Snaking lines, late nights and flustered crowds – you would think that the scene set before you is one depicting a queue for a celebrity meet-and-greet or the latest smartphone, but you'd be mistaken. Sneakers are now treated as a rare commodity, with limited editions often commanding a waiting line that begins as much as a full day in advance.
The scene has progressed to a point where sneaker resale, colloquially referred to as "flipping", has become a legitimate business model. In Singapore, Novelship has begun as the island country's go-to marketplace for sneakers, streetwear and collectables. The platform is an attraction to many, as the affordable retail price of sneakers means that instant profit can easily be had, given the right resale visibility. Conversely, die-hard enthusiasts and collectors can take heart in a "one-stop-shop" that cater specifically to their demographic via a simplified and streamlined approach to order fulfilment.
"One of the reasons (Novelship) is primarily focused on the APAC region customers is because we feel this is a region that is underserved by most of the other major platforms elsewhere," says Richard Xia, Novelship's CEO. "Right now, we are already present in five markets: Singapore Malaysia, Indonesia, Japan, as well as Australia. And to date, we have done more than $10 million dollars worth of sales on our website, and that is across almost 20,000 transactions."
Aside from fuelling the ambitions of sneakerheads in the APAC region, Novelship also deals with a prevalent issue faced by the flipping community: counterfeits.
"When the going resale market rate for a limited-edition sneaker goes anywhere between $8,000 and $10,000, fraudsters are incentivised to sell fake sneakers for authentic prices," Xia pointed out. The way Novelship operates, he explains, is meant to safeguard against such malicious practices. Buyers and sellers must both register verified residential addresses and payment methods before being granted usage of the platform. When a transaction takes place, the seller must first ship the product to one of Novelship's three processing centres (Singapore, Jakarta and Tokyo) for its brand experts to perform the authentication. Only after the product is cleared, will it be released to the buyer.
Online shopping has continued to grow in appeal, with many favouring them over the traditional brick-and-mortar stores for several reasons, chief among them being the hassle of crowds. This is especially true with sneakers, particularly when it involves limited-edition drops. Late last year, the Orchard Gateway branch of popular sneaker retailer Foot Locker saw throngs of people gathering outside the storefront in the hopes of purchasing a pair. Eventually, police officers were ordered on to the scene to assist in maintaining public order.
The threat of Covid-19 did little to improve the optics of the situation. However, it did show the lengths that sneakerheads were prepared to go to for their hobby. For businesses like Novelship, recovering from the pandemic became a further testament to the buying power of the community. "Since we've overcome Covid-19's impact on our business, we have not only recovered to pre-Covid levels but have grown our sales volume to six or seven times of that of our original performance," Xia revealed.
As Southeast Asia gains recognition as a hub of the global sneaker trade (which is expected to comprise 40 per cent of the global growth in the athletic footwear market), Novelship's presence on Singapore's shores is well-timed and its success, almost kismet. The demand for designer sneakers has never been stronger, even when the height of the pandemic confined most people indoors and limited discretionary spending. Even amid a global health crisis, kicks – it seems – have a way of kicking back.
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