LONDON — Chris Kyvetos detected the potential of sneakers early on, and for two decades he’s used the shoes as his creative compass — and retail inspiration. The founder and creative director of Sneakerboy, the Australian chain of concept showrooms where sales take place via iPad and the sneakers and streetwear are sent straight to customers’ homes, Kyvetos is also the buyer and franchise partner of Balenciaga in Australia and men’s wear director at Stylebop, the Munich-based e-commerce site.
Thoughtful and whip-smart with dyed blond hair and retail in his veins, Kyvetos, 35, has been fixated with fashion since he was a teenager working on the shop floor and as a buyer, albeit an underage one. “I became obsessed with Yohji (Yamamoto) for some strange reason — I think it was his trousers, these really big-cut, baggy trousers — and I would only wear Nike sneakers,” Kyvetos said from his airy flat in Marylebone where, admittedly, he doesn’t spend very much time. In addition to his three other jobs, he’s planning a fourth, his own line of sneakers that will launch later this year, or early next.
Here, he talks about why sneakers and fashion need each other, the importance of wholesale today and the role of the resale market in adding fuel to the footwear fire.
Chris Kyvetos: The fashion industry, I would say, is at least six years behind the sneaker industry, so the way Nike sells to its retailers is the future of the fashion business — it’s got to be. The fashion business has caught up a little bit, but they’re still so far behind. Sportswear works in quarters rather than seasons, and Nike runs most things off a digital platform, with allocated products and controlled drops. It’s just a whole different world. Normally they’ll say to the stores, “OK, this is what we’re doing for this period of time, this is what we’re thinking, what’s your take? If we offered you one, two, three, four sorts of options, what sort of volumes are we talking, and do you think we’ll have four-week shelf life? A six-week shelf life?” There’s a lot of digital communication that goes on between the supplier and retailer in the lead-up to a selling period.
WWD: What actually goes on before the sneaker buyer walks into the showroom?
C.K.: There’s a marketing kit. It’s basically like a PDF that says: These are the products, this is how they should be displayed, this is the release date, this is our target media for it, this is the target clientele, this is the handle for social media, this is when you post, this is the image you should post on this day. There’s a global, uniform language going out. That’s what happens with every shoe, and every sneaker. In the fashion business, you buy the clothes, put them in the shop and hope they sell.
Now, though, fashion brands are getting far more methodical, and brands like Dover Street Market are really leading the way when it comes to interaction with consumer bases and product. You need to story-tell, too. With the sneaker brands, the year’s planned out, we’re telling stories every month, and one story leads into the next, and you taking the consumer on a journey throughout the year.
WWD: Is there anyone else who’s been a success with sales planning, hype creation and storytelling?
C.K.: I think that you can’t underestimate the influence of Supreme on the fashion business. They were the first who ran a fashion model the way that a sportswear or sneaker model would be run, so if you look at New York in the early 2000s or mid-2000s, you’d have Supreme releasing a collection on a Saturday, and Nike releasing a Jordan shoe on a Saturday. And now, because Supreme is a fashion brand and it plays in the fashion space, the fashion brands are looking at it and saying “We need to communicate to this consumer differently.” They’re sort of catching on to it. You see projects now like Moncler Genius, where you’ve got eight designers who are going to release a capsule collection every month. That’s a luxury heritage brand saying, “We need to acknowledge that this consumer doesn’t behave the way the last one did, and we need to adapt to the way this consumer expects products to be delivered.”
WWD: What have the sneaker brands learned from fashion?
C.K.: Today, to get the new sneakerhead you have to be a fashion brand. That’s why Virgil (Abloh) makes Nike shoes. Virgil’s not an athlete and he makes very successful Nike shoes. Nike are working with Virgil and all these guys who are not athletes, and that goes against everything Nike would have told you five years ago.
WWD: How have the streetwear sales strategies — and the luxury fashion ones — impacted the way you treat your own fashion clients and partners?
C.K.: I treat Balenciaga the same way I treat Nike, which means that we’re not just going to randomly show up, have a look at your collection, buy it, stick it in the store and hope it sells. Instead, they’re going to send me some arranged plans and ideas, and things that they’re thinking about. I’m going to then map that out and say: “We’re going to pursue this, we’re going to buy it for this date, we’re going to drop it on this date, we’re going to release just like we’d release a sneaker. We’re going to release the product on a day, in all the stores, the way we would release a shoe. We’re going to have some marketing around it. We’re going to plan it.” The way we’re going to release a Balenciaga jacket is the way we’re going to release a Jordan shoe.
WWD: What are your thoughts about direct-to-consumer vs. wholesale? You have a foot in both businesses, but what’s the model of the future?
C.K.: I don’t think you can ignore direct-to-consumer, and I’m seeing a lot of focus from Nike and brands like that on direct-to-consumer. It is the future of the business for a number of reasons, but mainly for clear commercial reasons. I think strategic wholesale is super important and it will be interesting with (Hedi) Slimane now at Céline. Hedi’s always had a very open mind towards strategic wholesale, he believes in wholesale, and Céline’s been a pretty nonwholesale brand up until now. I think a really good indication of how wholesale is used going forward is going to be what Slimane does at Céline.
WWD: So how does strategic wholesale help the fashion and luxury brands?
C.K.: If your shoe is on the shelf next to the most hyped Nike shoe that the kids are coming in for, all of a sudden your brand is in that kid’s eyesight, your brand’s relevant because it’s next to that shoe. I think Colette was always a strategic wholesale account because her business would pull from all relevant cultures — pop culture and sportswear and sneaker culture — and it would put Alaïa in between or around that. Dover Street Market is another great example, because it’s putting the local skate brand into the same space as Raf Simons or Gucci, so now all of the sudden, the kid who’s coming in to buy the local skate product is going to see Gucci and will think Gucci is relevant, because it’s in the same space as their favorite skate brand.
WWD: What about the Sneakerboy business? You’ve welcomed the resellers — with open arms — onto the Sneakerboy shop floor. Why?
C.K.: Re-commerce is a big driver in this industry. If you take re-commerce out of streetwear, you don’t get these big lineups everywhere. Most of the kids who are lining up, I’d say six out 10, are doing it because they want to participate in the re-commerce society.
Effectively, 30 percent of our store is now kids selling the shoes to each other and we don’t take a cut and we don’t get involved. We verify the kids, we verify the shoes are real, and we provide images for the shoes if they want them. We curate it, and the kids come in and transact amongst themselves. It’s brought this whole new level of foot traffic into the store. It becomes a hub, a meeting place where kids go to socialize. They’re also learning when they’re in there. Reselling is an economy, it’s a hobby, and it’s a passion for these kids.
WWD: What about your own sneaker collection? Did you have to build a warehouse to store it?
C.K.: I’ve got a lot of sneakers in Australia, but actually I don’t accumulate a lot, it’s a couple of cupboards’ worth, although (a friend) said, “It looks like you’re in a bowling alley.” I don’t collect as much as I used to. When you’ve got to move houses and stuff, it’s a nightmare and you’re scared to put them in boxes in case the box goes missing. I’ve sort of stopped with collecting, but I like to get the odd new shoe and look at it from a construction perspective, and see what are they doing, how they’re thinking, what materials they’re using and why.
WWD: You have so many businesses on the go. Now, you’re about to add another. Can you talk a little bit about your next project?
C.K.: I’m making sneakers. I’ve always had ideas for shoes and stuff, but hopefully we can get them to market by the end of this year (or the beginning of next year). It’s just called Athletics, which is where it all started. We’re not doing the wholesale thing: I’ve got 21 shops that are going to release the shoes, and they all have really nice stores, and some are quite big, too. They will go direct to just that group of retailers.