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Richard Riley ’08 uses shoes to address “sneaker violence”

By Sara K. Eskridge February 5, 2018
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Photo courtesy of Richard Riley '08.

With his fledgling company Fuggit, Richard Riley ’08 is becoming a trailblazer in the competitive world of sneaker design. Riley, who makes unique slippers designed as classic basketball sneakers, is becoming sought after as major brands look to creatively distance themselves from market competitors.

Basketball sneakers were a major part of Riley’s life for as long as he can remember. Growing up in Gaithersburg, Md., Riley was surrounded by people who were passionate about sneakers and looked up to local celebrities like Logic, Kevin Durant and Wale who were also so-called “sneakerheads.” By the time he was in high school, Riley says he was selling and trading sneakers regularly.  It was only when he came to William & Mary that he discovered that his passion could be construed as a form of art.

“It wasn’t until I went to college and was exposed to artists like Professor Christine Westberg '77 that I felt free to express my artistic side,” he says. “The way her class opened up my mind to explore art was incredible. She taught us to address social issues through art.”

Riley was inspired but he did not necessarily think that sneakers would become his life. Then, in 2013, his lifelong friend and fellow William & Mary alumnus Michael Alvarado ’10 was murdered. Seeking to make sense of his friend’s death, Riley scoured the internet for other stories of young people like Alvarado, who were killed in their prime. What he found were countless stories of “sneaker violence,” or kids being killed for their shoes, and every one left behind a devastated community. It was in this budding awareness of pervasive cultural violence based on material possessions that Riley says Fuggit was born.

“Maybe it’s because sneakers were a passion I shared with Michael, or maybe it was just that I had heard these stories of violence for years,” Riley says. “ I wanted to find an artistic medium that could symbolize a stance against kids being killed for something that covers their feet.”

Riley thought about a pair of crocheted baby booties he saw on Etsy, that were made to look like Converse sneakers, and decided to create something similar in order to draw attention to all those who had lost their lives to sneaker violence. He modeled them after some of the most popular and controversial brands of sneakers, the ones for which kids had been killed. From this, his business, Fuggit, was born.

For the past four years, Riley has travelled the world, from Australia to Abu Dhabi, lecturing on the dangers of consumerism and material violence. His activism eventually drew the attention of representatives from major sneaker companies, and led to collaborations with some household brands. He credits the economics courses he took at William & Mary with helping him to navigate the international business world.

“William & Mary students and faculty helped bring these opportunities into my life, simply by bringing out the best in me,” he says. “I learned to challenge the heart and mind to find solutions using creativity, integrity and hard work. I’m truly thankful for that.”