The entrepreneurial movement in the NBA is nothing new. Over the course of time we have seen many players who branch out and do their own thing outside of basketball. Magic Johnson, for example, started Magic Johnson Enterprises, where he has had his hand in everything from Starbucks to movie theaters to sports teams, like the Los Angeles Dodgers and the forthcoming Los Angeles FC. Jamal Mashburn reportedly owns 80 different franchises and five car dealerships. Kobe Bryant recently launched a venture capital fund called Bryant Stibel to expand his portfolio in the technology, media and data fields. The list goes on.
For young players, you have to start somewhere and launching a business during the social media age might be the perfect time. This is where Sacramento Kings point guard and recent Roc Nation Sports signee Ty Lawson is trying to grow his newest venture, SLKRS, a company that sells premium house slippers that are shaped in the silhouette of iconic sneakers. Lawson, who recently opened up to the NBPA about his new business, told The Crossover a little bit more about the company.
Jarrel Harris: How did the concept for SLKRS come about about?
Ty Lawson: I was in the house wearing flip flops and sandals and they are like comfortable, but I wanted something that’s swaggy and that's also comfortable that catches your attention. I was like I’ll make shoes that look like slippers that are comfortable and also that you can wear outside. That’s basically how I came up with it, because I was a sneakerhead when I was growing up.
JH: How long have you been in business?
TL: It has been a couple years. But this year I actually put my time and effort into it, because I had prototypes I made two summers ago. So now I actually made it into a business and started taking it serious.
JH: What made you start with the Air Jordan III and Yeezys?
TL: At that time Yeezys was one of the hottest shoes out when he was with Nike. Also, I want to start with exclusives. The III’s were my favorite J’s growing up. I used to have all of the cements.
JH: What kind of reception have you been getting?
TL: The thing is when people see them online or a picture, they are like they are too bulky but basically when they see them in person, people basically want to take them off my feet. They ask, "How much are those, I will get them right now." It’s all types of people. It’s not just sneakerheads, it’s also like the older crowd, the older white crowd, they are like, "Oh I like those." They are like 60–70 year olds who I wouldn't ever expect that from at all. Just all types of people. The cool kids they are like I need those to just wear around the house to go with my shorts or outfits, so it is all different types of people.
JH: Do you have any fun stories or an experience when you were wearing them and someone approached you?
TL: I have a couple. I won’t mention his name but it was this famous singer, one of the biggest male R&B singers and he raps a bit sometimes. But he came over to my house when I had the prototypes on and he was like, “Man, what the f*** are those? I need those.” That was like the first thing he said. I actually sent him two pairs two days ago. Hopefully he posts them; that will be really dope.
JH: What makes them special from a comfort standpoint?
TL: It’s like walking on clouds. They are like really really really comfortable. If you could imagine what walking on clouds feel like these are exactly it.
JH: Who did you lean on for advice when starting SLKRS?
TL: I was asking different people for advice. I spoke with my guy Blake (Ricciardi) from Popular Demand, a clothing line out in L.A. I’m close with him and I saw when he started his first T-Shirts [and grew it] to where he is at now. So I asked questions like, “How you do this? How did you get a manufacturer?” He basically guided me in the right direction for the most part. So I was always just asking him because he has a successful business.
JH: The price point is really affordable, did you have anything to do with that?
TL: I wanted it to be affordable for everyone. I didn't want to sell these slippers that were $100 that everyone couldn't get. So I made them affordable. I also have a team in China that is trying to get the price point a little bit lower, but, you know, $40 is cool. But if we can get a little lower it would better for everybody. I am also trying to figure out how to do baby sizes for kids ages one, two and three.
JH: What other sneaker models do you want to create?
TL: Right now I am going to do the [Jordan] 11’s, but I am going to do a pink and black pair for just for females, because they like them too. I mostly do manly colors so I made a pair for them. I made the Black and Red IV’s. I am also going to do the [Air Jordan] Six Rings. There is like a another company that is doing the same thing so I want to do something totally different.
JH: Have you reached out to adidas (his endorser) and the Kings about supporting the business and maybe selling them?
TL: Uh, with adidas I don’t know but eventually if I show traction and show them how serious I am they will support it. The Kings they have done their part. They helped me do a photoshoot, they will tweet it out or retweet, especially my teammates. They always ask for the sizes because they have big feet, so they will tweet out for me as well.
JH: Have you thought about going on Shark Tank?
TL: I have but it's the same thing. You know, Mark Cuban, I consider him a cool friend. But when you go on that show you gotta have your P&Q’s—you have to show you have traction, because if you don't they will eat you alive and try to take 80% of the business, so I have to try to go in there and actually know.
JH: A lot of players want to launch their own business but are probably afraid to take the leap. What advice would you give them?
TL: First off, if you got the money you shouldn't be taking out any loans as a basketball player or as an athlete. So just jump head in and get good advice and you actually have to be hands-on because people will try to cheat you out here.
JH: In general, how is your sneaker collection? What is your favorite sneaker and why?
TL: Right now I am with Adidas, but I am going to say my Yeezys. I wear those the most. But my sneaker collection is ridiculous. When I was with Nike, they used to hook me up with everything so I have all of those in storage but now it is all team Adidas.
JH: What is your ultimate goal with SLKRS?
TL: Man, I want it like when Jordans, Nikes or adidas dropping. I want to be dropping with their sneakers and having release dates. I also want to make a fancy sneaker and I don't know what yet, but I also want to try to tap into other market. I want to make a Chuck Taylor SLKR, not just Jordan, Nike or adidas.
This interview has been edited for clarity and conciseness.