Variant Shoes owner John Ariete credits his Filipino upbringing for his work ethic that lead him to his sneaker collector store in downtown Edmond.
John Ariete lived in the Philippians until he was 12, raised by his grandparents for six years while his parents worked in the United States, preparing a life for his siblings and him. To stay connected, his parents would send gifts back to the Philippians, including Air Jordans.
“We barely knew who Michael Jordan was,” he said. “We were living in a third-world country. But when we moved here, we grew up playing basketball and we were such a fan of basketball. We then were excited to know about Michael Jordan and his stuff; my dad’s friends would be wearing the new Jordans.
“That’s kind of like where I guess it caught my eye. I would say I’m passionate from back then.”
The passion Ariete describes is his enthusiasm for sneakers. And, passion takes on a whole new meaning for this sneakerhead. Towards the end of high school, Ariete started reselling shoes. At first, he was just selling shoes to get money to buy new shoes. After some years as a professional back-up dancer and as a dance teacher, Ariete continued to sell more and more shoes.
“I started kind of investing more time in the sneaker business,” he said. “And from then on, I started to see the actual business side of it, figuring out my margins and stuff like that, and it taught me a lot. Then, it just kind of blew up nicely. I would have 700 shoes in my garage that were waiting to be send out.”
He partnered with Christian Vélez, who was also reselling shoes for profit, and opened a shoe store for shoe enthusiasts and collectors, Variant Shoes, in 2020.
“We were like, ‘Why don’t we open our own store?” he said. “Why don’t we do this? I know how it works now, and we have a name for ourselves. Why don’t we just do it?”
The store appeals to sneakerheads, lovers and collectors of shoes who are looking for unique and hard to find pairs. The shoes in Variant Shoes start between $100-$200, but the store also has many pairs priced well above $1,000 and some above $5,000 for a pair.
“Right now, we’re working on steady growth,” he said. “We are working on establishing a brand where the brand speaks for itself rather than the shoe. That’s our goal for now.”
He’s also looking to expand his footprint, and even possibly add an incubator space in his downtown Edmond location to help promote and further other entrepreneurs.
And he’s still grounded by the teachings of his grandparents, who he hasn’t been able to visit since he left when he was 12.
“Growing up in a third-world country with my grandparents, they solidified for me all about hard work and good ethics,” he said. “It feels good for me to reflect that with my store.”
The Air Jordans certainly reflect that too; his parents showed him it could be done.
“I love being part of the Asian community,” he said. “I love being able to say that. I am an immigrant, and I am getting it done. And I am supporting and I am helping as I go. I think everyone in the Asian community is like that. That’s what our parents and our grandparents instilled in us.”