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.
Despite its modest color scheme, the Air Jordan 1 "Neutral Grey" is an elegant homage to the silhouette's origins. Releasing for the first time since 1985, this OG sneaker features a predominantly white construction that closely mimics the original '85 cut. Accentuated with a silky, grey suede swoosh and collar, the "Neutral Grey" luxuriously shifts the focus from clichéd colorways to the sneaker's timeless leather design.
Being the last of '85 Eight to receive a retro release, the "Neutral Grey" remains one of the rarest Jordan 1 in existence. Highly coveted, remaining pairs from 1985 are extremely scarce, surely cracked and yellowed from age. This elusive colorway has been sought-after for over three and a half decades, generating tremendous excitement amongst generations of collectors.
It has been five, lengthy years since an original Jordan 1 received a similar retro treatment. In 2015, the Jordan 1 "UNC" experienced its retro debut, heavily contributing to the resurgence of the silhouette's dominance in the sneaker game. In the following years, collectors were fortunate to have the opportunity to acquire the majority of Jordan 1 retros including the Bred, Royal, Shadow, and Black Toe. Despite the subsequent releases of these nostalgic colorways, none of these pairs garnered the significance of that the Jordan 1 "Neutral Grey" possesses. This release remains truly historic.
"They tried to bury us. They didn't know we were seeds."
Positioned between the Gaslamp Quarter and National City, Barrio Logan is the proud home to a thriving Chicano culture and art scene. Entering the neighborhood through Logan Ave., the brilliantly colored murals of Chicano Park become impossible to ignore. The vibrant hues that scale the facades of the neighborhood combine to proudly represent various elements of Chicano culture. One after another, visitors wander, attempting to comprehend the beauty and complexity of each mural’s symbolism.
Just south of the park, the neighborhood transforms into a cultural district hosting a collection of inspired, local businesses. Like a mosaic, each of these distinct galleries, eateries, and shops flow together, contributing to the bigger image of a culturally rich, inclusive neighborhood. Innovative in their offerings and aesthetics, each of these businesses pays homage to the Barrio’s long-standing heritage and distinct community identity by incorporating works of art into their storefronts.
Two of the San Diego-based businesses that masterfully mesh with the neighborhood's distinct culture are 9FIVE Eyewear and their sister company, Arts-Rec. Through a modern approach and aesthetic, the two stores successfully convey their passion for skateboarding and streetwear culture. Upon entry, the open concept of the stores stimulates the senses, emitting a distinct energy that seems to flow throughout the spaces. Arts-Rec's affinity for skateboarding and the surrounding culture is tastefully represented throughout as skate decks line the store's entire western wall. The integration of these two businesses into historical Barrio Logan is indicative not only of 9FIVE's respect and admiration for the neighborhood, but also the neighborhood's willingness to evolve and elevate.
Do yourself a favor; experience this culture first-hand. To support local business amidst the pandemic, local shop owners like Claudia Rodríguez-Biezunski of Sew Loka present a socially distant exhibition of Barrio's own every Saturday. Lined with low-riders, the streets are animated as the sound of reggaetón and the smell of Barrio Dogg radiate throughout the atmosphere. Indicative of the neighborhood’s resilience, the Barrio rose to the challenges presented by the pandemic, thriving despite the city’s recent regression into the purple-tier.
Barrio Logan humbly demonstrates the ability of a community to evolve and grow while simultaneously preserving its cultural heritage. In the years since its foundation, this mecca of Chicano culture is a symbol of solidarity, continuing to serve the community by bringing humans together in a year characterized by social distancing.
Click here for more information about Chicano Park and how you can make a difference!
Thank you to those who made this post possible:
Chicano Park Steering Committee @chicanopark_official
Sew Loka @sewloka
9FIVE Eyewear @9fivers
DJ Alex Cortez @DJ_alex_cortez
Barrio Dogg @barriodogg
J Balvin’s rejuvenation of the Air Jordan 1’s iconic silhouette vibrantly illustrates Latin culture’s takeover of the mainstream. Entitled ‘Colores y Vibras’, this collaboration between Balvin and Nike is a culturally significant statement that la cultura isn’t going anywhere. Latin America’s distinctive culture radiates boldly throughout the sneaker’s design. The Jordan 1 Retro High J Balvin features an intense dispersion of neon greens, blues, and reds transitioning across the jaggedly-cut canvas. These sneakers emit an energy indicative of the music that fueled the collaboration.
Though brilliant, the cut and colors of Balvin’s sneaker are not the source of this drops significance. This collaboration is unforgettable as it is the first between Jordan Brand and a Latin-American artist. For decades, Nike has partnered with hip-hop artists, translating their aesthetics from the studio to the sole. From Wu-Tang in 1999 to Travis Scott thirty years later, it was inevitable that Latin culture would manifest itself in American fashion by way of the sneaker.
This convergence of Latin influence and fashion with the American mainstream became apparent when J Balvin debuted the sneakers during an appearance in the Super Bowl LIV Halftime Show. Commanding the biggest stage on the planet alongside J-Lo, Balvin performed his chart-topping reggaetón hit “Mi Gente” in his native language. This electric, yet controversial performance spotlighted Latin culture, expressing reggaeton's distinct energy to an audience of 103 million people.
Reggaetón and Latin trap’s popularity in the United States continues to surge in the months following the Halftime Show. This unprecedented eruption in popularity is clearly demonstrated by Balvin and his reggaetón counterpart Bad Bunny’s meteoric rise to the top of charts globally. Spotify's "2020 Wrapped" list of the worlds most popular artists crowned Bad Bunny as the platform's most-streamed artist, amassing over 8.3 billion streams. The next artist on this list was Drake, while J Balvin rounded out the top three. The prevalence of not one, but two Latin artists on this list signifies that when Latin American culture speaks, the world listens.
Representative of their debut, the J Balvin x Air Jordan 1’s elaborate colorway and unconventional design is both polarizing and controversial. Balvin’s adventurous interpretation will prove to be the first of many youthful, Latin-inspired variants of the classic Air Jordan silhouettes. This collaboration delivers an energetic message of cultural diffusion and global solidarity after a year of isolation and turbulence.
Although J Balvin’s eccentric approach to this sneaker might not be for everybody, the message that inspired the pair certainly is.