In the final week of 2020, we were fortunate to have Julio Ramirez Eguia swing by Rosewood to discuss sneakers and the culture that inspires and surrounds both of our industries. Julio is the acoustic guitarist of the Mexicali-based Latin Pop band, Reik, and one of our favorites at the shop. Despite achieving commercial success for more than a decade, Reik has recently adapted their style to reflect an increasingly urban approach to their sound. Representative of this shift in musical direction is Julio’s personal style and expression, incorporating modern streetwear elements built around a pair of fresh kicks.
Upon entry, the vibrant colors of the J Balvin X Jordan collaboration captured the attention of everybody within Julio’s vicinity. Equipped with a friendly smile, Julio’s energy radiated throughout the store. Casually reclined across from me in front of the shop’s Heat Cage, Julio and I dove into my questions that were centered around not only sneakers, but rather the culture that surrounds them. Despite being an ‘interview’, the vibe in the shop felt more like a conversation among friends.
My first question to Julio aimed to gain insight into where his love for sneakers began. Beaming with energy, he described that his fascination with sneakers is rather recent, coinciding with the Reik’s shift in musical style from the traditional ballads characterized by Latin Pop to a sound influenced by the urban culture of Latin America. Beginning with a musical collaboration with Nicky Jam, the band’s change in style and direction inspired Julio to venture into the fashion adorned by these artists, songwriters, and producers. Julio continued, sharing a story of his first time going to Flight Club in Los Angeles to purchase his first pair of sneakers.
“Around five years ago [Reik] had a concert in LA and there was a Flight Club nearby. There, I bought my first Yeezys, the cream 350s. Not really knowing anything about sneakers, I looked at the wall and saw a pair of seemingly transparent Air Force 1s. I thought ‘what the hell was that?’ My buddy said ‘those are the Off-White Air Forces that just released last month’. I want those! That's where it really started.”
Addicted. This is the word used by Julio to describe the effect of his first encounter with sneakers.
Continuing on the topic, and being that I work at the center of sneaker culture in San Diego, I had to ask, “Do you have a favorite sneaker? One that remains above all others in your collection?
“My best friend is the Off-White Air Force 1 from the First 10. I love the white and transparent color that I don’t battle with matching to what I’m wearing that day. The question is difficult to answer though, because the Chicago Off-White 1s are too clean...They really grew on me.”
Although sneakers were the initial topic of the interview, our conversation gradually shifted to one of culture and the impact of Latino influence on the mainstream. When discussing the effect that the reggaeton movement has had globally, Julio’s admiration of groundbreaking artists like J Balvin and Nicky Jam was clear.
“These guys have paved the way for us. Even though we come from a pop background, I believe that reggaeton has now become ‘pop’. It's mainstream, placing Latin culture in a cool way. Before, I remember the Ricky Martin and Shakira era required a huge crossover and effort by singing in English. Now, I wouldn’t have believed that Justin Beiber would sing Spanish or Dua Lipa would do songs with Latin artists. That shows a lot of respect for these artists like J Balvin or Bad Bunny, but that it really stems from artists like Daddy Yankee who led the way.”
With pride for his fellow artists and the movement they sparked, it was clearly evident how significant the mainstream representation of Latin music was to Julio and the culture as a whole.
“It's really cool. As we approach 2021, you see a little more unity between cultures. There's always division, but I still can't believe we're seeing Latins as something so respected...We’re really grateful, enjoying the moment, and continuing to work hard to elevate our culture."
Representative of this unity and integration of Latin culture in mainstream pop-culture was the release of the Jordan 1 Retro ‘Colores y Vibras’ designed by J Balvin. Culturally significant, this groundbreaking sneaker was the first collaboration between Jordan Brand and a Latino artist. Naturally, I felt it was essential to understand the importance of this release from Julio’s perspective, asking “How do you feel that Latinos are represented in sneakers and streetwear? Do you feel that they are being represented properly in the fashion industry?”
“First of all, I wore [the J Balvin 1s] because I’m proud of what this guy has done. I can’t tell you that he's my close friend or anything, but he represents that dreams really do come true. You just have to work hard at them. These sneakers are one of my favorite pairs. I think we will see more and more collaborations with Latinos in the industry, he just paved the way.”
Continuing, Julio expressed that J Balvin having the opportunity to redesign the most iconic sneaker silhouette in history inspired him to work harder, hoping that he himself can one day influence fashion in a similar way.
With the questions on my page growing shorter and my cheeks exhausted from grinning, the time to wrap-up the interview drew near. Before doing so, I was curious, asking, “How did your relationship with Rosewood form? What do you love about our shop?”
“Moving here about five years ago, I used to live in Downtown and was still relatively new to the sneaker game. I looked around and found a bunch of sneaker stores, but I found that this was the closest thing that I have seen to a cool sneaker store...If you want something, you can get it here. Sneakers are not hard to find at Rosewood.”
Grateful, Julio expressed his admiration for our store and what we do. He noted that there is a distinct vibe at Rosewood that is unique from all other sneaker shops that he has visited. This vibe, he says, leads to a level of comfort that remains unmatched by some of the larger stores in our industry. Hearing this praise for Rosewood was rewarding, validating the hard work and effort that we collectively put in to ensure that we create an environment that is unmatched.
Being a self-proclaimed ‘student of culture’, my eyes were opened as I expanded my cultural understanding while simultaneously building commonalities between several areas of passion. To have the opportunity to sit down one-on-one and develop insight and perspective into Julio’s relationship with sneakers, music, and most importantly culture, was enlightening.