Inked Mag Staff
October 12th, 2022
The Ultimate Connect
The founder of Urban Necessities shares how he built an empire from $40 and a dream.
Interview by Dominic Ciambrone
Photos by Bryam Villacres
Let’s start from 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 the modern-day Al Bundy.
So, like, I have my own Peg, she’s hot. She cooks, unlike Peg. She reminds me I ain’t [special] every day and always has something really witty and snarky to say to me. I go to work and I try to sell shoes. I enjoy selling 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 one shoe and $40.
What were your early days of collecting like?
My first pair of real sneakers, it was in 1990 when the Air Max 90s came out. The first sneaker I saw a fuckin’ commercial for that I was like, “Oh shit, I need that, mom, I need that,” was the Air Max 90 Infrared. They were $110 back then. My mother was working at a warehouse for $2.34 an hour. She put ’em on layaway. By the time she got ’em out, they weren’t even my size any more. I burst out of them. I fuckin’ wore them shits ’til the midsoles popped, bro.
So you had your toes hanging out?
Yeah. I ripped through ’em. I for sure ripped through ’em, but that’s all I had. Then in high school, my mother remarried and I had a pretty cool stepdad. He was always trying to incentivize me. He knew I was a name-brand whore, like most kids, especially when you don’t have shit. So he’d be like, “Alright, if you get A’s, I’ll fuckin’ buy you shoes.” He didn’t really buy me too many shoes since I never really got A’s, but when he was buying me shoes, I hated the fact that everybody went for the same shit, which was Jordans. So I passed up Jordan Playoff 8s for Derrick Coleman British Knights, you know what I’m saying? I passed up a few good ones. I passed up some ones 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 intention of, “Yo, these are going to be worth something.” Once I finally got a job and I was buying sneakers but I was still living at home, I remember telling my mom, like, “Yo, I’m hungry.” She’d be like, “Oh, well, why don’t you fuckin’ eat the 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 her I’m into sneakers and that I think I could sell shoes until I find another job. I put in over a hundred applications. I was either overqualified or underqualified for the shit that I applied for. I got evicted out of my apartment because I’m fuckin’ living beyond my means like most people. Six months later, I started selling shoes. The Area 72 Barkley Posites was the first shoe I sold, with the intention of buying three so I could sell two, keep one.
Joanie gave me a little bit of money and we bought 18 and we flipped 17 for, like, $200 profit. And she’s like, “I think you’re onto something.” I never really made a fuckin’ dollar, but I was building a brand. Inadvertently. I approached Boulevard Mall about doing a trade show, and they were like, “You should open a store.” And I’m like, “I don’t even have a pot to piss in. I don’t think I could generate enough in the long term to open a store.” So they gave me a sweetheart deal.
I opened in a hallway that’d been closed for five years in a store that’d been closed for seven years. But it worked. Now it’s been fuckin’ eight years of something that started with 40 bucks, and at this point it’s done almost $130 million in sales.
I think what you’ve done is a very unique model. You don’t look at your store as a resale store. It’s a brand—Urban Necessities is a brand. What made you move out to Vegas in the first place?
My daughter’s mom moved out here and my mother 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 out of trash cans, panhandled and sold bottles of water. I showered in the fountains in front of Caesars, now I got a store in Caesars.
That’s crazy. That story shows how you can turn your life around. If you have a dream, you can go after it.
Yeah, man. It took me a while to realize I just had to be consistent. As long as I consistently gave effort to all the shit I didn’t want to do, sooner or later it would be able to stand on its own, too.
I think consistency is what drives true success. I’ve had to do the same shoe over and over and I fucking hated it, but guess what? It created a name and a staple and that’s what you have to do sometimes.
If we were comparing my life to the life of Forrest Gump, where I’m standing right now is when he’s about to take off running for the first time, even though he’s got the braces on.
This is Inked, so let’s transition to talking about tattoos. You’ve got some of the craziest tattoo pieces I’ve actually seen on someone. What was your first tattoo?
I went the stereotypical route of getting some Asian writing that probably doesn’t even say what I think it says.
That’s probably covered now.
Yeah. I got Cantonese writing that is supposed to say, “Arouse the mind and never let it settle in one place,” but I’m pretty sure it says something more like, “I love fuckin’ Double Quarter Pounders with cheese from McDonald’s” or some shit.
How old were you?
Seventeen. My dad is super old school, right? And he’s always been mad anti-tattoos. So he was like, “What the hell is that on your arm?” And I had to tell him that my arm got stuck on the bottom of a hot frying pan and that’s the name of the brand.
Are you serious?
I’m dead serious. And then my second time was a Grim Reaper. I told him I went back and got a portrait of him, and I showed him the Grim Reaper. He was pissed. I had a unique relationship with my dad when I was a kid, you know? My dad’s full-blown 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.
All right, we have to close with one last sneaker question—if you could make one sneaker, what would it be?
A Jordan 3 low.
We still gotta do that.
I don’t know if the world will be ready for short, fat, Puerto Rican guys designing shoes.
Inspired by Japanese culture and anime, MimiSama combines old school methods with modern technology in her unique style of tattooing
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