As a then-sneaker enthusiast, I noticed a few things about the marketplace that really frustrated me as a consumer. For one, very few places could really be trusted as sources for buying collectible sneakers online. For example, Paypal has identified fake sneakers as the second most fraudulent item purchased through their site and sneakers have developed a black market all their own – as a result, buyers were understandably more wary than ever about buying online. As a result, the few trusted, reputable brands—such as Flight Club, RIFLA, and others—had greatly raised their prices because they knew buyers were willing to pay a premium to make sure they'd receive an authentic product.
Limited supply also too often pushed buyers to unreliable or outright-criminal sources to get their favorite collectible sneakers. Collectors sought solutions in untrustworthy, unknown Instagram accounts, at unsearchable websites, or in confusing (or even dangerous) Craigslist transaction to get these new releases at a reasonable price. More uncertainty, more time wasted, and—in many cases—no product to enjoy.
I wanted a better way to buy collectible sneakers so I began researching the market, the vendors, the sales venues, the prices – in short, examining the problem from top to bottom in search of a solution.
I eventually developed a business model that weighed all these factors, built on my own experience as a consumer, and which was predicated on my desire to avoid taking out a costly business loan. In creating a new brand of online collectible sneaker presence, Illest Sneakers, I combined a carefully-curated social media presence, a beautiful website, and a highly reachable customer service feature to ease consumers’ worries about authenticity and brand recognition. With a friendly face, Illest Sneakers operations were primarily a just-in-time inventory model, which reduced the overhead operating cost. Backing up this model were connection’s I’d built with certain stores and buyers across the country that I was able to leverage. Supporting this concept also was a database of over 500 pairs of sneakers, all available at reasonable prices.
Originally started as a side project, in just a few months Illest Sneakers had quickly garnered over 30,000 online followers and had become a recognizable name in the collectible sneaker industry. Reflecting this growth, Amazon contacted me to express interest in partnering in order to offer our products on their website; making the honor of this offer even greater, Amazon proposed adding Illest Sneakers to its website’s “special footwear” category. I continued operating and improving the business over the course of two years, expanding to include sponsoring events, taking a foray into the apparel market, and bringing on board an investor to assist in expanding inventory and enhancing our marketing ability. In June of 2016, after two years of operation, I sold the business to a private buyer after determining that the market had fundamentally changed; a rapid increase in supply and changes in the release dates of sneakers, coupled with diminishing consumer interest in hard-to-find collectable sneakers, suggested the market was tipping back in favor of the large corporations. Although Illest Sneakers no longer exists, founding and managing this business taught me a great deal that I use each day in the work and projects I enjoy.
PROJECT CREDIT AND THANKS
If you love the sneaker artwork I used here, it comes courtesy of Landon Cooper. Please see his amazing work at landonvcooper.com.