Julian Dela Pena of Blends Explains What The Hype Around Sneakers is All About

For those of you who frequent The LAB, it's hard to miss the crew of sneaker enthusiasts who work for Blends. Initially, it's easy to be intimidated by this crew (We know we were!), but don't let those straight faces fool you. This group of guys are some of the best out there.

Julian Dela Pena is the Shop Manager at The LAB. With eight years under his belt at Blends, he's definitely a sneaker guru. For those of you who have ever wondered what the hype is all about, we sat down with Julian to hear his take on sneakers and the culture that surrounds them. 

 
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Q: How long have you worked at Blends and what got your started?
A: Currently I’m going into my 8th year with Blends this year. I was a regular customer DJing full time when my friend, Edwin, the Shop Manager of San Diego, was leaving for school and offered me a day job just a few days a week. From there, I became the Shop Manager for the San Diego location and recently moved up to Orange County to run our flagship shop here at Costa Mesa.

Q: Why are sneakers important to you personally?
A: Personally, sneakers are important to me because it reminds me of youth culture. Growing up sneakers always went hand in hand with my favorite athletes I idolized, such as Michael Jordan, Bo Jackson, Grant Hill, Deion Sanders, or even Andre Agassi. Growing up skateboarding, there was a fascination with sneakers in the community. Every month, my friends and I would get super stoked to receive the latest Eastbay or CCS catalogs to see what the newest sneakers releases. We didn’t have social media back then so we would have to do our research the hard way. The hunt for sneakers was so important and made the experience that much better, which ultimately made the sneakers that much more important.

Q: Why do you think sneakers are important to your customers?
A: There is the customer, similar to me, that just enjoys the nostalgic value of each shoe they purchase. However, today’s customers are buying sneakers more so for the trend factor; Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing since most customers build their outfits starting with the sneakers. Everyone wants to look their best and the best way to express personal style is through sneakers. 

 
 

Q: It seems to be a very distinct culture/family based around sneakers. How would you describe this community?  
A: The community is a very close-knit family. I know a lot of friends that have come together based on their appreciation for sneakers. “Sneaker Heads,” what we call them, love to talk about sneakers all day. Just like me, there’s that defining factor on why they love sneakers. One forum I was active on every day in the early 2000’s was NikeTalk, which allowed the Sneaker community to share information with one another. This helped us progress from looking at catalogs to sharing photos on what’s hot and where the latest sneaker was going to drop. Unfortunately, forums like this are not as active as they used to be due to social media. The internet definitely made the community grow at rapid rate no one could have predicted.

Q: If someone was interested in getting more involved with the sneaker world, how would you recommend going about doing this?
A: Like any new interest, the best way to get involved is research. Luckily, today the internet provides a lot of sources of information. The biggest suggestion I have is to go out and visit retailers like boutiques. Sneaker boutiques carry the limited sneakers that most major retailers don’t have access to. I suggest getting to know someone at these shops and get a feel of how the supply and demand is. In other words, do your homework kids!

Q: What are your favorite sneakers you own? Why?
A: Yikes! I have so many favorites! It’s a toss-up between the Air Jordan 1 “Breds” and our first collaboration with Vans Vault, the Sk8-Hi Zip LX “Bones”. Like everyone else who loves the Bred 1s, I love it because because it was Michael Jordan’s first signature shoe with Nike. As far as the Vans Sk8 Hi’s go, I love these because it symbolizes a great accomplishment for Blends. This particular collaboration pushed the boundaries of how Vans can be made into a premium sneaker. 

 
 

Q: What are your dream sneakers you want to own? Why?
A: Hmmmmm. Dream sneakers? I would have to say my “Grail” (as in the Holy Grail) sneaker would be the Nike Air Force 1 High “Sheed” in Black/Black. As much of a Laker fan as I am, I loved the way Portland Trailblazer’s Rasheed Wallace played basketball in Air Force 1s. He brought street style to the NBA courts.

Q: Aside from sneakers, what are some interesting fact about Julian that the world should know?
A: I still continue to DJ and produce events in San Diego on the weekends. However, I would say I spend a lot of time eating the world’s best California Burrito at Humberto’s in San Diego! Humberto’s for life! 

 
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Julie Shumaker