Joe La Puma is the face of modern sneaker fandom. As host of Complex’s wildly popular web series “Sneaker Shopping,” he’s responsible for bringing the world of sneakers to a wider pop culture audience, to the tune of more than 845 million views in the eight years since the show’s inception.
Joe comes to his position via more than two decades of experience in sneakers and sneaker culture. From a start as a sales associate at the Finish Line in Bay Shore, NY to parlaying an internship into a position as the Senior Vice President of Content at Complex and host of the “Complex Sneakers Podcast” (in addition to his “Sneaker Shopping” gig), Joe’s made a career in sneakers without losing any of the passion that inspired his start in the first place.
Since its inception in 2015, Stadium Goods has been the primary home for “Sneaker Shopping” in New York, hosting everyone from Billie Eilish and Ric Flair to Will Smith and Martin Lawrence and the late Pop Smoke. To help celebrate Stadium Goods’ 5th anniversary, we talked to Joe about his own experience working in sneaker stores and what makes a great place to go sneaker shopping.
People know you from “Sneaker Shopping,” but many might not know your unique qualification for hosting the show having worked in sneaker retail before your start at Complex. Can you talk about your experiences working in sneaker stores?
My first job in high school was working at a sneaker store in my hometown of Bay Shore, NY. I was 16 years old and a bunch of us from the track team were walking through the mall one day and saw that a Finish Line was opening. They were looking for employees so we applied and we were essentially hired after a very little vetting process.I would end up working at that Finish Line for 7 years. I started as a sales associate and eventually worked my way up to be in line to managing one of my own stores. An internship at Complex altered that plan.
What makes a great sneaker store?
It’s a mix of things. Back in the day it was about going into a store and seeing something on the shelf that surprised you. Those days are few and far between now. Some people have their favorite stores because of the people that work there. A store should be a place you like for a multitude of reasons. The good ones have a way about them that is not strictly transactional.
What makes a great sneaker sales associate?
Someone who is genuinely passionate about interacting with the customer, and who guides them along to purchase something that in the end is about how it makes the person feel and doesn’t just check a box. A lot of downtown stores in major cities used to have reputations of employees not being approachable, I think those days are kind of over.
You’ve shouted out Stadium Goods as your go-to sneaker store in New York, but you’ve also traveled the world for sneakers. What are a couple of your favorite under-the-radar sneaker shops?
A Ma Maniere in Atlanta is one of my favorites. James Whitner has built a retail empire and I have a ton of great memories shooting in that store. The staff is always so welcoming and aesthetically it's beautiful. We shot 2 Chainz, Lil Uzi Vert, Quavo, Lil’ Baby and more there.
What’s your favorite “Sneaker Shopping” memory from Stadium Goods?
There’s moments in a lot of episodes that were shot at Stadium Goods that I’ll never forget and thankfully they’ll exist forever. One recent memory is when we shut down the block so we could film the intro scene to the Will Smith and Martin Lawrence episode where they’re sitting in the infamous Porsche from Bad Boys. To see two iconic actors from an iconic set of movies riffing for an intro to an episode of “Sneaker Shopping” was unreal. Definitely a pinch-myself moment.
Has there been a guest at SG who surprised you with their sneaker knowledge?
I love when the younger guests have deep deep sneaker knowledge. Someone like Yachty is a true collector and will pull out all the stops to get a sneaker he’s been eyeing. He also doesn’t just buy to flex. He educates himself on some of the rarest pairs of sneakers ever made and then makes it his mission to track them down. His knowledge never ceases to surprise me. I talked to him a couple months ago and he was on an ’85 Jordan 1 kick.
One of the most requested guests on “Sneaker Shopping” is you yourself. Who would host the “Sneaker Shopping” with Joe La Puma?
(Laughs) That question actually gets asked a lot. I would have to think about that. I tend to get very sentimental in situations like that so it would have to be someone who was there from the beginning, way back in 2012.
Photos compliments of Joe La Puma/Complex