The Industry Interview: George Sullivan, The Sole Supplier
With ‘”drop” culture becoming the go-to formula for brands and retailers to raise awareness and desire for new and limited edition product, particularly sneakers, we speak to the man who’s feeding the “sneakerhead” frenzy through his website – The Sole Supplier – George Sullivan.
How would you best describe The Sole Supplier?
The Sole Supplier is the hub of casual footwear helping you find trainers from over 50 different retailers online. Through our website and app, we deliver all the latest releases, launch dates and confirmed stockists to our readers. Here they can buy directly from retailers before pairs fly off the shelves. We also want to inspire the converted and educate the non-believers, telling the story of what’s behind the designs, opening their eyes to trainer culture and giving them the buzz.
When did you start it and have you had investment?
The Sole Supplier started as a blog five years ago, in late 2013. We have always been self-funded from the beginning with no external investment. This is important for us to keep the platform unbiased and authentic as a news and educational resource.
How, why and when did you get so in to sneakers and get the hunger to find the latest releases?
I’m a self-confessed trainer geek and always have been. It’s from my own personal frustration with the lack of information available around UK release dates, where to buy them and queuing up every weekend outside stores, that I decided to create my own platform to make it easier.
"I believe we’re only at the beginning of the fresh drop culture and it’s going to continue to grow."
Does the fresh drop culture have longevity?
I believe we’re only at the beginning of the fresh drop culture and it’s going to continue to grow. It started off as a streetwear tactic, with the likes of Supreme and Kanye’s Yeezy’s sell-out drops but now we can see high-end brands following suit. Burberry has recently launched its B Series, only made available through its social media platforms, a first for the traditional arm of the luxury sector which has started to use streetwear tactics to stay relevant. According to Grand View Research, the global athletic footwear market size is expected to reach $95.14 billion by 2025. This represents a huge opportunity for retailers as streetwear becomes an era-defining style.
How do the brands really benefit from limited edition collaborations and regular new releases?
Consumers are looking for limited releases that are seen and recognised by many people. They aren’t looking for mass-market supply but mass-market recognition. Brands gain the most out of their latest releases whether it’s a limited edition collaboration or their latest style, due to the hype that surrounds it. When a brand creates a product that is sought after, the public becomes its greatest advertiser. The public are the ones talking about it the most through social media and word of mouth, so it becomes wanted more and more and the brands’ name is embedded in the consumers’ mind. They’ll keep coming back.
Do the brands and retailers now come to you first to tell you of the latest releases due to come out?
We have a great community of partners (brands and enthusiasts) who provide us with new and exclusive content everyday as well as a team of researchers in house. We have previously worked closely with Nike and Adidas to reveal information on exclusive releases first, including the Yeezy and Jordan products providing our community with the first chance to buy.
Do brands advertise with you or pay you to feature their new releases?
Rarely do we work with retailers or brands on fixed fees to promote shoes. The only time we do this if it makes sense for our audience. We only push shoes we believe are good, not what makes us or the brands/retailers the most revenue. We ensure our content is authentic and unbiased.
Do retailers/brands who you list as stockists of the new releases pay you a commission?
A large portion of the partnered retailers we work with will pay us a small commission for a sales conversion from our website without passing any additional cost to the customer.
What sort of following do you have online? And what about social media followers?
We now have over 2 million visitors each month via our website and over 1.1 million followers across our Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube platforms. By growing our community, our aim is to be the hub for casual footwear searches. A one-stop-shop for the latest news, exclusive content, release calendars and direct links to buy.
How do your followers benefit from checking The Sole Supplier for new releases?
We stay ahead of the game and ensure our content is as relevant as possible, so our readers keep coming back to our pages. With all the trainers we promote through our website, we offer direct links to the retailers who will stock these trainers. Even with trainers that aren’t released yet, we show which retailers will be stocking them, so our community have the best chance of securing the latest ‘high-heat’ release.
Do you have an amazing collection of sneakers yourself?
I definitely own a lot of trainers but right now I have around 30 in a rotation that I wear day-to-day. It’s definitely about not being too greedy and buying the pairs you truly like. I also take pairs out of rotation and give these to charity and refresh this to ensure I am always keeping something good on my feet.
What are the most anticipated new releases and why will they be so sought after?
The Yeezy Boost 350 V2 Sesame is set to hit retailers on November 23. The. Adidas Ultra Boost 4.0 Triple Black will be out on 3 December, and the dates for the Nike x Off White Air Force 1 in black and the Nike x Fear of God Collection are to be confirmed. The Yeezy Boost 350 Static will also be out some time in December. With the run-up to Christmas fast approaching, brands will want to make the most of the shopping frenzy. The Yeezy Boost 350 V2 Static release should be the final release for 2018 and will definitely be sought after for Kanye and Adidas fans alike, ready to round off their collection. With its traditional ‘Ye’ styling and understated colour palette, this is definitely going to be the shoe at the top of everyone’s Christmas wish list.
What type of people are spending all their money on these rare new releases?
You get such a range of people and ages that want to spend money on the most anticipated trainers. When there is enough hype around a release, you can get customers from complete newbies to dedicated sneakerheads buying into it. Trainers nowadays can appeal to such a mass market and with limited stock surrounding a lot of releases, it makes it worth the money as you feel like one of the lucky ones to have been able to purchase a pair. Those who are really dedicated will try to secure two pairs, one to rock and one to stock.
"Those who are really dedicated will try to secure two pairs, one to rock and one to stock."
How big is the re-sale market now?
A resale market is inevitable with ‘high-heat’ products. It’s always existed, but technology is making resale a bigger beast. It keeps the hype going after the initial release and can give people a second shot at securing a pair, but it often comes at a price. According to resale marketplace ThredUp, the US resale economy is dominated by apparel and its currently worth $20 billion. Consumers interested in resale is only expected to grow with the US market alone predicted to reach $41bn by 2022. There’s a risk the fun is taken out of trainer culture though. Some people are just in it for the money, using ‘bots’ to hit retail websites from multiple IP addresses to get their hands-on multiple pairs of limited releases without getting banned by the retailer. Counterfeiting is also a big risk in the resale game. People should always check certifications and a receipt before parting with any cash.
So do you get people snapping up the latest limited edition sneakers strictly to then sell them on for a big profit?
Yes definitely. There is big money in reselling sought after trainers but, with that said, most trainer loyalists are genuinely buying pairs to wear them. With those who buy to wear, there is nothing better than being able to cop a limited edition release, knowing you are a part of a small community of people who have them.
Is there good money to be made in that? Got any examples at all?
There is definitely good money to be made in re-selling footwear but only a handful of people are lucky enough to have built an empire as a shoe reseller. Arguably the most successful sneaker reseller is Benjamin Kapelushnik, who started reselling at the age of 13 in 2013 and made his first million only three years later in 2016.
Where, when and by who would you say this whole limited sneaker release phenomenon started?
Nike led the charge pre-internet. The limited edition Air Jordan XI, fronted by the legendary Michael Jordan, hype came by way of on-court performances or through magazines and posters in the late 90’s. However, it was Nike’s collaboration with high-street retailer Supreme which really kick-started the trainer phenomenon. Released in 2003 Nike collaborated with Supreme for its Nike Dunk High SB ‘Supreme’. As online retail wasn’t as big back then, fans slept on the streets for days just for a chance to cop all three colourways of the limited Dunk. Then came the Nike ‘Pigeon’ Dunk SB which some credit with being the official turning point in the world of limited releases, putting sneaker culture on the media’s radar and changing the game.
Who else quickly picked up on it in terms of other brands and retailers?
Nike aside, Adidas has become another infamous brand for limited edition ‘creps’, from dropping trainers that match Berlin subway seats, or the recent TfL collaboration, to the long-standing and much-hyped Yeezy by Kanye West, or Ye as he’s now known.
"Due to the nature of limited releases, it’s becoming almost impossible to purchase the latest must-have trainer."
When did all the online raffles start in order to be able to buy a pair of limited edition releases and how does it work?
Many online retailers and brands are moving towards online raffles when selling their limited releases in a move to combat ‘bots’ and make it a fairer system. Due to the nature of limited releases, it’s becoming almost impossible to purchase the latest must-have trainer. Especially now with many people creating ‘bots’ or apps to push ahead of the queue when a release drops. This is why online raffles are created, to ensure ‘bots’ can’t skip ahead of the queue and everyone has a fair chance to get their hands on a high-heat release. Online raffle systems work by users entering an email address associated with its retail account and entering into a raffle. The winners are then chosen and notified via email. Interactive games could become the next big thing which make things more interesting for fans. We have already seen this with websites like Slam Jam offering an arcade style game and a leader board. You have to be in the top 10 for your size before you can win.
How many pairs of these small run but high-profile and largely hyped sneakers are normally made and how quickly do they sell out? Any recent examples at all?
The stock of limited releases can range from as little as 20, to a couple of hundred or even hundreds of thousands. However, if rumours start to circulate about high stock levels, or a release is still available a couple of days after its launch, a high-heat release can suddenly cool down and lose its exclusivity. For instance, more re-releases and Kanye’s promise that ‘eventually everybody who wants Yeezy’s will get Yeezy’s’ back in 2015 has slowed the sell-out rate of subsequent models. In September this year, the re-release of his Yeezy Boost 350 V2 hadn’t sold out two days after going on sale, an age in the world of high-heat releases.
What’s next for The Sole Supplier and The Sole Womens?
We have just recently relaunched The Sole Supplier app, focusing on giving our community a more tailored user experience and an easier purchase journey, matching them to the trainers we know they’ll love and giving them push notifications if a model is re-stocked or launched.
As time goes on we aim to become the home of footwear searches, expanding the range of products we cover. Almost like what Amazon is for everyday products, we aim to be the trainer equivalent. The only place you need to go to find a new pair of trainers.
Do you intend to start up an online shop yourself?
The Sole Supplier is about to relaunch its own authenticated marketplace that has been under development for 12 months. It will allow buyers to shop with confidence and know they are getting genuine footwear for a good price.