to compare my life to the life of Forrest Gump, where I stand right now is when he’s about to run for the first time, even though he’s wearing braces.
This is Inked, so let’s get to talking about tattoos. You have some of the craziest tattoo pieces I have seen on anyone. What was your first tattoo?
I went the stereotypical route of getting Asian writing that probably doesn’t even say what I think it says.
It’s probably covered now.
Yeah. I have a Cantonese script that is supposed to say, “Awaken the spirit and never let it settle in one place”, but I’m pretty sure it says something more like, “I love fucking Double Quarter Pounders with cheese from McDonald’s” or shit.
How old were you?
Seventeen. My dad is super old school, right? And he’s always been a crazy anti-tattoo guy. So he said, “What’s that on your arm?” And I had to tell him that my arm got stuck in the bottom of a hot pan and that’s the brand name.
Are you serious?
I am very serious. And then my second time was a Grim Reaper. I told him I went back and took a portrait of him, and showed him the grim reaper. He was furious. I had a unique relationship with my dad when I was a kid, you know? My father is a full Puerto Rican. He didn’t go to school, he had, like, a third grade education; probably the hardest working person I’ve ever seen, man.
Alright, we have to end with one last sneaker question: if you could make one, what would it be?
A low Jordan 3.
We still have to do that.
I don’t know if the world will be ready for big and small Puerto Ricans designing shoes.