RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
Christian Kai Luke shows pairs of cement-print Nike Dunk SB Low Supremes and Nike Amare Stoudemire Player Exclusives, available in The Back Room at The Candy Shop. The pristine, collectible kicks are wrapped in plastic to protect them from the wear of handling. CLICK FOR LARGE
A different kind of retailing
THE LAST THING Christian Kai Luke wants to do is talk about business as usual. As far as he's concerned, he's not just selling vintage and hard-to-get, limited-edition kicks, but selling ideas: people power, community, freedom and possibilities.
Over the past few years, there's been an undercurrent of a revolution in the retail industry, and Luke is just the sort of person who lies awake late at night thinking about those changes, human aspirations and their implications.
As project manager and one of five core members of The Street Society who've recently introduced vintage and collectible footwear to The Back Room at The Candy Shop, Luke can fill your ears about the many styles on display -- cement-print Nike Dunk SB Low Supremes or 1984 Nike Money Cat kicks in gold and red, imprinted inside with a maneki neko image. But the kicks are just a small part of his vision, which includes selling people on intangibles like environmental responsibility and the sort of human networking that allows dreams to come true.
His own network encompasses shoe aficionados whose collections date back 20 to 25 years.
"We're able to bring in a wide variety of shoes that have been sold out, from collectors all over the world -- New York, California, Europe and Japan. These are serious collectors who know Hawaii has a big market for this."
PERSON-TO-PERSON shopping became a reality with the rise of the Internet, which opened consumers' eyes to treasures hidden in individuals' closets around the world. It permanently changed the way people shop, giving them the power to opt out of traditonal retail outlets and even choose their own price ... if they have patience for the hunt.
"The consumer market now is an indulgent market," Luke said. "Our parents and grandparents were more straightforward. They never questioned, they never went searching for anything beyond what retailers had to offer. Now, people will do whatever it takes to get what they want. They no longer have to settle for what's in the stores now.
"People are being smarter with their money. That's why I think we have to be able to work with consumers better and find out what they want. I like knowing we can provide something someone really wants, not just because it's some impulse buy.
"We're also helping to put money back into consumers' pockets through consignment. They buy from us too, so they're double-edged clients."
Luke remembers his first shoe crush in 1991 and the feeling of unrequited lust when his grandmother squelched his desire for a pair of white-and-infrared Jordan 6s.
"SHE SAID, 'You're gonna get the Reeboks,' and I was, like, 'Oh, man.'
"It was probably $100, and that was a lot of money back then," he said. "Everyone, not just collectors, have stories like that, about things they remember that take them back to another time. Every time I see those shoes now they remind me of my grandmother. She's gone now, but I love her. I moved in with her when she had Alzheimer's and it was one of the best times of my life when I could take care of her.
"Now, I think if she had bought me those shoes, maybe I wouldn't be doing this. Maybe I wouldn't have had that motivation, that passion from never having gotten those shoes. I see it now, and I appreciate it now."
He said he wouldn't want those shoes today because they were made of a foam that would deteriorate in Hawaii's humidity.
"Some people just collect shoes to have them, but to me, there's no point of having them if you can't wear them."
He now sports a pair of 1993 Nike Air Raid IIs bearing a tribal design by movie director Spike Lee created, which came out after the release of "Malcolm X." Luke likes the messages on the shoes, including the peace symbol on its strap and the slogan "Play Together" on one shoe, "Live Together" on the other.
"Right there, that says it all."