A pop-up vending machine for Sole DXB 2017.

Think vending machines are just for snacks and soda? Think again.

The founders of Sole DXB want product designers and marketers to think out-of-the-box in connection with how fashion merchandise can be sold, and right now they see potential in pop-up vending machines.

Sole DXB was founded by Hussain Moloobhoy, Joshua Cox, Kris Balerite and Rajat Malhotra, with each having either creative or product design backgrounds. The platform is essentially an annual street culture festival aimed at celebrating global street culture in the Middle East. Totaling three days and two nights in Dubai, the platform combines a music festival and a direct-to-consumer fashion trade show.

This year’s three-day show, which began Thursday and represents the sixth annual installment, is in partnership with Virgin Megastore, and celebrates Japanese street culture via an experiential update to its concept store, Early Retirement. The concept includes exclusive collaborations and event merchandise housed in specially imported vending machines. The thinking behind using an iconic symbol of modern-day Japan — vending machines are found on Japanese street corners — is to provide visual interest for the festival, as well as a look at what could be the future buying habits of the next generation of shoppers.

The idea of using vending machines to sell fashion-related merchandise isn’t exactly new. Reebok International in 2004 used vending machines to sell the brand’s Travel Trainer sneakers in select locations in New York and San Francisco. That test concept evolved from a set-up in a Tokyo airport and at select stores the year before. Beauty got into the category as a possible new selling channel when ZoomSystems in March 2010 inked a deal with The Body Shop to sell select products. More recently, in June Snap Inc. began using Snapbots — vending machines — to sell its $129.99 Spectacles in London and Spain. That was followed in August by Japanese firm Uniqlo, which said it would use Uniqlo to Go automated apparel vending machines to sell jackets and underwear in high-traffic areas that may not warrant a store or have the square footage to accommodate one.

Typically, consumers make a selection and then swipe their credit cards to make a purchase, but the cards actually aren’t billed until after a robotic arm removes a product that then gets ejected for pick-up.

Items for purchase in the Sole DXB machines are hand selected from some of Tokyo’s backstreet retail finds, such as hard to locate Eighties Walkmans and hip-hop tapes. Sole DXB also produced their own “Sole” branded merchandise ranging from T-shirts and hoodies to caps and pins. Also available are Wacko Maria x Sole DXB collaboration tees and limited quantities of Asagra bandanas.

Previous street culture celebrations include American hip-hop in 2015 and the British street counterpart in 2016. This year’s direct-to-consumer fashion trade show participants are housed in retail units taking their design cue from Tokyo’s architecture, and brand participants include Asics, Nike, Puma and Reebok. Japanese designers represented at the show include Neighborhood, Visvim, Wacko Maria and White Mountaineering. Sole DXB is also partnering with two luxury brands for the first time: Dior Homme and Kenzo. Dior Homme created a one-off B01 Sneaker in Black calfskin for the event, limiting production to 50 pairs.

The Sole DXB B01 Sneaker from Dior Homme.  Courtesy Photo

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