Eleanor Hespe of Sneaker63 talks Starting out in the sneaker trade, challenges of juggling a family and business! #URBusiness #URFashion
Listen back to Eleanors Hespe’s interview with Jasper Hopkins on the Unity Radio Breakfast show here:
Unity Radio Creative Director, Jon Green also caught up with Ellie Hespe; Co-owner and director of Sneaker63 and the business partner of late Husband, Dominic Hespe, local Hip Hop entrepreneur and co-founder of Sneaker63 consigner store, 63 Faulkner Street, Manchester.
JG – ‘So Ellie, firstly, before we start, just wanted to say thank you so much for the support you provided the Manchester Hip Hop Archive – a project that celebrates Manchester’s Hip Hop Music, Graffiti, Fashion, and Breakdance community which Unity Radio delivered recently, culminating in an inaugural exhibition at Manchester Central Library celebrating 40 years of Manchester’s Hip Hop Community’.
‘ It was great to see Sneaker63 involved and I know something that was important to Dominic. Before we get started on finding out a little bit more about yourself and your own work, can you share why the MHHA was a project that you got involved with?’
EH – ‘Dom and I are rooted in Manchester. Although Dominic was originally from Sheffield, he made his home here in Manchester. ‘Dominic and I were brought together by our shared love of Hip Hop and the culture. We just clicked. The whole culture was in his blood. He was into graffiti from a very young age. In fact, he took our sons to tag up an old wreck in the year before he passed. It was just for fun really, but a lasting tribute to them. His tag is everywhere, in every notebook and colouring book we own haha. Tagging helped him think and not think if that makes sense?’
JG- ‘ Sheffield has always produced GOAT’s, it connected a lot of writers in the North. Writers such as MIST1 pushed the culture hard in Sheff so makes sense he picked up that tagging bug’
EH – ‘When we first met he used to rap all the Biggie lyrics to me and I was his…. haha. We both loved music and fashion. He used to tell of his younger days when he managed to smuggle a Snoop Dog album on to his walkman. When his dad walked into his room, he commented on how nice it was to hear him singing. This album was later confiscated when his Dad hit the play button’.
‘Dominic had a heart of gold and would go out of his way to help anyone. Before we met, he would spend a lot of time in the Adidas factory in Stockport picking up “steals” and I remember when we first moved in together carting so many boxes of unworn shoes with us. I encouraged him to sell some of them, which is where it all started really’.
‘We were both so excited to be a part of MHHA. Hip Hop was such a huge part of our lives to be a part of bringing so much history and culture to Manchester, a city we are already so proud of was an honour. An exciting opportunity to celebrate and acknowledge the Manchester contribution, to show respect and pay homage to those who have contributed to our youth and laid down some love.’
‘Dominic loved bringing his children up here, he loved that so many cultures came together to help and look after one another. Our favourite food spot is an Afghan place in Rusholme. He had friends from so many cultures and what he loved about them and what they loved about him was his good heart and kindness to all. He was a family man who never let a friend down’.
JG – ‘Well, you guys did a lot for the archive, helping get the project over the line to bring together hundreds of people from 5 generations of the Manchester scene together’. From RuthlessRapAssassins, Street Machine and Broken Glass through to Children of Zeus, Meekz, Aitch and IamDDB. A community now connected and a story to be told globally’. ‘It’s appreciated’ ‘Respect.’
EH – ‘Anyone who knew Dominic knew he loved fashion. He was 6.4 with hair that meant he towered above you and he dressed to impress. He was, in my opinion, a fashion icon. He could pull off swag and he knew it. That took confidence. Dominic had that because he believed in himself and he believed in others. But despite this, Dominic was humble, he related to the streets because in his early days they made him. Of course, combine this background with my own and we have a story that takes up space. A mixed-race black girl brought up by a single parent on a council estate , Dom and I were driven, worked hard, played hard, worked more.
JG – ‘So Ellie, I understand that, a little like myself, you work in the background, so people won’t really know your face or your own history in the sneaker game. Certainly, your journey is an inspiration to a lot of other children growing up on the estates, and as you know at Unity Radio, we support young people across Greater Manchester to improve self-belief, so can you tell us where it all started for you, and how it led to you eventually opening a store’.
EH – ‘Indeed, Dominic had always been in sneakers. A big part of his life. I however, became interested when I needed to sell Dominic’s unworn piles of shoes haha. I set up Ebay in 2011 and started seeing that these items were selling.
EH – ‘Dom and I were trying to find our way like so many in the straight and narrow with 2 kids. Dom has a 3rd child, our lovely Daniella, from a previous relationship. It was Dominic’s birthday and he wanted a new Air Max. I saved up and got them for him. By chance, I checked the going rate for them and couldn’t believe these shoes could resell at a profit.
‘That was it, we started in the game’
EH – ‘It was exciting and chaos Dominic would try and school young people so they could make money, but we had to work hard, queue at night. I would spend my days calling stores to find out when, where, how new pairs were dropping and Dominic and I would turn up or Dom would drive across country. Dominic felt like he was a kid again hustling. We had a kerching sound on our eBay every time we sold shoes, the beautiful sound of providing for our kids. ‘Lover of Soles’ was our partnership.’We knew we had to branch out. I’m not joking but I was the brains and the beauty of the partnership But Dominic could network, build contacts, he was a remarkable communicator and he had a way of commanding respect and love. If you knew Dominic and your reading this you will know what I mean.’
EH -‘I remember turning up to my first sneaker event. I was directed to the fashion area. I remember looking bemused and saying nope I’m a reseller, and carrying my laundry bags stacked with heat to our table in the main selling arena. Sometimes I did feel that it was a very male-dominated place. Sometimes I wasn’t taken seriously in my own right, which is why I sometimes took side steps at events. I was more comfortable doing deals over messages or text where my sales wouldn’t look like flirting, haha.’
EH – ‘By 2014 we had two sons under 2. Going back to an office looked impossible with day-carefees at over £2000 per month. So Dom and I stepped out in faith and became full-time resellers. Juggling two young boys and a busy job that was 24 hours.
EH – ‘We were selling worldwide, speaking to clients from France to the US to Hong Kong. Some of our clients include the players from the French and Belgium football teams. Late-night messages and blurry-eyed deals being done with 2 young ones in toe. Dominic and I were a proper team. He was a very hands-on Dad. He would have done anything for us. He was so proud of us as a family.’
EH – More and more women are becoming self-employed due to the demands of working life in an office and home life being incompatible. The cost of childcare means that many women are priced out of working. Many women I have worked alongside in the office have said they take home close £10 per week after travel and childcare costs. In this respect, I would love to work with more women entrepreneurs and creatives to really empower and encourage them to realise their dreams and potential. If you fit this description please get in touch’.
JG – ‘Respect to you Ellie, I think a lot of women need more strong women business role models like yourself and its amazing to hear about the networks love been building behind the scenes, really looking forward to seeing you drop it. I know this, business is about risk for reward so what’s the craziest lengths you have gone to to get sneakers and what is the highest price that someone has paid ??
EH – In 2017, a client contacted us about the Chanel X Pharrell Williams Adidas Human Race. There was a limited release and only 500 pairs were made. I scoured the internet for the size needed but couldn’t find it anywhere. Then I found a seller via klekt but I was way more than I wanted to pay. So I searched for him on social media platforms with very little information. I knew he was in France and his first name. I finally hunted him on Facebook. Messaged him and he still had them. We made a deal and the next day Dominic was on a flight to Paris. It was a high-adrenaline cash deal. Dominic was sweating, the seller was sweating. I was on the line sweating while we scrutinised every inch of the £7000 pair and scrutinised the seller, his story, his credit card, ID and receipt. Not long and the deal was done. Dominic got a flight back to Manchester and the next day he was driving to London to meet our client. We sold them for over £10,000. It was high stakes, exciting. Dominic even brought me some expensive Parisian chocolates from the airport haha.
JG – That’s a lot of money to part with. I understand there is a lot of fear about fake sneakers being imported. What should people look at for to tell if they are kosher ?
EH ‘The fear of fakes is real. The thing is, the only way to ensure your products are legit is by your source. Me and Dominic worked hard for 10 years to build our reputation. We never had a question about our legitimacy. We built strong foundations. That’s what we insisted on, that is what we brought to S63. We had something that couldn’t be doubted, we were and are legit. One of the things Dominic did in S63 was to help young people ensure they were buying legit sneakers by allowing meet-ups and offering community service. That was Dominic to a T he had a heart of gold and always wanted to help young people.
EH – ‘The factories in China go above and beyond to try to keep on top of the smallest details. Even changing the glue they used to be less toxic smelling as that can be a big giveaway. Dominic was a man of detail. He would scrutinise every pair he came in contact with. He taught me a lot about how to check for fakes. It’s not just the shoe either. The box, the receipt, the seller’s account can all be added to the picture. Dominic was always the main legit checker in the shop. He taught us all a lot, including our business partner Jack Chen. It used to really upset Dom when he could see someone had genuinely been sold a fake that they then wanted to sell on.’
It wasn’t just that Dominic was skilled in business, he had humility and a huge sense of humanity. Dominic knew what was right and he applied that to business. His favourite saying was: ‘it will be all good, trust the process, it will be OK’. He had faith he had a natural way of not stressing and remained calm even when the roof was falling in’.
J.G. – Being busy is never easy, so how did launching a store then going into a pandemic impact on business ?
2018 was a crazy year for us and we didn’t think it could get any more hectic until 2019. Dominic worked so hard, opening Sneaker 63 with Jack and Erin was immense. We had to work as a team, we had a business now, a partnership and we had 2 young boys.
That first year was mad. We did a lot of juggling. My kids hardly saw their dad
The first year was very busy and not easy at times. A lot to navigate and pull through. The sneaker community pulled together though. We were the first resell store in Manchester and people were very excited. Many people had only seen some of these pairs online, never seeing them in hand before. Dominic loved people and went above and beyond for people. Nothing makes us happier than helping a kid get his first hype pair for their birthday or helping someone sell their item. He treated our celebrity clients such as Tahith Chong just the same as he did a 12-year-old who came with his Mum.
Year two was tougher still, as lockdown was announced. We had to decide how to navigate through it. We built the website in a matter of weeks and online sales started coming through. The sneaker community pulled through again. It was at this time that Dominic became very poorly. After months of fighting to be taken seriously by the GPs and Hospitals, he was diagnosed with Stage 4 Colon Cancer. It was devastating. He was told to go home and “Make Memories with his family”. We were devastated and in shock. He was also told to shield, as he would soon start chemotherapy to try to lengthen his life, putting him at further risk to any viruses. We had a really great, unquestionably strong base on S63 and we were confident in our customers, our consigners and our team. Around that time, we had taken on our first member of staff. Right now, S63 employs people. That is a credit to our foundation. Dominic would have been a fabulous boss and proud and humbled to be in such a brilliant position.
JG – ‘ Very upsetting to hear this but its really good to see that, after such a tragic loss to you and your boys, you are now focused back on the game. Dominic would be proud! ‘
JG- ‘The sneaker scene is definitely growing every day. How do you think the sneaker game has changed since you were first involved ?’
EH – ‘The game has changed a lot. When Dom and I first signed up to win the Yeezy Boost 350 Turtle Dove at Adidas Liverpool in 2015, there were only 150 people on the list. We won a pair each. Now, based on Nikes figures, the number of people trying to win a pair on the sneakers app is closer to 750,000 per shoe. Nikes figures suggest demand for limited pairs has increased by at least 70% since 2020 and that figure isn’t going to slow anytime soon.’
JG – ‘What’s next for Ellie Hespe and Sneaker63?.…’
EH ‘I have many ideas and plans. There is so much to be done and so many people I would love to work with. I’m very excited about the next leg of this journey with Sneaker63. I want to build something that my sons will be proud of and continue Dominic’s legacy.
JG – Well thanks Ellie, it’s been great speaking with you, and I’m sure with our City behind you, you’ll achieve that Legacy for Dominic and the boys’.
Sneaker63 is located at 63 Faulkner Street for more info head to https://sneaker63.co.uk