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Are your sneakers knockoffs? He can tell by the smell

Welcome to My L.A. Workday, a series that takes you inside a day on the job with some of the city’s most fascinating people. Interviews are edited for length and clarity.

CoolKicks on Melrose Avenue may look like a simple sneaker shop — one of those places sneakerheads love to haunt for new releases and secondhand shoes that other collectors have sold to the store.

But inside, it’s more like retail-theater-meets-game-show as shoe buyer and lead authenticator Rami Almordaah does his thing behind the store counter. He’s unleashing a steady stream of patter — and prices he’s willing to pay for your shoes — as he flips, pokes and even smells sneakers to determine if they’re the real deal. (Pro tip: glue smell means it’s fake.)

Rami Almordaah is chief authenticator at sneaker resale store CoolKicks. It’s his job to identify fakes and drive hard bargains for sneakers.

Authenticators such as Almordaah are crucial to the multibillion-dollar global sneaker resale industry because customers need to trust that the expensive shoes they want to buy or sell aren’t cheap knockoffs.

The sneaker resale business has matured well beyond its teens-with-extra-cash roots into a collectibles industry in which shoes are assets that trade like stocks on well-known sites including StockX, GOAT and Flight Club. For real-time, in-store immediacy, sneaker stans will buy and sell at a place such as CoolKicks, with an inventory of more than 10,000 new and used shoes.

CoolKicks co-owner Adeel Shams knows Almordaah’s skills come from a solid base: The 21-year-old Los Angeles native learned them in the store, starting at age 13 when the original CoolKicks opened in 2016. (There’s a second store on Melrose and another opening soon in Las Vegas.) Almordaah worked his way up from unpaid intern tagging shoes to a fixture, drawing sneakerheads who want a selfie as they tell him, “I watch all your videos.”

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As @ramitheicon, Almordaah has topped 2 million followers on TikTok, 1 million followers and 80 million views on YouTube, 1 million subscribers on Twitch and 271,000 followers on Instagram.

Almordaah shows off his deep sneaker knowledge and market savvy, all while keeping the sellers, — and his internet fans — entertained. Online viewers can watch him bargain, settle a value dispute with a seller via coin toss and call out a fake pair of sneaks before he’s even opened the box.

To see Almordaah at work — picking at stitches, sticking his nose deep in a shoe for sniff — is to understand why AI won’t take his job anytime soon.

8 a.m. to 10 a.m.

CoolKicks doesn’t open its doors until 11 a.m., but Almordaah isn’t sleeping in. He’s creating videos to feed followers on four different social media platforms.

I do the YouTube videos on random days. I shoot them from my home where I have a setup and my shoe collection in the background. Sometimes I’ll bring my laptop down to the store and record from there. I’m really backed up on YouTube videos I have to get out.

11:30 a.m.

Almordaah is in the store, greeting a steady stream of sellers. The authentications have to be done in seconds, in spite of everything Almordaah and the other buyers have to check. That’s because CoolKicks is a retail operation that needs to run smoothly to avoid annoying its customers.

At first glance when a customer brings in a pair of shoes, I have to see if they are real or fake. The first thing I look for is the condition of the shoe box. If it’s damaged that’s the first bad sign. Or the box isn’t the right size, too small, too big. Box labels on fakes usually have the wrong font. I check the font on the shoe size tag; the fakes can never replicate the real font. Inside the box, Nikes and Jordans have a distinct smell. The fakes have a strong alcohol or a strong glue smell. The real ones have their own distinct smell, and it’s always the same. On the shoe, I check the logo, the Nike swoosh. The fakes are sloppier. The stitching will be off too.

12:00 p.m.

But the knockoffs keep improving, and even sneaker aficionados are easily fooled. Almordaah pulls out two pairs of shoes to demonstrate. They look identical.

This is a fake, but it really looks like the real shoe. These are supposed to be Air Jordan 1 Mid Black Fire Reds. Honestly it’s a super good fake. They keep getting better and better. There are still some really terrible fakes, but on some, it’s the smell that tells you and just a few other things. One of the other buyers said it was like seeing your mom in the kitchen every morning but then fake mom comes down the next morning. She looks kinda like your mom, but you just know, nah, this is fake mom. The shoe looks great but you can also see that the size of the shoe box is off compared to the shoe box for the real pair.

Sneakers hang inside a "claw" game at a store.

The $5-per-play “claw” game at the front of the CoolKicks sneaker store can get winners shoes worth up to $3,000.

(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

12:30 p.m.

Behind the counter, Almordaah is a commanding presence while still maintaining an easy banter with customers. At most, he will offer the customer a coin flip to close a price gap. But when he says, “Nah,” everyone knows the next word will be: “Next.”

This customer wanted to sell two pairs of Yeezy DS 350 V2 shoes with different color schemes. I’m at $240 and $180. I’ll give him $420 for both. Both are authentic. That’s not the problem. The customer isn’t happy, but he’s not keeping up with the prices. He was expecting at least $300 for just one of the pairs. I told him I’d do a coin flip for an extra $20 for him. He lost the coin flip. I can’t do better than $420 for both because these shoes just aren’t selling for much these days.

1:00 p.m.

Real and in great condition are only two of the requirements. One would-be shoe seller finds out the hard way.

A customer just brought in a pair of Nike Kyrie 3 Triple Black men’s shoes. They were real, but we’re not buying them because he doesn’t have the box the shoes came with. Also, we don’t buy them because they are still available for retail prices. The customer who wants to buy a pair of shoes from us wants to have the full experience, opening a box that’s in good shape, including all of the stickers or tags that came in the original box, like he would if he was buying them brand new and untouched.

1:30 p.m.

Almordaah has to give hope to some customers whose shoes are authentic but have been rejected for another reason — maybe they’re just not hot shoes or they’re a small size that isn’t popular. At the same time, Almordaah can spread a little goodwill to neighborhood stores.

This guy brought in a pair of shoes that we’re really not interested in. I sent him to a store down the street where they are still building up their inventory. So he’ll probably get a better price for them than we would be willing to pay. He might get more there because they need shoes.


A man holds a sneaker.


A pendant with the CoolKicks logo.


Rami Almordaah poses in the CoolKicks storeroom.

1. Almordaah shows off the Louis Vuitton Air Force 1 Lows “Blue,” retailing for $5,000 to $10,000. 2. An employee wears a chain with the CoolKicks logo. 3. Almordaah poses in the Melrose shop’s storeroom. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

2:30 p.m.

When there’s a break in the buying, Almordaah is usually talking to customers and fans about how he succeeded in the business.

People are asking, especially kids, about how I got here with so many followers. I grew up near the Grove. I started in ninth grade, just coming here. It was a side hustle for me. I worked for free. Just getting knowledge, honestly. By 11th and 12th grade I was working on the weekends and getting paid.

So, once Santa Monica College started — I had graduated high school during COVID and all the lockdowns — I wasn’t really going to school anyway. And that was also when CoolKicks started blowing up on YouTube. All the rappers were coming here to shop. I saw an opportunity, so I stopped school and started working here full time. Started my own YouTube channel and that finally blew up over the past year. The YouTube is my main income now.

3:00 p.m.

Almordaah believes that most of the people trying to peddle knockoffs already know that the shoes are fakes, but some people clearly do not. One customer steps up to the counter, beaming, thinking he’s about to cash in on one of the most sought-after sneakers in resale. Almordaah’s demeanor shifts to quiet tones and sympathy as he breaks the bad news to the would-be seller.

He thought he had a pair of Travis Scott Air Jordan 1 Low Reverse Mochas, which can go for $1,000 to $2,000. It’s like one of the most-often faked sneakers we see. And they’re super good fakes too, almost identical to the real thing. But the smell was off. The guy didn’t know, absolutely clueless, and it’s heartbreaking.

3:30 p.m.

Almordaah understands that his customers often treat their collections as investments and want as much as they can get for them. They also treat their collections as emergency funds for unexpected costs or to pay for upcoming wants.

People usually come in asking high when they are trying to sell their shoes to us, but we have a reputation now for paying well for really good shoes. They know we are reasonable. People know that any really good shoe that goes for money, we’re going to pay better than other stores. Usually we come to an agreement. It really depends. Near the first of the month when rent is due more people are coming in and they’re a little more desperate. Around Christmastime people are usually selling a lot more of their shoes.

A man at a shoe store counts cash

Rami Almordaah, a shoe buyer at CoolKicks in Los Angeles, prepares to pay a customer for shoes that person is selling to the store.

(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

4:30 p.m.

It’s showtime for Ramitheicon and his fellow buyers as they begin livestreaming shoe transactions from the store on Twitch for the remainder of the day — always an unpredictable proposition. This time, the Aussies have landed, including Bodie Race, 12, and his family.

This is just crazy. This is the second family today vacationing from Australia that brought their kid in to meet me. CoolKicks videos are very popular over there. They don’t always buy shoes but they’ll maybe buy a CoolKicks shirt. We’re like a tourist attraction, and it’s always been like that. The kids will look at me and say, “That’s Rami.” So we meet with them, talk to their kids. It helps the store, and it’s just dope.

5:30 p.m.

For Almordaah, buying from resellers slows down now, but he doesn’t get a break. He works the retail side of the business for customers wanting to buy.

We’ve been in the prime selling time now, selling shoes to customers, since around 4 p.m. Kids are home from school and coming over. So this is not so much buying time for me but helping out on the floor with customers.

A boy examines a shoe as he stands in front of a wall of shoes.

Bodie Race, 12, headed straight from the airport with his family to sneaker store CoolKicks after flying from Sydney. Bodie is a big fan of @Ramitheicon, which is Rami Almordaah’s handle on social media, and insisted that CoolKicks be the first stop on the family’s two-week vacation.

(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

6:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.

At the end of a long retail day, Almordaah is still on his game. In walks another customer claiming to have a real pair of the same Travis Scott sneakers that Almordaah rejected earlier in the day. But this time, the guy seems to know the shoes aren’t real. He shows no surprise as he mutters, “OK, thanks” and quietly leaves.

It’s winding down now. People sold us maybe 10 more shoes in the last hour. The people trying to sell us fakes tend to come in at the end of the day. I don’t know what it is about that. Maybe they think we’re tired.


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