SINGAPORE – Friends for over 17 years, Richard Xia and Chris Xue have finally put their love of sneakers first and launched Singapore’s first “online marketplace for limited-edition sneakers, streetwear, and collectibles”, calling it Novelship.
If you have been dying to get your hands on an exclusive, limited-edition pair of Air Jordans, Yeezys or Supreme sneakers, Novelship is the place to hit up.
“I’ve been an avid fan of streetwear for years, and love collecting pieces from brands including Bape, and Supreme,” explains Xia, the CEO of the new company.
“When Chris - Novelship’s other co-founder - and I founded Novelship, it wasn’t just because we saw an enormous market opportunity across the APAC region, but also because we wanted to solve our own problems with buying and selling sneakers and streetwear, namely availability and authenticity of the products in the region.”
Xue, Novelship’s COO, agrees that he was the source of Xia’s sneaker habit: “I’ve been a huge fan of NBA Basketball and Sneakers for years. Nothing gets me electrified like a new Jordan or Kobe release.”
“When I was younger, sneakers were something that I would lace on, and cross up my opponents on the basketball court,” continues Xue. “Over the years, I [started] to learn more about sneaker culture, and I started collecting sneakers.”
“That’s when I [learned] the hard way ... over-paying for sneakers due to severe lack of access, and getting scammed by an atrocious amount of fakes online and selling scams.”
“Richard and I know there is a huge gap to fill in the APAC market. The problems we face are also shared by millions; with the pain magnified in markets outside of Singapore. That is why we built Novelship, where we connect buyers and sellers across geographies and provide them with the peace of mind to buy and sell authentic sneakers.”
Authenticity is everything
Novelship users can not only buy their favourite sneakers; they can also sell shoes they already have. According to Xia and Xue, all of the sneakers and other items on the website have been “professionally authenticated to guarantee quality and authenticity, ensuring all items purchased are of dead stock quality, and 100% authentic”.
“Unsurprisingly, authenticity and price are the number one concern for users in the Sneakers, Streetwear, and Collectibles marketplace; in Asia this problem is even more pronounced, being adjacent to many fakes-producing countries like Indonesia and Vietnam,” explains Xia.
While Xia and Xue were the original ‘experts’ for Novelship’s products - 17 years of experience proving useful - the site now has a more streamlined, faster system to ensure authenticity.
“As we scaled and assumed greater responsibilities, we quickly realised we’d need to build a team to handle this responsibility,” explains Xia. “A big first step in the right direction was simplifying the entire process, enabling anyone we hired to become proficient quickly. Luckily, one of our first authenticators hired locally ended up being a great fit and was critical to launching this team off the ground successfully.
“We’ve since built on these processes incorporating better authentication technology into the mix to ensure our checks are not only relevant but faster than ever before. As mentioned above, authentication is not static; it is an evolving process that we do our absolute best to stay on top of.”
Both Xia and Xue reiterate that being successful in the fraught world of sneaker and streetwear hypebeasts is dependent on having a substantial reputation of trust due to the broad spread of copies, resellers and scammers.
“Building up our reputation starting out was extremely difficult, before major online marketplaces, reputation was personally staked by large resellers wielding an enormous amount of power, and a lot of trading was done in person, providing the illusion of security. In many isolated markets this is still the predominant way of trading items,” explains Xia.
The team echoed this structure, starting Novelship on platforms like Carousell and dealing with customers personally. However, the larger the brand grew, the more untenable this became.
“Facilitating this shift was not without its hiccups, and though we got there eventually, there were many times we weren’t sure we had made the right move, taking the regional culture into account,” says Xue.
“As more buyers purchased from us and did not receive fake items, our reputation grew, ending up where we are today.”
Xue and Xia note, however, that the issue of authentication is “by no means solved”, but they are continuing to work on it by investing resources and continually upgrading their skills and systems.
“Fake manufacturers do not rest, and neither will we,” says Xia.
Buy Now, Offer, Sell Now, List…
One unique aspect of the Novelship system is the “Buy Now, Offer, Sell Now, List” that greets customers on the site.
“Fundamentally speaking, Novelship is a C2C marketplace, meaning we rely on both sellers and buyers to provide the inventory you see on the platform. However, these sellers and buyers are not always willing to sell or buy at the price you see, this is where Offers and Lists come into play,” explains Xia.
“Lists are the simplest to understand, as a seller if there is not an existing offer (bid) on the platform at a price you’d be willing to sell at, you can list your item at a slightly higher price, and incentivise the offerer (bidder) to increase their price.
“On the reverse side, you have offers, these function the same as bids. As a buyer, if I see an item I want, but the price listed is too high, I’ll place an offer on it instead of buying it outright, this will notify the seller to either reduce their price or even sell now to my offer.”
Xia says that the Novelship system gives customers more choice and control when it comes to prices. A successful sale happens when a seller sells directly to the highest current offer, or a buyer buys at the lowest current list price.
When it comes to those prices that are being decided on, it depends on demand and supply, whether from the Singapore market or the global one say, Xia and Xue. The internet has made it possible for customers to shop from a worldwide pool of products.
“The price is market dependent, and in different countries across the region can vary slightly, especially in countries where brands do not release a large amount of stock at retail. In these markets, prices tend to be higher as items are even more limited,” explains Xia.
“Prices in Singapore tend to be extremely competitive on the buyer side, as most Singaporeans are willing to pay more for the items they love and have the means to do so.”
Building a business
Neither Xia or Xue would say that Novelship is “successful” despite their early gains. However, the brand has grown quickly from a two-person band to a substantial team and a dedicated website.
“We initially got our humble start running this venture on Carousell and in various Whatsapp Groups,” explains Xia. “At this point of time, Chris and I were essentially a two-person army running everything day and night - customer service, delivery, payments, you name it. I don’t think we got too much sleep every night back then.
“We welcomed our first few thousand users this way - and I am still very thankful for their support even though a lot of things lacked back then. Then this two-person team expanded as many incredibly dedicated early employees joined us.
“Together as a team, we achieved many milestones together, like the launch of our website in its current format and welcoming our first 10,000 users among many others. And soon after, we were fortunate to find our investor GFC who believed in our vision and backed us to achieve even greater things ahead.
“Fast forward to today, and the rest is history. Thinking back - it has been a wild ride for Chris and I, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. And this is only the start.”
For Xue his love of sneakers and the development of Novelship is more than a hobby, it’s a lifelong passion that will only continue.
“If my mum can rock a pair of Yeezy 350 V2s, [and] come home excited like a kid at Christmas, telling me how she absolutely adored all the attention she got, then the sky’s the limit. There is always a pair of sneakers suitable for you.”
Novelship supports buying and selling in Singapore, Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Japan, and Indonesia. Go to novelship.com.
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