My Story — The Early Years…..The Foundation
It’s a been a long time since I updated the story of my journey in the shoe industry so thought that I would get back onto that but do so much more in depth as I believe and hope that my story is interesting and can inspire many people. I hope that you all enjoy. This is the first post of many so stay tuned!
Fundamentally, I believe that anyone can be anything that they want in this world. That there are no limits to what you can do and who you can be, that the only limits are false and lie within and often enough we become our own enemy consistently blocking ourselves from being who we truly want to be or having what we truly want to have. My story is about a kid that had a dream, a dream he believed so much that once he made his mind up there was no turning back. And I didn’t come from wealth or anything special outside of good parenting. I became who I wanted through self-belief, determination, persistence and tenacity and I want to share that with the world in the hopes to inspire others to do the same. More people should be chasing their dreams without fear of not reaching them. And I hope this story can be the first step for you in believing in your ability.
The first question is often where did the love of shoes come from? I cannot say that I can pinpoint the memory or anything of that nature but fundamentally I believe it came from the feeling of wanting to be accepted by the cool kids in school during the age of 7. You see, growing up it was all about the shoes. If you had the latest Nike’s or Reebok’s or whatever was popular at the time, you were liked. People admired you for them. It’s silly of course, but that was the way it was. So desiring that feeling of acceptance and admiration, I built a grave fondness of shoes. So grave in fact that my mom once bribed me to buy two pairs of the most expensive and latest pairs if I read some book that she wanted me to. It was so sweet because not only was she poor and they came to more than $300 in the 90’s but that it was all to try and make me smarter by getting me to read. It is easy to say that my mother is my hero.
This love only got stronger and my obsession for having them became even more maniacal as I aged through high school. By 21 years old, I must have had already 100 pairs at least. Pre 18 years of age, it was all about sneakers. But as I graduated high school and entered University I knew that I had to make a change and start wearing shoes to prepare me for my future. I believed that I needed to dress for success so changed my look from baggy jeans and clothes and sneakers, to oxfords shirts, proper trousers and dress shoes. And I did just that nearly over night. At 20 I got a job at Nordstrom (one of the largest department stores in the US) and that is where it really took off as I entered this new realm of footwear. I was at the University of Washington at the time and was majoring in Entrepreneurship with a minor in Marketing, studying to one day have my own business and be my own boss and leader. This was always my dream. And I don’t work well for others so it kind of had to be.
The reality is that my father always taught me that success was not about how much money or possessions you had but whether or not you actually enjoyed waking up each day and going to work. If you loved what you did, you were successful. Whether or not you made $10/hr or $10 million a year. It was about being happy and proud of what you did. And I wanted that. But I had aspirations of grandeur. I wanted to get rich so I knew that I had to own my company for that. And getting rich for me was not a selfish desire, it was so that I could take care of my family and never see them struggle or worry about money ever again as I saw what worrying about it can do to people and didn’t want my parents to experience that in old age. I also desperately wanted to give back to those that so selflessly helped me during my youth. And lastly I wanted to start a scholarship foundation like the Costco Foundation, the very one that put me through University and gave me that first step up in life. So needless to say, I wanted to create a company that impacted the world and that I could make a lot of money from to help me with all of my plans. So I had to think big.
At 21, being a junior in University and approaching my final year, the question of what I wanted to do was soon becoming something imminently needed to be addressed. And this is where the story takes a surprising turn. My first love was, is and has always been music. I cannot live without it. It affects all of me, from my emotions to my ability to do things. I love to be alone just to be able to listen to music all of the time and at loud volumes. It moves me, inspires me, helps me and ultimately is my first love. When alone and in public I live with my headphones on……So I said to myself, ‘I want to start a record label.’ I wanted to find and create good music to sell to the world.
At the time I had recently started working for an internship company called University of Dreams. Their goal was to place students at the internship of their dreams. The company was aligned with many great companies in both LA and NYC (where the program took place). The cost of an internship was $6000 (3 months room/board, food, travel, profit etc). If there was a company that you wanted to work for but was not on their list they promised to get something for you or your money back. I wanted in and wanted to get an internship at a major record label in Los Angeles.
So in working for them I would recruit people to sign up and in doing so would get credit towards my own internship. $6000 was a lot of money and I did not have it, nor did my mother. But my father did (but he was old school, and not a fan of university). As he never just gave me things like this for no reason but always made me work for them, he told me ‘Justin, if you pay half of it, I will pay the other half.’ I had no money to do this, but I said, ‘deal.’ So I busted my ass to try and sell as many internships as I could to get half of it paid by the company I was working for, through commission.
My superior was a guy named Chris, great guy, and he helped me a lot as I wanted to become an A&R rep (the most sought after internship in the music industry) at one of the major LA record labels. They weren’t connected to any of them so Chris had to work hard to get me an interview with one of them and managed to do so with EMI records. I had just gained enough commission to pay my half of the deal and shortly after Chris gave me the good news that EMI had accepted me for the A&R internship. My life was set and I was sooooo stoked for this. And then came the phone call that would set the pathway to my future in many ways. I called my dad asking for his half and he told me, ‘Justin, I am sorry but I cannot give it to you. Business is not well and I simply cannot sacrifice that money now. I am sorry.’ My stomach sank to my toes. I was crushed. I worked so hard to get exactly what I wanted, had other people work for me and had told someone that I would be working for them. And now I had to go and tell those people that I could not fulfill my promises.
This was the first weapon of strength that I ever received or rather, gave to myself. I was so crushed by this that it put a bad taste in my mouth for the music industry and I gave up that dream (good thing too as the internet is crushing the record labels these days). I told myself though that the next dream that I had, I would never give up at it and never fail, no matter what it took to be a success and fulfill all of my desires. —-This burning determination still flames on in my daily grind— So I asked myself, ‘well what I else do I love?’ And being that I was working for Nordstrom this was quite easy to answer. A few days later, I told myself that I would start a shoe line and sell my shoes to the whole world.
But this last statement also comes with a little more backdrop. Working at Nordstrom I was exposed to two things: 1. What stores bought wholesale to sell retail to the customers and 2. What customers chose to buy to place on their feet. Both of which I was terribly appalled by. I used to read every fashion/style mag there was back then and would see these beautiful dress shoes out of Europe and then look at our selection and ask myself, ‘why the heck do we not have any of this but rather a bunch of crap? Ecco shoes were the most popular seller which simply killed me as they are beyond disgusting with a suit and can only be acceptable as a dress shoe for someone plus +75 years of age. Yet everyone was wearing them in Seattle. And it had to stop. Plus I hated this idea that Europeans had of Americans always dressing like shit. They weren’t wrong in reality but it was not because we are not capable of dressing well but rather because of what we have available to us without travelling to Europe. Also a lack of good education. And I wanted all of that to change and for me to be the one that helped to change it. So I decided to start a shoe line that would make shoes far more beautiful than anything Nordstrom had ever seen and then sell them to not only all of the Americans but the entire world in the hopes to see men wearing better shoes.