Almost five years ago to the day, the now legendary ALIFE Rivington Club first opened it’s doors to the public. Established years before the recent sneaker boom and on the heels of perhaps the greatest tragedy in modern US history, the ALIFE Rivington Club has withstood the test of time, and tastes, to claim its rightful position as one of the premiere retail environments in the world.
In this, our third Shop Spotlight, KATC sat down with Kunle of ALIFE NYC and the ALIFE Rivington Club to gain some insight into the past, present, and future of the ALIFE Rivington Club.
Continue reading to Celebrate Five Years of Excellence with the ALIFE Rivington Club
KATC: Lets start with the present. This year happens to be a big year for ALIFE and the ALIFE Rivington Club (ARC). Give us a little insight into why that is.
Kunle: We have a lot going on, and we’ve had a lot going on. We’ve changed with the times like any other great brand or entity. In order to maintain success you have to change with the times, so this past year was like a rebirth for us. We were able to bring both of our stores together, ALIFE NYC and the Rivington Club, and now we have a Flagship spot at 158 Rivington Street. As soon as we got our two stores back together, we created our ALIFE Sessions which is the illest thing that we have been involved in lately. We have mad artists, musical art, not visual art this time, which is something new for ALIFE. It is a great way to utilize the space that we have here at 158. It has nothing to do with sneakers or T-shirts, not to say that they can’t incorporate those things, but let’s face it, those things aren’t what’s dope. Those things happen to be dope because they represent something and we have always been about moving forward and representing that “new thing”. If you know about ALIFE then you know that we create an environment for people. It’s all about creating an environment and showing people new things.
KATC: How long have you been with ALIFE?
Kunle: I got down with Rob, Arnaud, Tony and Tammy in 1999/2000 when they opened the [original] ALIFE store on Orchard street. When the ALIFE Rivington Club opened [in 2001] I was here since day one.
KATC: Five years ago, in those early days of the Rivington Club, or even when the thought process to found the Rivington Club was first initiated, what was the initial goal behind the creation of the Rivington Club? What type of products did the Rivington Club offer and how did the Rivington Club set out to offer those products?
Kunle: I don’t think that the Rivington Club was even an idea before the ALIFE store on Orchard Street opened. The ALIFE store on Orchard Street was open for two years before we opened the Rivington Club. The products that we set out to offer at the original ALIFE store were hard to find. We were close with Nike so they used the ALIFE store to showcase certain special products that weren’t for sale in the US. A lot of them were either Japanese or European, or just test products that were new
KATC: Which is in keeping with ALIFE’s overall mindset…
Kunle: Right, of offering people things that they couldn’t find anywhere else. There was nowhere else that people could get this stuff. With that idea, we knew that there was an entire market of people that we could offer a whole different look to. Not just the same old sneakers that everyone was wearing. There was a whole other sneaker market that didn’t have a door in NYC. We thought, there has to be a way that we can open a store to show sneakers, not just to sell sneakers, but to show sneakers. It’s about these shoes. Like the Woven, if you just look at it and don’t care to learn about the shoe, you aren’t going to know that it’s hand made and it’s the first shoe of it’s kind. When you come into the Rivington Club, the environment forces you to pay attention to the products. That’s what we wanted to do. We knew that there were dope shoes out there that we could show in the store if we built it nice enough for people to come in and sit down and understand the products and say that this is dope and this is something they wanted to be a part of, like a club. We built it like that, its a Club. That was the idea. We built the store and we got the shoes, mind you, there was no Quickstrike, no Tier-Zero, there was no nothing. It was just find sneakers and sell them in the store, take trips across the world to find sneakers, it was a fun idea. Soon after the store opened, the whole idea inspired a lot of other people to do the same thing.
KATC: Would you say that the establishment of the Rivington Club was a catalyst in the progression of Sneaker Culture?
Kunle: I would say that the Sneaker Culture had already existed. Sneaker hustlers and people who bought and sold sneakers was going on before ALIFE opened the Rivington Club. The ALIFE Rivington Club was the first door in NYC where you could go and find these shoes all at one spot. It was that first spot. ALIFE is about the experience of coming to the store, so even if we are having a bad week, people still want to come in and chill. Our stuff is not going to Modell’s. With a few stragglers aside and with a few ups and downs on the roller coaster, the Rivington Club has come to be the number one sneaker store in my opinion. ARC has basically, every shoe that you want that could be exclusive, and, they are doing their own collaborations in moderation. They aren’t trying to be the juggernauts of collaboration in the sneaker world, and, they still continue to offer new products. It’s not about selling mad shoes and making shoes and having people wait in line for shoes, it’s about offering some new shoes. We sold discus shoes here the first year, that was the kind of stuff no one had ever seen. People were buying discus shoes to walk around in because that was what we were showing them, that was what’s up. We made a shoe with Reebok that was made out of all Tennis Ball. You could wear the shoe, you could not wear the shoe, the thing is to have a shoe made out of all Tennis Ball, it was an art product. It is something that we are offering to people, it is something that you are never going to get anywhere else, if we don’t give it to you, you won’t get it. That’s what we are trying to offer here, stuff that you won’t get if no one else offers it to you. It’s kind of hard to do that when there are a lot of stores opening up that want to focus in on specific brands and certain shoes and follow the success of those shoes and brands. It gets away from what we are doing here, which is, offering people new ideas and new culture in a retail environment.
KATC: Take us through that retail environment, the physical space of the Rivington Club. Take me through the mental process that ARC would like one to experience when coming into the Rivington Club?
Kunle: First off, if you were one of the very few lucky people in 2001 who heard of, and actually found the Rivington Club…you could not find it. There were no other shops on Rivington street, there was nothing. So when you came into the store in 2001, you would be surprised at all to even see anything there because the entire block was desolate, covered in graffiti, garbage everywhere. So you would come inside and see a stone laid out floor, a nice granite colored foyer, and two giant glass and wooden doors that were hand made for the store. You open the doors and the store looks like the lobby of a very nice hotel or a British Tailorman’s shop. It gives the feeling that you were invited here, that you made an appointment and just didn’t happen to come here, you were expected, we were waiting for you. The entire store was built out of cherry redwood, I can’t even tell you how long it took to build the store, it was all built by hand. People tip-toed in for the longest time. Some people do that now. Back then there was no way that you would have someone come in the store, and just walk right in, try on nine different shoes and leave, it would not happen. People would come in the store and sit and look around the store, the shoes, the carpet, the chandelier, the wallpaper. There was nothing like this anywhere in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, it totally took people by surprise. That’s what we wanted, to create an environment for people. And yes, while you are here, buy some shoes, you never see these anywhere else. If you are going to spend time somewhere, you might as well build it up and make it nice. If you build it they will come. You always have to portray the fantasy. All of these things are what ALIFE is about. We present the ultimate environment for people to come in and buy shoes. No other store can do this. ALIFE is the original.
KATC: Take us through the club and membership aspects of the Rivington Club.
Kunle: The ALIFE Rivington Club like I said, was very hard to find the first couple of years. People that knew where it was, felt like they were a part of something special. There wasn’t tons of product to sell, there weren’t any Quickstrike/Tier-Zero releases in addition to General Releases that people were interested in buying. It was all about the shoes that we could find ourselves. The few people that did shop here, felt like they were a part of something. These people are members, they know about ALIFE and what we hold true to ourselves. It was a club for a long time. It’s not just about the actual product.
KATC: As time has gone by and ARC has offered this type of environment and these type of products, how would you say that ARC has effected the culture? Nowadays the products and environment that ARC began to offer five years ago, are now increasingly coming into the public eye.
Kunle: Originally ARC was a secret and you wouldn’t want everyone to know. Everyone wants to feel special, everyone wants to be a celebrity. It feels good to be treated special. That feeling that we gave people, was too good to just keep here. People noticed that you could give people that feeling on a broader level, so that is where we are at now. We are at a place where there is an illusion of exclusivity, I’m not talking about ALIFE in particular, I’m talking about the entire exclusive sneaker world. The illusion of exclusiveness creates a high demand. Which isn’t what we are about, we are about offering a certain product that ties more into a message that we are trying to get to the consumer. Not the actual product itself, but the message that the product entails.
KATC: Would you say that ARC played a part in sculpting the culture the way it stands today? Would you say that entities looked in on the success and the ideal behind ARC and felt that they could build on it and benefit from it?
Kunle: Of course, anything that was underground in the past few years, thanks to the Internet, has now spanned out to a larger audience. There is no underground thanks to the Internet. The Internet is great, but let’s not pretend that things are like they used to be. Someone that can never have been here can purchase anything that we sell here and seem like they are apart of the ALIFE movement. That’s not initially what we wanted to do, that’s what it has evolved into. We don’t advertise, we don’t have tons of stories everywhere, we want you to come here and share in the experience.
KATC: How has this explosion in sneaker culture effected the Rivington Club?
Kunle: The actual ideas that we had then, are more popular now, but it hasn’t changed us. We are still thinking five years from now. We’re not super concerned that every store can get every single thing that we have, we’re not about the shoes, it’s about something that you can’t offer, that only ALIFE can offer.
KATC: ARC is now in the midst of their five year anniversary, what can we expect from ARC in the next five years?
Kunle: I really don’t want to give anything away, but ARC is going to moderately kill any other opposition out there. There is no way that half of these other companies out there that are considered our peers can hold a candle to what ALIFE is moving toward. I hope that people can understand that they are witnessing something beautiful and to enjoy it while it lasts.
158 Rivington Street
New York, NY 10002