Memoirs of a Hype Hustler
KICKSTW spearheads Melbourne’s burgeoning hype resell scene. Enterprising founder Steven Wei started his sneaker-slinging scheme in 2013 on social media platforms Facebook and Instagram, then began building his brick-and-mortar empire in 2017. In under three years, constantly growing inventory meant two relocations before its current location in the CBD’s historic Royal Arcade. Naturally, there have been some bumps in the road along the way, but the show goes on. Here’s how he did it.
For people who may not be aware of what KICKSTW means, it’s simply a combination of ‘KICK’ and ‘STW’, which stands for my name, Steven Wei. I spent about two minutes thinking of it when I signed up to Instagram!
When I was growing up in China, I loved watching the NBA and spotting fancy sneakers on the court. One day, a school friend was rocking a pair of Air Jordan 18s, which weren’t sold in China at the time – you had to get them from the US. I thought they were so cool, that they looked like a sports car! I’d read magazines like Milk and SLAM, dreaming I’d own Jordans one day.
I moved to Melbourne in 2009 to pursue my studies but, soon after, I got hooked on sneakers. To fund my habit, I actually became a door-to-door salesperson for an energy company! It really taught me how to hustle. With all of these new sneakers in my stash, it was my turn to be asked where I got them. This was an opportunity for me to source sneakers and make a bit on top for the legwork. I’d line up at releases and buy as much as I could, until stores imposed a one-per-customer policy. So, I’d gather these friends and we’d all line up to share the earnings. Eventually, I looked beyond just physical stores.
I’ll let you in on a little secret. There are heaps of closeted collectors on Gumtree (a marketplace similar to Craigslist). They might only list a pair or two, but when you start talking to them, some might have 100 more stashed. Eventually, some want to cash out their collection, and that’s where I come in.
Buying out entire collections is expensive, so you have to choose carefully. I never asked the bank for a loan, nor did I borrow money – I just saved. Thankfully, my business partner, Chris, is great at sniffing out the right collections.
KICKSTW started as an online business in 2013. Every dollar we made from sales was put back into buying more inventory. Running the website had its challenges, and we learnt some hard lessons. Cyber crime hit us early on, when dishonest customers were using stolen cards to buy from us. We were receiving dozens of letters from banks informing us of chargebacks – one month we got over 20! So, we started over again when we made sure the site was a tight ship. Eventually, it was time to have a physical space.
There have been some great memories running the shop so far. Our first store wasn’t really a store – it was more of a warehouse space for our website inventory. On launch day, about 30 people had lined up. I think I cried before we opened, because customers had travelled all the way to a warehouse in a faraway suburb!
When we moved the business into the city, my friends and I would stay back until midnight each day to fit out the store by ourselves. It was a tough process, but the moment we put all of the shoes on the shelves, it was all worth it.
Eventually, we outgrew our first city location, so we packed it up to move into the Royal Arcade. To be honest, I feel very lucky. The sneaker scene in Melbourne and the world just continues to get bigger and bigger. I’m a risk taker, so I want to be ahead of the curve as it happens.
For example, we started the ‘Mystery Box’ concept and it really blew up. Soon after, everyone tried to sell their own ‘Mystery Box’. What also really sets us apart is the fact we always have new stuff coming through the shop. I love displaying rare sneakers – most of the time they’re not for sale! My business partner doesn’t always think it’s the best move, but he’s always pushing me to keep product moving.
Of course, we’re not only here to make money, we don’t really see shoes as dollar bills. Shoes are our life and culture, we see shoes as part of our lifestyle. If I can help people get the sneakers they want, then I’m happy.