Skip to main content

News and Media

Open Main MenuClose Main Menu
Louis Lacarbonara (left) started Direct Kicks during his time as an undergraduate at OSU, and now he's helping Sean Fernandes-Flack get Stilly Kicks up and running during his college career.

Stilly shoe game: Spears alumnus mentors aspiring entrepreneur

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Media Contact: Stephen Howard | Manager of Communications | 405-744-4363 |

Louis Lacarbonara has always had shoe game. To him, footwear isn’t just an article of clothing, it’s an artistic expression and a serious passion he shares with thousands of sneaker fanatics all over the country.

Over the last decade, however, Lacarbonara has figured out the difference between having shoe game and making money in the shoe game. Near his hometown of White Plains, New York, Lacarbonara just opened his second brick-and-mortar location of Direct Kicks, a business he started as an undergrad student in 2013 while enrolled in Oklahoma State University’s entrepreneurship program.

Now, thanks to a chance meeting with another Spears School of Business shoe entrepreneur, the 30-year-old is passing his wisdom along to the next generation, and the sneakerheads of Stillwater are rejoicing.

“My entrepreneurship professor was always talking about Direct Kicks,” said Sean Fernandes-Flack, the owner of Stilly Kicks, the newest edition to the sneaker game in Stillwater. “I had never heard of it, but he said it was some shoe store up in New York. I never really paid that much attention. But now that we connected, I call Louis like five times a day. I’m just like the annoying little brother.”

Fernandes-Flack learned the shoe game growing up in Lawton, Oklahoma, where he would sell and trade sneakers with friends and classmates. After time, he earned enough money to buy a car and fund his after-school hobbies. The profits continued when he moved to Stillwater to study at OSU, enough to open Stilly Kicks in July 2023.

It’s hard to miss the custom artwork outside his store on Main Street. Fernandes-Flack commissioned an artist from Wichita, Kansas, to create a mural that says “Stilly Kicks” in bright orange graffiti script. It instantly lets customers know they aren’t walking into the average shoe store.

The vibe continues inside, where high-end sneakers line the walls from floor to ceiling in front of a spray-painted scene. A black leather couch sits in the middle of the room across from a Mortal Kombat arcade game and an Xbox console. People don’t just come to Stilly Kicks to up their shoe game, they come to be a part of the shoe game — an urban culture that lives at the intersection of music, clothing, sports, artwork and life.

Just a few blocks from the OSU campus and Stillwater High School, Stilly Kicks has become the city’s place to go for rare and hard-to-find sneakers. He sells about a hundred pairs in a good month, and his most expensive set — a Nike Air Jordan/Christian Dior mashup — has a $6,500 price tag. It’s not uncommon to see a mix of high school students and local businesspeople browsing right alongside Cowboy and Cowgirl student-athletes and coaches.

Shortly after opening, Fernandes-Flack was at a sneaker show in Oklahoma City and he happened to bump into the guy his entrepreneurship professor had been bragging about. For Lacarbonara, he remembers being floored by the fact that a proper sneaker store had opened in Stillwater, and by a college student, nonetheless. He felt like he was looking into a mirror when he shook hands with Fernandes-Flack for the first time.

“He was acting like a little cocky college guy, basically like a Mini-Me, because that’s how I acted,” joked Lacarbonara, who drove up to spend a few hours at Stilly Kicks the next day. “We just kind of clicked. Now, he’s like a little brother to me. And just the fact that he opened in Stillwater, it kind of gave me a little fire too. It motivates me.”

Not many people can say an NBA coach helped them choose a college, but that’s exactly how Lacarbonara wound up at OSU in the first place. Former Oklahoma City Thunder coach Scott Brooks was a frequent visitor to the Lacarbonara family pizzeria in White Plains during his playing career with the New York Knicks, and he became lifelong friends with the family. Brooks heard that Lacarbonara was interested in an entrepreneurship program and he knew that Stillwater was the perfect place to send him. OSU was off the beaten path for a kid that grew up 30 minutes from New York City, but Brooks urged him to take a visit.

“Scotty Brooks is basically like an uncle to me,” Lacarbonara said. “Scotty showed us around a little bit, and when I came to Stillwater I fell in love with it. I knew this is where I wanted to be. Ironically enough, during my visit, Kevin Durant hit a game winner against the Knicks and Danilo Gallinari, who was my favorite player. I was like, alright, this is meant to be. This is where I want to go. It was no question after that.”

Louis Lacarbonara.
Louis Lacarbonara started Direct Kicks as an undergraduate entrepreneurship student at OSU.

Lacarbonara is a natural entrepreneur. He was raised in his family’s pizzeria and was running the place by the time he was a teenager, so getting a regular job punching a time clock wasn’t an option when he arrived in Stillwater. Instead, he happened upon a YouTube video of a grade school kid selling refurbished sneakers online. Intrigued, Lacarbonara conducted some research and discovered a small online community based around buying used shoes, mending them up and reselling them for a profit. To Lacarbonara, this market seemed untapped, so he put together a business plan and presented it to the entrepreneurship faculty at OSU.

He found a website that sold gently used sneakers by the boxload and decided to dive in. He ordered $1,000 worth of used shoes to be delivered to his Zink-Allen Hall dorm room, and then spent weeks repairing and cleaning them after class. To market his product, Lacarbonara decided that Instagram, YouTube and a curated website would be the best way to reach his target audience. He created a Direct Kicks website and social media handles with a goal of not just selling shoes, but building an online community for sneakerheads who love to chat about kicks as much as they like to buy, sell and trade them.

To hook customers, Lacarbonara wouldn’t just sell individual pairs of shoes — he created events that he would tease ahead of time. The drops, as he calls them, include 50-60 pairs in a first-come, first-serve frenzy that his online community would tune into on his website. The customers didn’t want to miss out on the rare Air Jordans, Yeezys or slides that Direct Kicks unveiled that week, and the cash register started ringing.

The Direct Kicks Instagram handle quickly jumped to 7,000 followers just by word of mouth, and his revenues topped $6,000 per month. Not bad for an undergrad operating out of his dorm. Richard Gajan, the Don Brattain Associate Professor of Practice in Entrepreneurship at Spears Business, tabbed Lacarbonara to be a part of their business incubator program, which came with an office, expertise from the entrepreneurial staff and some additional funding for Direct Kicks. Revenue jumped to $45,000 during his senior year.

After graduation, Lacarbonara moved back to New York and opened his initial store in Mamaroneck, seven miles south of White Plains. His first order of business was to send postcards to the Spears Business entrepreneurship faculty. The front of the postcard had a picture of the Direct Kicks storefront and the back simply said, “I did it.”

“The one thing I always say about Louis is he will never work for anyone in his life,” said Gajan, who still talks about Direct Kicks in his lectures. “Some of the best entrepreneurial students are the ones whose parents have their own business, because they’ve seen it and they’re not afraid of it. Louis was closing his family’s pizzeria when he was 16. He may not run a shoe store for the rest of his life, but he’s learned to do this on his own and he’ll always be in business for himself.”

Lacarbonara opened his second Direct Kicks location in 2021 and now has over 75,000 followers on his social media sites. Business is going well, and he feels rejuvenated by lending his expertise to Fernandes-Flack and Stilly Kicks. Lacarbonara gives him pointers on pricing and sales tips, and his latest project is to get up and running so Fernandes-Flack can take his business global.

Still, Lacarbonara always has his eye on what might be next. He’s an entrepreneur, after all. He recently sold a Pokemon action figure and trading card business that he started on the side a couple of years ago. He even has a speed-dating business concept in his back pocket for when the time is right. Regardless of what it is, Lacarbonara will be ready to dive in thanks to the business sense he acquired at the pizzeria and at OSU.

“Sometimes you have to take risks,” he said. “I’m looking for the next thing that I want to focus on, but often when you try to find something it doesn’t end up working out. When it falls in your lap, that’s usually the best thing.”

Back To Top
SVG directory not found.