Logan Leonardson once spent a week camped out in line to buy a pair of Nike Air Yeezy 2 sneakers that rapper Kanye West, also known as "Yeezy," helped design.
"There were 14 people ahead of me," Leonardson remembers. "I paid $250, which is what Nike charged for it. It was immediately worth about $2,500."
Leonardson is a "sneakerhead," or connoisseur of sneakers. Ditto for his business partner, Russell Barfield. About two months ago the duo opened Scout Boutique, a men's clothing and footwear store at 1428 Williams St. in Chattanooga's hip Southside neighborhood.
The wares, displayed on a few widely spaced tables and racks around the 1,000-square-foot store, include hoodies "hand-crafted" in Canada by Reigning Champ that cost $135; Danner-brand suede leather hiking boots from Portland, Oregan, for $360; and "raw denim" blue jeans made by The Unbranded Brand — a relative bargain at $82 a pair.
"We're trying to offer a curated selection of street wear," Barfield says. "This style has influences from everywhere: indie, hip hop, skatewear. Street wear is probably the easiest term for it."
Their target market is 20-something, creative professionals who previously had to travel to Atlanta or Nashville to find just the right look.
Barfield, who's from Oregon, and Leonardson, who's from Idaho, met out West. They decided to open their store here partly because Chattanooga is Barfield's wife's hometown. They also thought Chattanooga lacked what Scout Boutique offers.
"We've had numerous people say this is the first time I've bought clothes in Chattanooga since seventh grade," Leonardson says.
The duo got investments from friends and family to fund their business and advice from the Company Lab, a Chattanooga nonprofit organization that helps start-up businesses.
While $150 may sound like a lot for a hoodie, Barfield, who has a master's degree in textiles from North Carolina State University, says it's a quality product with triple-stitching and a terry loop weave, not a fleece lining.
People will pay a premium for well-known brands such as North Face, he says. Part of what Scout Boutique's owners plan to do is educate customers about the value of the brands they carry.
"We have to provide the information to the people," Barfield says.
The store's hoodies sold out, even though all of Scout's business has been word-of-mouth. The only marketing Scout does is free, via the photo-sharing social media site Instagram.
'Can't be sold in malls'
Sneakers, of course, are for sale at Scout Boutique. The offerings include a row of colorful, limited-edition Saucony shoes, an American brand founded in 1898 on the banks of Saucony (pronounced "sock a knee") Creek in Kutztown, Pennsylvania.
"These actually can't be sold in malls," Leonardson says. "Saucony won't allow it."
Releasing limited editions is a strategy that shoemakers use to create a buzz about their brands, Scout's owners say.
"The shoemakers have it down to a science," Barfield says.
"You have 50,000 people wanting a shoe and they only [offer] 1,000 of them," Leonardson says.
Shoemakers benefit from the media attention and social media "buzz" when sneakerheads line up outside stores — along with buyers who want to turn a quick buck by selling desirable sneakers on the resale market, which is big.
Sneakerhead websites track the going price for sneakers. Campless.com, for example, says it analyzes the price that some 1,700 different kinds of sneakers have sold for on more than 23 million Ebay auctions, and it ranks sneakers by desirability using a proprietary algorithm.
Leonardson and Barfield hope someday that a shoemaker will offer a limited release sneaker at Scout Boutique. Their store's clean, minimalist look should help, they think.
The white interior has a few touches that "pop," including a large yellow triangle painted on a floor that stretches up one wall. Wooden paint stirring sticks — the kind that hardware stores give away when you buy a gallon of paint — decorate another wall near the iPad used as a cash register.
Customers have remarked that Scout Boutique reminds them of shops in trendy neighborhoods around the world, including SoHo, in lower Manhattan, and Hackney, in London.
A store's "vibe" is what convinces a shoemaker to choose a clothing boutique for a limited shoe release, Leonardson says — not sales figures.
"You could talk numbers with them all day," he says. "They're like, 'What's your store look like?'"