No sidestepping fame: Houston sneaker head knows how to restore vintage kicks
Published 11:11 am, Wednesday, November 29, 2017
José Bustamante's first taste of love came in 2009. It was with a pair of "Hare" Jordan 1, a sneaker that remixed Michael Jordan's popular brand with a Bugs Bunny logo.
As is often the case with first loves, Bustamante admits the feelings were a bit naive, but the heart wants what the heart wants. It was his first step toward becoming a serious sneaker head.
During his time at Reagan High School, Bustamante learned from friends what it meant to be obsessed with sneakers. When he got around to buying his first pair of rare kicks, it was from a friend in gym class. He copped a pair of 2006 fire red Air Jordan V that were in miserable shape. Those sneakers cost him only $15, but his experiment with bringing them back to glory put him on this path to becoming a sneaker-community darling known for his YouTube videos detailing how he restores dilapidated kicks.
This Sunday Bustamante will be at the H-Town Sneaker Summit, a biannual convention of local sneaker enthusiasts who commune at the Bayou City Event Center.
He films his process of taking apart and reassembling rare sneakers against the backdrop of Houston, cutting between shots of the shoes and the downtown skyline.
"I try to make Houston look larger than life in my videos," Bustamante says.
Today, it's not uncommon for Bustamante to drop $1,500 on a pair of sneakers, using money generated from his RetroSnickers video channel.
H-Town Sneaker Summit
When: 3 p.m. Sunday
Where: Bayou City Event Center, 9401 Knight
In 2015, an instructional video he made for bringing a pair of grape 1990 Jordan 5 back from the brink landed him a write-up on GQ's website. And that wasn't even one of his videos that garnered more than 1 million views. He has a few of those already. His most-watched video - reaching over 4 million views - featured restoration of a different pair of Air Jordans. But ask Bustamante and he likes to let you know he's more than just a sneaker head with a camera.
"My passion, the foundation of it lies in YouTube, just creating videos in general. I just fell in love with editing and taking photos. It's something I did on a regular basis," says Bustamante, 19.
There isn't a magic formula for why many of his sneaker videos go viral. It's a mix of connecting visual cues - from the use of rare sneakers, a colorway that people love, a thumbnail for the video that pops out and is inviting to click. Those are some of the reasons, he says, that his videos get on thousands of screens.
By the time he was just 16, Bustamante had 6 million views on his RetroSnickers channel.
"It takes discipline, bro, to hit those numbers," the Height-area resident says. It's a daily grind of planning, and shooting and getting sneakers to restore. Some of the sneakers come from fans. Others he gets from friends or purchases on eBay.
Bustamante outsources the audio production, but adds a soundtrack powered by his own beat-making and local hip-hop performers.
"When I find great songs I play them. When it comes down to playing rap, I specifically play a lot of Houston rappers. I personally enjoy the music, but it's also music that I won't have an issue playing," he says.
Just focusing on sneakers may be losing its charm, Bustamante says. He'll be 20 soon and has been putting his all into his video channel since he was a teen. He feels an urge to grow up.
"Yeah, I am the shoe dude, but I love the music, I love the editing," he says. "There's a lot of passions that goes into it. I want to stay doing the same thing, but I want to add other things on top of it."