How a Little Tokyo Store Changed the Game for L.A.'s Sneakerheads
For just over 10 years, RIF L.A. has been a Los Angeles destination for sneakerheads and collectors around the world. Since the owners of L.A. Avenue in the Harajuku neighborhood of Tokyo brought their sneaker and streetwear consignment business model across the Pacific in 2006, fans, collectors and resellers have flocked to the store for everything from rare Air Jordans and Yeezys to clothing pieces and accessories from coveted streetwear brands such as Supreme and A Bathing Ape.
“It just kind of started a whole movement of consignment sneaker shopping in L.A.,” says RIF’s unofficial general manager, Connor Tapley. “It’s not an uncommon thing at all in Japan. There are secondhand stores and consignment stores for pretty much anything that’s vintage and cool.”
After contributing its Japanese consignment culture with two shops in L.A., RIF — whose name comes from the name “ReInForce,” created by one of the original managers — decided to branch out to Orange County and San Francisco. Charged with getting both shops off the ground, Tapley began to realize what it was that had helped make RIF successful in the first place. Sure, the ability to buy nearly unobtainable shoes (at extreme prices) drew some people in, but it wasn’t just the blooming streetwear scene in Little Tokyo that helped grow the business in its early days.
“When you look at Little Tokyo back in ’06 when we opened, places were just starting to open up there, but there was already a great food scene,” Tapley says. “I really do believe a lot of those really good food places influenced our company directly and indirectly. This whole industry of streetwear and sneakers, there are a lot of other industries like food and fashion in general that go along with it. I’ve been to restaurants where they have Supreme [skateboard] decks in the window. Everything’s like a melting pot.”
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These days, Tapley gets a little bit of an outsider’s perspective on the world-class sneaker culture going on all over Los Angeles. Since he recently moved up to the Bay Area to watch over RIF SF, there aren’t as many Yeezy Boost 350s walking around each mall or Bape full-zip hoodies sitting in every coffee shop. While it was less of a culture shock than moving to some small Midwestern town, Tapley was reminded just how different life is in the streetwear epicenter of the West Coast.
“In L.A., you don’t really get the sense that you’re from the outside looking in or the inside looking out, you’re just in the dead center of it and looking around,” Tapley says. “When you leave that, it really hits home how important and crucial it is to the culture. There are all these people in all these places and small towns all over the world who are into shoes on some level, and I think the main thing is they don’t have access to buy them for retail. There are so many people who are going to be seeing these things for the first time in person, and it’s really good to be able to provide a platform to show and inform them about these things that they might know nothing about but like the aesthetic of.”
Of course, with the wonders of the internet and social media, all of those small-town sneakerheads get a much larger dose of the culture than they would have even a handful of years ago. Seeing as RIF has been in the game since you needed a college email address to use Facebook, Tapley and his crew have seen style trends come and go. From Air Force Ones and Nike SB to Roshe Runs and anything Kanye touches, the folks at RIF haven’t just been selling shoes, they’ve been analyzing the entire market.
“I think the most interesting thing about it is watching the trends change every year,” Tapley says. “In 2012 and 2013, a lot of people were getting into Nike running shoes. I think by that becoming a big thing, everyone’s shifting more toward the technical side of things, which is what let Adidas come in with their new style of running shoe and offer a whole new spinoff of it. It’s interesting seeing those trends of what people want to buy and why they want to buy it.”
Tapley recalls back in 2012 when RIF opened its second L.A. location — the aptly titled RIFDOS — to put more of an emphasis on the clothing side of things. As much as sneaker trends change and smaller streetwear brands come and go, skating brand-turned-streetwear powerhouse Supreme is the one constant year after year. Customers are willing to pay exorbitant amounts of money for T-shirts, hoodies and accessories decorated with Supreme’s iconic red-box logo, and even the market price on those $30 T-shirts and $150 hoodies has jumped from the $200 to $400 range a few years ago to costing nearly a grand each sometimes.
“With a lot of the Supreme stuff, some of the clothing has just gone up by exponential amounts,” Tapley says. “It’s crazy to see how the prices get inflated and then they just stay. When people get into this stuff — whether it’s Supreme or shoes or whatever — wherever the market is when they get into it is the only point of reference they have. A [Supreme] box logo hoodie is $750 to them, but to me it was $300 only two years ago. The prices go up, but the demand goes up with it. People come in and they don’t care how much it costs, they just want the box logo or the Yeezys or whatever it is.”
Ultimately, veteran collectors and novices don’t choose to spend their cash at RIF just because of the brand names. Those precious box-logo hoodies and Yeezy Boosts often can be found for a bit less if you know where to look on social media and eBay. RIF not only legitimizes the shopping experience — effectively guaranteeing you won’t end up getting scammed with fake shoes — it also gives people a sense of community within a subculture that can seem cold and narcissistic online.
“It’s all about the experience,” Tapley says. “People want to be able to walk in somewhere and touch it, feel it, look at it, try it on and interact with people about it. It’s not uncommon for someone to walk into RIF and already know someone else because they camped out with them. We hear these crazy stories and coincidences because it’s so niche, but it’s also such a vast culture.”
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