SNEAKER WIZ: James Green at the Hidden Genius Project, where he is working on an app to help people fix their sneakers

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STANDARDS

NGSS: Core Idea: ETS1.B    

CCSS: Speaking and Listening: 1  

 TEKS: 6.3A, 7.3A, 8.3A

App for Cool Kicks

A teen combines technology and his love of sneakers

ESSENTIAL QUESTION: How might technology be used to turn a hobby into a business?

Two years ago, James Green dropped out of high school in the 10th grade. “I was getting caught up with doing negative things,” says James, who is now 18. “I wasn’t motivated in school. I was struggling and lost.” Then James discovered the Hidden Genius Project. The program, based in his hometown of Oakland, California, trains and mentors black male youth in technology, entrepreneurship, and leadership skills. “I decided to give it a shot—and it changed my life,” says James.

The skills James learned from the program helped him figure out how to use technology to turn a hobby he loves—collecting and restoring sneakers—into a business idea. He and a friend, who was also enrolled in Hidden Genius, began developing an app called FixMyKix. It aims to help “sneakerheads”—people who collect, trade, and admire sneakers—connect over the web to repair and customize their kicks.

Before joining Hidden Genius, James had never pictured a future for himself in a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) field. Unfortunately, he’s not alone. According to the National Science Foundation, less than 5 percent of all science and engineering workers are African-American. James, who returned to high school and is now a freshman at Merritt College in Oakland, hopes that his story motivates other kids like him to discover the importance of STEM.

Two years ago, James Green dropped out of high school in the 10th grade. “I was getting caught up with doing negative things,” says James, who is now 18. “I wasn’t motivated in school. I was struggling and lost.” Then James learned about the Hidden Genius Project. The program is based in his hometown of Oakland, California. It trains and mentors black male youth in technology, entrepreneurship, and leadership skills. “I decided to give it a shot—and it changed my life,” says James.

James loves collecting and restoring sneakers. His new skills from the program helped him use technology to turn his hobby into a business idea. He worked with a friend who was also enrolled in Hidden Genius. They started making an app called FixMyKix. The app is for “sneakerheads”—people who collect, trade, and admire sneakers. It aims to help them connect over the web to fix and customize their kicks.

Before joining Hidden Genius, James never thought he would work in a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) field. Sadly, he’s not alone. The National Science Foundation says less than 5 percent of all science and engineering workers are African-American. James returned to high school and is now a freshman at Merritt College in Oakland. He hopes his story inspires other kids like him to discover the importance of STEM.

FIXING KICKS

James has been obsessed with sneaker culture ever since he was in middle school. He would search the web to track down vintage kicks, which often looked beat-up. After scoring one particularly hard-to-find pair, James decided to get them repainted. He brought them to a cobbler—someone who fixes shoes—who charged James $70. But when he got the sneakers back, they didn’t look right at all. He felt ripped off and upset that he lost money he couldn’t afford to waste.

“That’s when I decided that I was going to teach myself,” he says. James did research on the internet to learn how to repair and customize sneakers (see Sneaker Solutions). He eventually became so skilled that friends would hire James to fix up their kicks, earning him up to $100 for each repair.

James has loved sneakers since he was in middle school. He would search the web to find vintage kicks. These often looked beat-up. After he got one hard-to-find pair, James decided to get them repainted. He brought them to a cobbler—someone who fixes shoes. The cobbler charged $70. But when James got the sneakers back, they didn’t look right at all. He felt ripped off. And he was upset about losing money he couldn’t afford to waste.

“That’s when I decided that I was going to teach myself,” he says. James did research on the internet. He learned how to fix and customize sneakers (see Sneaker Solutions). Over time, he became so skilled that friends would hire James to fix up their kicks. He earned up to $100 for each job.

After dropping out of high school, James continued restoring shoes for his friends to make money. But then James’s barber mentioned that his son was into coding—writing instructions that allow computer software to function. He knew James had dropped out of school and suggested that he check out the Hidden Genius Project to see if he’d like to learn how to code too.

James dropped out of high school, and he kept restoring shoes for his friends to make money. But then James’s barber said that his son was into coding. That means writing instructions that allow computer software to work. The barber knew James had dropped out of school. He told him to check out the Hidden Genius Project to see if he’d like to learn how to code too.

SNEAKERS PLUS STEM

In June 2016, James was accepted into Hidden Genius. He started learning about coding. Three months later, he had gained confidence in himself and decided to enroll at a different high school while continuing to learn about STEM and business at Hidden Genius.

In June 2016, James was accepted into Hidden Genius. He started learning about coding. Three months later, he had gained confidence in himself. So he enrolled at a different high school, and he kept learning about STEM and business at Hidden Genius.

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SWEET SCORE: A teen shows off limited-edition kicks at a sneaker convention in New York City, which attracted thousands of “sneakerheads.”

James soon realized he was more interested in applying technology in business ventures than in actually coding software himself. His mentors saw that James loved sneakers and suggested he consider how technology could help sneakerheads like himself.

James started by thinking about problems he’d encountered in the past—like when the cobbler messed up his vintage sneakers. Another time, James repaired someone’s shoes, but after returning them, he found out that the online payment he received was fake. These bad experiences gave him an idea: An app to help sneakerheads work with verified sneaker artists.

James soon found his real interest wasn’t in coding software. It was in using technology to start business projects. His mentors saw that James loved sneakers. They suggested he think about how technology could help sneakerheads like himself.

James started by thinking about problems he’d had before. One was when the cobbler messed up his vintage sneakers. Another time, James fixed someone’s shoes. But after he returned them, he learned that the online payment he got was fake. These problems gave him an idea. He’d make an app to help sneakerheads work with verified sneaker artists.

ERIC KAYNE/AP IMAGES FOR SCHOLASTIC, INC

APP INVENTION: Kevin Butler (left) and James Green (right) work together at the Hidden Genius Project to code their app.

TECH TEAMMATES

To create the software, James turned to a fellow Hidden Genius member, 18-year-old Kevin Butler. He’s a self-taught coder who gained an interest in computing by taking apart old computers and putting them back together. Kevin learned coding from books his mom used when she was taking computer science classes. “When James came to me, I said: ‘This could be big! This is a winning idea!’” says Kevin.

The duo began designing their app by thinking about its interface—what the app would look like to someone using the program (see How to Develop an App). They decided to create a social-media platform, similar to Facebook—but for sneakerheads. People could set up profiles to discuss and schedule sneaker repairs or customizations with verified vendors. After the job was complete, both customers and vendors could then rate and review each other, so people using FixMyKix could see how past transactions went.

James needed to make the software. So he turned to another Hidden Genius member, 18-year-old Kevin Butler. Kevin taught himself to code. He got interested in computing by taking apart old computers and putting them back together. Kevin’s mom had taken computer science classes. He learned coding from her books. “When James came to me, I said: ‘This could be big! This is a winning idea!’” says Kevin.

To start making the app, the two thought about its interface. That’s what the app would look like to someone using the program (see How to Develop an App). They decided to make a social-media platform. It would be like Facebook, but for sneakerheads. People could set up profiles to talk to verified vendors. They could hire them to fix or customize sneakers. After the job was done, both customers and vendors could rate and review each other. Then people using FixMyKix could see how past jobs went.

Next, James and Kevin set out to write the front-end code that would create what the program actually looked like. Front-end code determines the user experience—how a person interacts with and navigates the app. To make these features work, they’d also need to write back-end code, which controls the data the app needs to function. “The front-end is like what a house looks like from the outside,” explains Kevin. “The back-end is like the bricks that keep the structure of the house standing.”

Next, James and Kevin started to write the front-end code. This would form what the program really looked like. Front-end code controls the user experience—how a person interacts with and navigates the app. To make these features work, they’d also need to write back-end code. This controls the data the app needs to work. “The front-end is like what a house looks like from the outside,” explains Kevin. “The back-end is like the bricks that keep the structure of the house standing.”

HIGH-TOP TRENDS

James and Kevin have been working on their app for the past year. Their goal is to make it available in the Apple App Store in 2019.  

Today, the App Store contains more than 2.2 million apps. Some are more successful than others. But sneakers are a booming business. In 2017, sneaker sales reached nearly $16 billion, with some limited-edition pairs fetching more than $200 in stores. Highly sought-after vintage sneakers in pristine condition can sell for much more. One of the most coveted old-school sneakers is the original Air Jordan 1. It was released in 1985. Last September, a pair sold for a whopping $3,000.

James and Kevin have been working on their app for the past year. They hope to put it in the Apple App Store in 2019.

Today, the App Store holds more than 2.2 million apps. Some are more successful than others. But sneakers are a big business. In 2017, sneaker sales reached nearly $16 billion. Some limited-edition pairs cost more than $200 in stores. Certain vintage sneakers that still look like new are in high demand. They can sell for much more. The original Air Jordan 1 is one of the most wanted old-school sneakers. It was released in 1985. Last September a pair sold for $3,000.

ERIC KAYNE/AP IMAGES FOR SCHOLASTIC, INC

James hopes that FixMyKix can tap into this market, which has steadily grown for more than a decade. His app will generate money by charging vendors to be listed on the app, collecting a fee for each transaction, and selling ads. He also hopes that the app will help keep old but still stylish sneakers from being tossed into the trash. Each year, millions of sneakers are thrown away, says James. “I hope the app will prevent some of them from going into a landfill and put them back onto people’s feet.”

This market has been growing for more than a decade, and James hopes that FixMyKix can tap into it. His app will raise money by charging vendors to be listed on the app. It will collect a fee for each deal, plus sell ads. He also hopes that the app will help save old but classy sneakers, so they’re not tossed into the trash. Each year, millions of sneakers are thrown away, says James. “I hope the app will prevent some of them from going into a landfill and put them back onto people’s feet.”