The Highsnobiety Crowns are an annual awards series celebrating the very best in streetwear and street culture over the past 12 months. See the full list of this year's winners here.
If you cast your mind back to last year's Crowns, you might remember that our Editor’s Choice for Best Store went to Grailed, the online platform that gives fashion and sneaker fans a space to sell their wardrobe to like-minded consumers.
What made Grailed exceptional was not that it did anything that revolutionary — its model is an evolution of the services offered by sites like eBay. But what the site got right was an understanding that even those who buy or sell things, secondhand or otherwise, value having a platform with a bit of distinction and prestige.
Whether you’re shifting old kicks, looking for that Supreme drop you took an L on, or hunting down some late-’90s Helmut Lang piece, the Grailed experience is comparable to any traditional online fashion retailer. And Grailed, founded in 2013, was just the start, with a number of similar reselling platforms popping up in the meantime, each with its own quirks.
It was a big year over at StockX, which combines elements of old-school consignment selling — wherein a third party sells a product for you, taking a cut from the sale — with stock market-inspired mechanisms that track the latest sale prices to provide real-time information about the hottest pieces on the market. Put another way, with its ticker, graphs, data, and arrows, StockX is like Wall Street for hyped kicks.
For a long time, the resale market has been largely informed by conjecture and pure speculation. Think of articles you’ve read claiming one shoe or another is reselling for some crazy price, only to discover the claim was based on a single eBay listing with no buyer.
StockX recognized that the resale market is precisely that: a market, and one worthy of being monitored like any other. In doing so, it helps sellers get a fair price for their items, and buyers avoid getting ripped off by someone insisting their "Zebra" YEEZY Boost 350s are still worth $1,500.
Elsewhere, sites such as KLEKT, GOAT, and ONI STORE offer a similar experience to Grailed, but geared more toward sneakers and streetwear, as opposed to the latter’s broad embrace of everything from vintage Raf Simons to handbags and belts. The recent eruption of these digital marketplaces mirrors the disruptive rise of sites such as Airbnb, as well as ridesharing and food delivery apps.
The fundamental model of these platforms is to sell or rent a product or service without necessarily owning the thing being sold. Airbnb offers short-term accommodation, diverting guests from hotels and hostels, but doesn’t own any of the properties. Uber and Lyft provide car journeys to millions, eating into traditional taxi firms' margins, but don’t own a single vehicle.
Likewise, Grailed, StockX, GOAT et al sell some of the most coveted sneakers and grails out there but have no warehouses of deadstock sneakers (although Grailed brand director Lawrence Schlossman’s closet might be close).
The rise of online resale platforms reflects a larger trend in society. From production to consumption, everything is increasingly transient. Artists drop new albums, we stream them for a week or two and then move on to the next one. The new season of our favorite show drops on Netflix, we binge-watch it in a couple of evenings and then complain about having to wait a whole year for the next one.
As for fashion, for some people, having the latest and hottest pieces year-round is the most important thing in the world. Trends come and go from season to season, but for those who really want to stay up to date, even seasonal switch-ups are too slow. What better way to stay affordably on trend than to sell on your pieces in time for the next drop?
For every person who couldn't wait to purchase the Balenciaga Triple S when it first came out, there were dozens of others happy to wait for the hype to die down and buy a pair secondhand with a few scuffs and a more attractive price.
A few years ago, high-fashion brands that had paid little attention to e-commerce were forced to wise up, committing more resources to their online stores once they started losing sales to retailers like NET-A-PORTER. In a matter of months, virtually every label from Balmain to Ermenegildo Zegna went from having unnavigable websites selling a handful of watches and women’s shoes to well-presented online stores offering everything.
Digital resale platforms are the next stage in that narrative, providing the perfect illustration of fashion, streetwear, and the sneaker world's endless churn in an accelerated world. They also show that premium goods have become increasingly mainstream, large enough to warrant their own dedicated marketplace.
Some people want to buy the latest piece, rock it once, and then sell it on in preparation for the next drop. Others want to dress luxuriously without paying luxury prices. Sites such as Grailed and StockX simply connect the two groups.
What's more, the resell platforms themselves have become valuable commodities. At the beginning of this year, venerable sneaker consignment shop Flight Club merged with sneaker resell app GOAT. Stadium Goods, a nascent sneaker consignment retail concept co-founded by Flight Club alumnus John McPheters, recently sold to Farfetch to the tune of $250 million.
Like it or not, this is the world we live in. From real estate to cryptocurrency, everything is a constantly fluctuating market. Sneakers and streetwear are no different. And while retailers and brands might end every season with unsold stock piled up and on sale racks, resale platforms don’t have that problem. Instead, they’ve got access to the products someone else copped but you want.