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A Popular Oakland Sneaker Shop Returns — With a Twist

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a group of young women customize Adidas sneakers with paint
SoleSpace Lab guest instructor, Tahirah Rasheed (left), guides students at Latitude High School in Oakland as they customize Adidas sneakers. (Courtesy SoleSpace Lab)

For seven years, from 2012–2019, SoleSpace — sneaker shop by day, community activation hub by night — served Oakland’s most community-minded sneakerheads, art lovers and streetwear addicts. The Telegraph Avenue storefront hosted workshops and events (like a Lauryn Hill in-store signing) that drew crowds so large you’d have to peer through the window to see the action inside.

Sadly, after a series of unexpected health issues, frequent break-ins, rising rent and a declining retail environment, SoleSpace shuttered in 2019.

Now, after a five-year hiatus, cofounder Jeff Perlstein and biotech fashion designer Olivia Cueva are resurrecting the footwear store as an eco-friendly sneaker workshop. At SoleSpace Lab, a pilot project this summer on 12th Street in downtown Oakland, green-leaning sneakerheads and designers alike will be able to take classes on upcycling, shoe repair and more. The shop will pivot away from commercial retail — no new sneakers will be for sale — and instead focus on rethinking fashion’s role in the global climate crisis through education and community engagement, with an emphasis on youth development, sustainability and equity.

“I didn’t think I would touch [sneakers] again,” Perlstein says. “But I reflected on the excitement and joy I’d seen around shoes. Part of this is making peace with my critiques of the sneaker industry’s impact on the planet and bringing sustainability to sneakers.”

“It’s not about retail and selling some corporate-approved design, but how can we better take care of products that already exist?” he continues. “Those sneakers you already own, how can we dust them off and repair them, make them spicier to match a certain fit? This is about harnessing people’s creativity in Oakland and seeing how we can change things and give them a new life.”

two shoe designers hold up their custom made pair of shoes
Jeff Perlstein (left) spent a year taking sneaker upcycling workshops with professional cobblers, including Brooklyn’s Sung Me (right), who will visit SoulSpace Lab this summer to lead a workshop. (Courtesy SoleSpace Lab)

Perlstein’s recommitment to sneakers began during the pandemic, when his teenage son, Joaquin, enrolled into the Oakland School of the Arts’ fashion design pathway. Eventually, Perlstein teamed up with a village of local makers, fashion experts and artisans, including Cueva — who has more than a decade’s worth of education and community work under her belt, most recently as the director of the David E. Glover Emerging Technology Center in deep East Oakland — to form what would become the Oakland Style Lab.


With Cueva’s background in sustainable fashion technology (she attended Fabricademy in Barcelona), her work with Oakland Style Lab for the past four years has focused on mitigating fashion’s often wasteful practices. She’s found that by using bioplastics and biodegradable materials, such as hemp, cactus and pineapple “leathers,” goji berries and echinacea, it’s possible to design sneakers that are both eco-friendly and popular.

“I was basically looking at what’s going on in our culture, being heavily influenced by celebrities and Instagram to have new things all the time,” Cueva explains. “The problem is we’re dumping stuff out that doesn’t go away. These materials are bad for the earth. I wanted to create things that will go back into the earth and feed it, nurture it.”

In July, Cueva will lead a four-day intensive class at SoleSpace Lab, teaching how to craft a pair of biodegradable Air Jordan 1s from scratch.  Makers like Cueva and The Hood Cobbler — a popular East Oakland sneaker repair expert — will providing courses, seminars and mentorship to Oakland’s next generation of designers, creatives and problem-solvers.

Other guests will include Stepkicks510, the Buenos Aires-born DJ-turned-sneakerhead who personally gifted Argentina’s Lionel Messi a pair of custom-made Adidas Sambas; Sung Roh, a Korean master cobbler residing in Brooklyn who Perlstein took a class from last year; and a Sneaker Museum Oakland pop-up.

a local designer showcases her biodegradable Nike sneaker
Olivia Cueva of Oakland Style Lab showcases her customized biodegradable Jordan 1 sneakers. Cueva will run an intensive four-day sneaker design workshop in July. (Courtesy Olivia Cuevas)

Currently, SoleSpace Lab is crowdsourcing funds for their pilot program. Offerings will include drop-in shoe cleaning and repair, a six-week externship for Oakland Unified School District students, and public events like the Converse and Birkenstock upcycling class.

Perlstein, who gets visibly fired up about it all, is adamant about wanting to create the world’s greenest sneaker outlet with a commitment to exchanging communal knowledge.

“When I was a kid,  sneaker shops were a place where old heads would hang and you could soak up game and history,” he says. “But sneaker shops and the industry have changed so much with online raffles … You get your shoe and leave, or it gets delivered to your home. So how can we make a space for people to come together with joy and sustainability as the focus?”

SoleSpace Lab is currently raising funds for their summer pilot program. The grand opening takes place on Friday, June 14, at 302 12th St. (formerly Lucky Duck Bicycle Cafe) in Oakland. Information about tickets, classes and services available here.

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