Sneaker culture has become unrecognizable in the past decade.
Gone are the days when people used to camp out overnight at Foot Locker for limited-edition pairs, as that real-life hunt has been replaced by automated shopping software (AKA bots), stores’ shady “backdoor” operations,” and entrepreneurial teens who buy pairs with a single goal in mind: to make a profit. As it stands, there’s nothing joyful about the process of buying sneakers anymore — whether you want an Air Jordan, a Nike Dunk, or an Adidas Bad Bunny shoe.
Enter Kyx World, the latest sneaker platform to launch with the premise of making it easier for sneakerheads (and general consumers) to access the most coveted, hard-to-get silhouettes.
With hopes to promote a more inclusive sneaker and streetwear community, the subscription service offers four tiers in which users pay a monthly fee ranging from $49 to $299. Each level comes with an allowance to rent a specified range of sneakers per month, and as users pay more for higher levels, more perks are afforded. This includes options like the pool of shoes members have access to, monthly shipment value, number of swaps, how many shoes they can rent and, of course, the amount of money they have to rent with.
For example, at the bottom tier, members can rent one pair of sneakers at a time with up to a $300 value, while the next level costs the user $129 and affords them two pairs of sneakers with a value of up to $650 (for both pairs) and unlimited swaps throughout the month — a perk the tier one does not offer. And, every level puts 15 percent of your subscription fee into your Kyx “savings account” that you can use towards buying shoes you’ve rented from the platform.
Brian Mupo, CEO and founder of Kyx World, said the idea came to him when his own habits of buying sneakers, wearing them for a short period of time, and then flipping them, began to look like a rental model. He said, personally, in his “several years” of being into sneakers, he found himself hanging on to pairs from “30 days to six months.” He explains, “When I got them, saw them, and I put them on and saw how fly I looked. Some I would keep for a while, some I would wear once and I knew I wasn't probably going to wear them again, either at all or for a long time, and then I would liquidate.”
Mupo smartly employed Jeff Staple, the sneaker entrepreneur, designer, and respected OG in the industry, as the company’s Creative Director. In a 45 second video on the company’s website, Staple touches on how this is a time to “rethink consumption.” This sticks out because Kyx World easily could’ve capitalized on marketing from a sustainability approach, but it’s mentioned as more of an afterthought on the website, in the press announcement, and in the brands’ marketing. We’re left to assume that the Venn diagram of sneakerheads and sustainable shoppers is actually two distinct two circles, despite being a missed opportunity to shift the way those invested in the hype participate in the sneaker community.
Rental models typically find success leveraging those that want to invest less money and time. However, renting sneakers versus flipping the unwanted ones isn’t necessarily a better option financially. The Jordan Union LA x 1 Retro High NRG Black Toe retailed for $190 in November 2018, and has been an extremely high-demand pair of shoes since. We’re going to examine the difference between purchasing and renting a men’s size 10. If someone was not fortunate enough to buy a pair at retail price, today they can purchase the popular silhouette for somewhere between $1,800 and $2,100 on the resale market — undoubtedly a steep price at over a 700 percent markup.
“For nearly the same price or less, you can own a pair for whatever amount of time you wish.”
The Union Jordan collab is listed at a value of $2,281 on Kyx World. This exceeds the $2,000 allowance their highest membership tier offers. When asked what happens in these circumstances, the brand said subscribers can reach out to their “dedicated VIP concierge,” Sloan, to discuss next steps: “KYX can accommodate for all their offerings but approach all the budget overages on a case-by-case basis.”
Back to how this affects your pockets — someone can get one pair of these Union Jordan 1s for $299 for one month (the monthly subscription fee for the top tier) on Kyx or they can spend around $1,900 for a pair for life. Today, a pair of used Union LA Jordan 1s in a size 10 goes for $1,600 on GOAT, and their resale value has maintained for 13 months. Sure, $299 is a much lower entry point but holding a pair for 30 days is also a different relationship to the sneaker and the culture. For nearly the same price or less, you can own a pair for whatever amount of time you wish — free of Kyx’s monthly subscription fee.
Buying and flipping the shoes you want can result in spending your money with little return, breaking even, or — in some circumstances — put a little extra bread in your bank account. Renting the same shoes and having them for a limited time doesn’t afford any return outside the self-satisfaction of flexing on a limited timeframe for your Instagram followers — unless, of course, you end up buying them from Kyx for 10 percent off the Kyx listed value.
The rental model does, however, have the potential to steal business from resellers driving up the value of limited releases, but it’s not hard to deduce that Kyx’s customer base sounds like wannabe sneakerheads, those without the desire to own, collect or see a pair become beaters. Kyx’s subscriber base is about 75 percent male ages 20 to 26 and primarily resides in Los Angeles, with other pockets of users in large towns in Florida and South Carolina, a demographic that doesn’t know sneaker culture without social media.
“In terms of us having inventory available, it’s not a problem at all.”
It’s no secret stunting is inherently part of the lifestyle, but Kyx World’s easy access is purely for the new generation of sneaker enthusiasts far more invested in being seen or getting a quick fit pic off. The company’s average users were between the ages of 10 and 16 when Instagram launched and grew in popularity. It is a clout chaser’s dream, the shortest distance from outsider to sneaker influencer, and the quickest way to appear to have an absolutely insane rotation.
Mupo told Input the limited quantities brands release won’t impact availability to Kyx World users, and shoes will be available on drop day via the platform. “In terms of us having inventory available, it’s not a problem at all. Although these shoes are limited sneakers, ‘limited releases’ is sort of a relative term,” he said. “They're still producing quantities of, you know, 100,000. So, if you told me that tomorrow that I needed to get 100 pairs of Off White Air Max or just any Jordan 1 that just came out, it wouldn't be a problem to procure that.”
But, if a rental service has that many pairs available upon launch days, how are those already struggling to buy from retail going to be impacted? This may not be an issue right away, but should sneaker rental competitors pop up, it could actually decrease access to the number of shoes available at retail — the antithesis of Kyx mission. What’s more, Mupo wouldn’t disclose how exactly Kyx plans to secure the highly coveted pairs it is promising access to, only saying the company has its trusted industry sources — or, you know, “plugs.”
In August 2020, fashion brand Telfar changed the way it was selling its popular Shopping Bag as a direct result of bot and resellers infiltrating its drops. The brand shifted to opening pre-orders for a 24-hour period that month for a bag that would be delivered between December 15, 2020, and January 15, 2021 to flood the market, while it continued to do periodic limited drops throughout that time. It’s extremely unlikely sneaker brands will take this route any time soon, but by ensuring the demand is met, the need to purchase the bags way above retail is lessened.
Additionally, a new study published by the Environmental Research Papers suggests that out of all the potential outcomes for unwanted clothing, renting clothing is worse than both recycling and reselling. The study cites the transportation of the rentals and the required increase of cleaning of the items as to how it is worse for our planet. While sneaker rental service is a band-aid for some consumers’ woes within the resale market, Kyx’s unlimited swap options for upper-level members is exactly why apparel rental companies are being recognized as increasingly terrible for the environment.
Ultimately, Mupo’s desire for Kyx World to serve as “an authentic and inclusive representation of street and sneaker culture in a way the community does not currently reflect” falls short beyond Staple’s involvement. When asked what is missing in sneaker culture and how Kyx World is contributing to it, he says, “I think that the community is lacking, sort of, equal access and a minimum inclusivity problem, because there's such disparate pricing, because some of these more highly coveted shoes are so cost-prohibitive.”
Mupo believes that the subscription model offers access to shoppers at a fraction of the cost, and while it has the potential to cost less with some silhouettes, it isn’t significantly more cost-effective than buying, wearing, and reselling shoes, nor does it shift the excessive consumption fueling the industry.
Kyx does offer a lower-stakes access point to those less invested in sneakers that want to appear otherwise, but it doesn’t contribute anything to a community that has been transformed into a commodity by outsiders. Any way you look at it, the only way the lack of access in the sneaker business changes is if the brands decide to kill hype and produce enough for the demand.