Shopping on Someone Else's Dime
From snooping out trends to buying her favorite Supra 14K Skytops, Dina Selkoe's having fun as the Women's Buyer for Karmaloop.
by Lori Lobenstine
|Our first introduction to doing business with Karmaloop was when they supported our Cookin Up Customs party in NYC with gift certificates for all of our lucky customizers. (Thanks Gio!) Since then it's been nothing but a pleasure watching Karmaloop keep their online site and Boston store in the forefront of freshness on the streetwear scene, and all without succumbing to some of the sexism you see in other parts of the sneaker and streetwear scenes. Must be the power of Dina Selkoe, Karmaloop's Women's Buyer. We checked in with her recently to learn more about her job, her sneaker collection, and how it was going bucking people's advice and working round the clock with her husband and friends...
What’s it like buying sneakers with someone else’s money?
Well, it’s a responsibility, of course, spending money on behalf of a company, but seriously, who wouldn’t like going on shopping sprees with someone else’s loot?
How do you know what will be cool, since you have to buy quite far in advance? Mainly, I look at the selling trends I see with Karmaloop customers (i.e. high tops up, slip-ons down), and I pair this with: do I like the shoe? Or, do I think our customers will like the shoe? So, I guess it’s mostly my own hunches with a little data application. I definitely also look at what people who I think are stylish are wearing or talking about, and I chat with our men’s buyers who are so bugged out on sneakers, they’ve got them coming out of their arses.
What are the particular challenges of buying women’s kicks? What do you have to keep in mind in terms of Karmaloop’s clientele?
Because I’m buying for on-line distribution, I’d say the biggest challenge is striking the right balance between somewhat varying geographic tastes (New York vs. Paris vs. Baton Rouge vs. Seattle). And because ultimately I do have a budget (shopping spree comment notwithstanding), I have to squeeze in shoes for different sensibilities that may or may not overlap (going out, skate, classic). Generally though, I keep in mind that ladies who come to Karmaloop to buy sneakers want to get the freshest sneakers out there and are definitely looking for product that isn’t easily accessible. So, particularly when I’m buying from the bigger companies – adidas, Puma – I try as much as possible to pick shoes from their highest and most limited tiers.
Do you ever buy kicks you don’t even like, knowing others may love them?
Definitely! Gotta keep the ladies happy.
Are you seeing changes in what women shoppers at Karmaloop are looking for?
Seeing a lot more female collectors that’s for sure. Also seeing brands like Vans, Creative Rec and Keep on the come up! We at Karmaloop are working on New Balance to do more for the female sneaker head.
With the colors blurring (and blaring) across gender lines, do you think we’ll ever get to a sneaker scene that is not separated between men’s and women’s sneakers? And would that be a good or bad thing?
If you look at the women’s sneakers on Karmaloop, with just a few exceptions (Free Styles, some of the Vans), guys could wear a lot of them. Admittedly, rocking some would require a little more flair, but as we all know, some fellows have more panache than others. This is true in the reverse as well, though there are definitely some men’s sneakers that I would not recommend for the ladies. I do buy some men’s sneakers in smaller sizes that the men’s buyers won’t necessarily pick up. This being said, I don’t think that sort of convergence would be ideal, because you would lose out on the awesome designs and styles on the fringes.
What are your goals for Karmaloop’s women’s sneaker collection?
I want to grow the business, so I can buy even more stuff. But most of all, I hope to keep being able to pull together product that Karmaloop customers love. We are always looking for new brands and ideas for styles, so everyone reading this should hit me up firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any suggestions.
I know in general Karmaloop’s sales are going straight up. Can you tell us more specifically how women’s sneaker sales are going?
The women’s sneaker category is one the top 3 strongest growing categories in women’s product on the site. So, I’d say that sales are awesome.
I grew up in a family-owned business (a bed and breakfast inn). What do you see as the pros and cons to running a business with your husband, Greg, and friends?
Funny, sometimes I feel like the Karmaloop office and my apartment are like a bed and breakfast for all the Karmaloop gang! We’ll all go from the office to dinner, movies or out somewhere, and people crash at our place all the time, including a lot of designers from brands who visit us. (I should actually start getting monogrammed guest towels). We’re lucky because it works for us for Greg and me working together, (something that almost everyone in the world said was not a good idea and claimed would be a disaster), and then for everyone here being friends. Being able to come to work and see people you legitimately like and would want to see anyway is an awesome thing and definitely adds an extra layer of goodness to doing something you already enjoy. We spend a lot of time together, and this leads to tons of idea generation and sharing, collaboration on projects, etc. I’d say it’s pretty much an all pros situation; if I had to say anything that was a con, it would be that sometimes it’s easier to be all business and actually manage (including maybe a little constructive criticism), with people that you’re not close buddies with, although I’m pretty okay telling Jose that he’s an ayehole and needs to stop screwing around.
Do you have any advice for girls who would like to get into the sneaker industry in some way?
Well I would say intern, intern, intern! All the big sneaker brands are always looking for interns; this is a great way to get your foot in the door and show the folks that do the hiring your skills, dedication and passion. Karmaloop happens to be in Boston which is basically the sneaker capital of America, so there are lots of opportunities here: Puma North America, Reebok, Converse, New Balance, Saucony, Pro-Keds, and PF Flyers headquarters are all in the Boston area, plus Adidas is moving a bunch of its operations here. If you are in Portland (Oregon) there is Nike [and adidas]; while LA and NYC have offices for all the companies. Finally, in Cali generally there’s Vans, Creative Rec, Supra, DC, and Asics.
Now, getting away from business and into the kicks at home...
First of all, can you tell readers a little about your own history with sneakers? What is your first memory of them in your life?
It’s just kind of all you wear when you’re a kid, but a couple of things come to mind. Friendship pins were huge when I was in overnight camp (age 8 or 9) - you know, where you take a safety pin and put beads on it then give it to your friends to attach over the lace lock. Obviously having clean white sneakers was imperative to show the colorful pins to better effect. My favorite pair of sneakers when I was little were these white canvas high tops with turquoise eyelets and trim that I got on a trip to Toronto – some obscure Canadian brand. You know those Canadians…CRAZY!
Did you always love them or just recently get into them?
I used to run a lot, so my first real obsession (9th grade) came with running shoes. I remember feeling like I was being let in on some secret world of knowledge from the sneaker guy at Herman’s Sporting Goods in Chestnut Hill, MA, when I went to buy my first pair of running shoes (Nike Pegasus- so pretty basic- none of the bells & whistles going on today).
Do you have current favorites?
Right now my favorites are 14K Muska Skytops from Supra and shearling lined Chucks (warm and toasty). But I will definitely be adding to my favorites this spring. Karmaloop is getting (and so am I) some crazy sneakers from Alexander McQueen for Puma, which have a gladiator sandal thing to them, and a whole gaggle of sneakers from Spring Court, a dope brand out of Paris (from 1936!), which are classic sneakers (both hi and lo tops) in none too classic colors and materials- fluorescents, metallics, iridescent linen, etc.
What’s your collection like?
I’d say about 30 or 35 – also, since my boy has like 150, and I have all my other shoes, one does run up against space issues. J I have them all out, some sort of piled up on others, and mean to wear all of them, but then I always slip into my favorites. Yes, I clean them, though not religiously.
What’s your style?
More often than not I wear low top canvas or leather –black, white or neutral, though I do love those 14Ks, and I have some yellow and white adidas Metro Attitude HIs. I also designed a Reebok Freestyle that will be coming out this spring as a collabo between Reebok and Karmaloop! (Readers: stay tuned to our forums for more on this upcoming hit.)
And finally, a shout out to our hometown, Boston, which is on the up-and-up for sneakers and fashion. You grew up here (unlike myself and many Bostonians!), so can you talk a little about how it’s changed?
On the rise for sure - started pretty low, though, nowhere to go but up! Boston was like the Talbots and J Crew capital of the world for eternity. When I was in high school I could shop in 3 types of places: Allston Beat (a great independent store that no longer exists), the nice department stores (Boomingdales, Saks or Neimans, at least we had those), or the Garment District and some other used clothing stores. There weren’t really boutiques or small stores targeting younger people. When we opened the Karmaloop store, it was basically the first stand alone streetwear store in Boston; now there are about 6 others, which is definitely a good thing! [Editor’s note: And about 6 killer new sneaker spots, too.]