The reseller economy is on fire and while many are happy to fan the flames that result in absurdly inflated prices, Dejan Pralica is not, and he’s determined to do something about it. Back in 2018, Pralica and Justin Dusanj co-founded SoleSavy, a subscription-based platform that connects thousands of like-minded heads through the genuine love of shoes. Intrigued by his utopian dream of not paying over retail, we sat down with Pralica to talk shop and unveil his ambitious new project, the SS4 sneaker produced by – and for – the SoleSavy community.
Was there a specific moment that inspired you to start SoleSavy?
I’ve been working in the industry since 2011 with my other company Kicks Deals. In 2017 I noticed bots were smashing sneaker sales. I saw the correlation with concert tickets and a bill that just passed the US Senate, called the Better Online Ticket Sales Act (BOTS), because resellers were using tech to make money from music events. The sneaker stores, big and small, just weren’t ready. I can’t make an app that stops a bot, but I wanted to find people who are aligned with what I believe in, which is the fundamental idea that anyone should be able to buy shoes.
The bigger picture is that I wanted to build a community. SoleSavy in its infancy was a bunch of people who love forging friendships through shoes. I always had ideas but never a clear vision until maybe 18 months ago. I spent that time learning, ideating and talking to people to understand what consumers want. We have just over 7000 members right now mostly around the US and Canada, but we have plans to grow internationally this year.
The subscription model is standard in tech, but what you’re offering is unique in the sneaker world. What do you get if you’re part of the SoleSavy crew?
Right now it’s basically an end-to-end platform. When you read the content we create, listen to our podcasts or watch our videos, you’re enjoying the culture of sneakers. Then we go on a journey through to the point of sale. What do our members need to do to buy the shoe – for the standard retail price – so they can beat out resellers?
Drop Alerts provide instant links to buy your size with personalised notifications. We also have SoleSavy Assist, which helps you checkout faster by speeding up the process. Additionally, we create detailed release guides to help you keep up with sneakers you want and focus on sites with good protection against bots. All of this helps with the process of buying for retail. It’s a fast-moving space with so much noise, so we try to make the experience enjoyable so you’re not wasting time figuring things out by yourself. Buying, selling, trading, and engaging with other like-minded people is what SoleSavy is all about.
Given SoleSavy is all about not paying over retail, how does that principle work trading on your platform?
I don’t mind paying $500 for your ‘Union’ Jordan 4s. I have no problem giving you money if I’m engaged with the seller directly. But I do have a problem giving that money to ‘X’ marketplace, where I don’t know the other party. If it’s a botter with 100 pairs, I don’t want to feed their greed. What I do want is to participate in the community with other passionate people! Resale en masse, using the exploitation of technology and back doors that take away product from regular people, is the issue. When Bloomberg writes about kids making a million dollars with their mum’s credit cards, who then turns out to be the child of a prominent industry executive, that’s definitely not a level playing field.
Social platforms killed the sneaker forums, but you’re using the Slack app almost as a message board.
Yeah, we use Slack like a forum where people have live conversations as it establishes a beautiful sense of ownership. Social media can be the exact opposite of that sometimes. We have 10 communities, two for Canadians, one for women exclusively, and then seven for Americans. Each community comprises 6-900 people, and that’s your tribe. We have members who have been with us for three years and as new people join, it’s important to build friendships because that is the essence of community.
Between consoles, vintage whiskey, clothing and toys, it seems we’re heading to a point where nothing ‘cool’ has a fixed retail value.
Yeah, I agree. There’s no marketplace out there that does buying, selling, trading and showcasing your entire collection. I have 550 shoes uploaded to my account. You can log in right now and see every sneaker I own and every sneaker I’m looking to buy and sell. I’ve listed them for a price, which is what I paid, with proof if it’s above retail. If you want to resell for a massive profit, you know where to go. That’s not what SoleSavy is about, we’re trying to change the hype culture in a positive way.
Right now, the seller has all the power. Typical marketplace models work on commissions but our marketplace has no fees as membership is part of the subscription package. But again, if I want to offer $500 for your shoes, that’s my decision. Will the SoleSavy system work? I think so. Do we need to break some habits? Yes. Could it fail? Yes. But I have to try. There are dozens of different marketplaces built for resellers, so why make another one?
The hustle, the plug, the back door, the Nike affiliations – even the offspring of the biggest athletes have been accused of these things – it seems there’s no shame as making money justifies the means at the moment.
That’s one way to think about it. I always come from the perspective of the student who just wants the new Yeezy to have a cool shoe, but can’t afford the resale price. We have just skewed the asset class of sneakers so much we need to remember why they exist in the first place. We have to find the balance.
Nike could double the price of Jordan 1s and kids would still pay.
I would say so. There has to be a better word for this, but it’s the aftermarket ‘exploitation’ that has to stop. For example, if a store has 100 units and 100 unique people get a pair, I think that’s fair. But right now, it’s often 40 individual people get a pair, then five people each get 10 pairs.
Why isn’t the technology to stop bots added into Shopify and the other big e-comm platforms?
I think Shopify is doing a really good job of stopping bots. The problem is accessibility. Not every retailer can afford Shopify bot protection because the costs are so high that mom-and-pop shops can’t cover them. I think we’ll get to a point where that has to be a core feature in Shopify’s platform but right now, it’s apparently only available to maybe 15 stores.
The approval rating from users of the Nike SNKRS app was reportedly as low as 22 per cent. The rest were totally disenfranchised by the constant Ls. But what happens if Nike doubles the numbers and the shoes just sit?
That’s a great question. The demand for sneakers, let’s say, has maybe doubled since the pandemic, which is something you couldn’t forecast. I think Nike is starting to find balance. Look at the four colours of the Patta Air Max 1, three CLOT Air Max 1s, eight sacai Waffles. Nike is making it more accessible which helps lower the resell, but at the same time, they are really smart. They’re sprinkling in Travis Scott Jordan 1s that resell for $3000.
On the other hand, the OG Air Max 90 ‘Bacon’ is an absolute grail. Everyone was super excited about the retro and Nike made so many there’s barely any resell upside. That doesn’t bother me, but it does bother resellers. When the Nike Turbo 3 came out, it took a solid week to sell out and I remember seeing that and feeling like, ‘Oh, maybe I don’t want these.’ So when everyone says, ‘Just make more, that’ll fix everything,’ it might make people want shoes less, which is insane.
I’d really love to see more transparency. If I open the SNKRS app and it says, ‘Enter your size,’ and I put in 11 and it tells me, ‘Your odds of winning are 1 per cent,’ I’d think, ‘All right, the expectation’s been set.’ But if I go in there hoping it’s going to happen and it never does, it’s beyond frustrating.
A store told me a while back that kids had hacked Nike’s freight backend and could see when the trucks were about to arrive. It’s amazing how ingenious sneakerheads can be. Is there some way to reward rather than punish bad behaviour?
Well, yeah, I’d prefer to think of a rewards system, but then how do you let someone who is new to the culture participate if the status to get in is so high? How many Jordan 1 releases happen a year, maybe 50? Could SNKRS develop a system where the most Jordan 1s any customer can buy each year is ‘X’ amount, then others are given preference?
That would be cruel, but it is an interesting idea. Some stores make kids wear the shoes out the front door, or you have to skate away in your Dunks. I thought that was funny but it upset some folks.
This is why it’s so hard. We’re talking about completely restructuring drops as we know it to ensure it’s fair. All I know is that I can create a platform for my customers and adapt as things change to bring them value. We all know consumers are unhappy so how do we fix that? I think it starts with better experiences and fewer transactions. Right now, to do a basic size swap, you’d have to pay a fee to sell your pair then pay another to buy your correct size.
One warped attitude is the idea of the resale price used as a barometer of success. I’ve seen adidas colab reports where they gloat over the resale price and it’s used as an actual KPI, which is absurd.
If any brand is thinking like that, I think they’re completely out of touch. Just because something sells out doesn’t even mean it’s a great shoe. An example I can think of is the Air Max 1 ‘Lemonade’ from 2020. The green pair was meant to be 12 to 24 pairs per store but you could not get that shoe if your life depended on it because resellers bought every pair. Turns out no one wanted them and they’re below retail now, but that’s a dangerous trend because the brand thinks they had a 100 per cent sell-through and that influences future supply.
Now you’re in the shoe-making business. You started with a custom, then you dipped your toes into crowdsourcing. What’s driving that investment in product?
Making a custom Jordan 1 really got me and the community excited. We did a bespoke build and bought 250 original Air Jordan 1 soles, stripped the uppers and created a design the community came up with collaboratively.
We followed that with the Air Max 90 ‘SS2’ which was inspired by the ‘Cherry’ Air Max. We did 800 pairs of that and then I started thinking. To do bespoke customs from scratch in America is really expensive because there’s so much manual work. That’s when I had the idea of creating an all-new shoe.
Over 180 members were involved over six months and we called it the SS3. It’s a beautiful shoe, especially when you consider a bunch of people who have never designed a sneaker before created it.
When we started that, we worked with Gemo Wong and Justin Taylor, who both have over a decade of Nike history. We wondered what would happen if we gave two experienced footwear designers the mandate to make something for the community. We’re not trying to be a footwear company, we just want to find new ways for people to get access to sneakers and experiences. I’m super happy with the design. I don’t particularly care how many we make. For them to go from a sketch on a napkin to reality is an amazing thing to be part of.
SoleSavy Design Team
Justin spent most of his childhood playing ball and drawing sneakers. One day his mother told him that designing sports shoes was a real job and he never looked back! His passion for footwear and the inspirations that drive design innovation followed him all the way to college, where he played basketball. He then spent the next 14 years designing for some of Jordan Brand’s top athletes including Carmelo Anthony, Blake Griffin and Chris Paul. Aside from designing sneakers for future hall of famers, Justin also contributed to categories including lifestyle and kids.
Gemo has worked for the majority of his career at Nike, the biggest sportswear company in the world, where he held a number of apparel and footwear design roles. The results are etched in history as Gemo helped produce some of the most coveted sneakers of all time including the KAWS x Jordan 4, Off-White x Air Jordan collection and the Cactus Jack x Jordan collection. Collaborating with underground artists, superstar musicians, up-and-coming creatives and world class athletes, Gemo has played an influential role in the sneaker industry’s rise from niche hobby to mainstream cultural force.
Watching your visit to the Garrixon factory, where the shoes were made, it seems you had an epiphany and a newfound appreciation for what it takes to build shoes. It’s not as easy as it seems.
It’s not that I wasn’t aware, but when it was right there in front of me I could see how much goes into it. You can get lost in the noise but seeing the SS4 made was incredibly inspiring. I think we look at a shoe and see the resale value in a bubble and if it’s not sky-high we don’t think it’s cool enough. Our shoe looks good, it tells a great story, it makes me feel good about SoleSavy, and I appreciate the craftsmanship that went into it.
It’s an ambitious project. Kudos to you for not making one of those lazy Air Force 1 clones that have been so prevalent over the last couple of years. You probably could have given up several times but you have finally made this thing and now it exists.
That’s the story I’m going to tell to the SoleSavy community. I want them to be a part of the process and move away from the asset class culture of shoes because again, I think it’s dangerous and unhealthy. I’m excited to share it with people. If only 500 people want it, I think it’s a gamble worth taking, because no one’s really taking risks right now. For innovation to happen, you’ve got to be okay with failing, but I feel really confident we did this right.
Is there a favourite detail?
I love the sole and the shape of the silhouette. I really do think the SS4 is a good looking shoe. It’s got our DNA all over it, but it’s not in your face. What I really love about Gemo and Justin is that they created something very SoleSavy without having to write it all over the shoe, although I couldn’t help but put the logo on the sole. I don’t know if you noticed the shape, but our logo was inspired by the Jordan 5 sole, so when I was designing it, I put the S-O-L-E on the one side of Jordan 5, S-A-V-Y on the other side, that’s why there’s one V, as I couldn’t fit two Vs. Now I need to find wet cement somewhere to step in it and leave the logo behind!
How have you connected the metaverse through these shoes?
I very much believe in the fundamentals of Web3 and I want to push it forward. When you buy a sneaker, the experience ends when it’s delivered, and I want to challenge that dynamic. One aspect, obviously, is that you can redeem a physical sneaker anytime from now until June, which means you’ll get access to events we’re throwing. Gemo is creating merch and our team is creating custom seeding packs and extra add-ons. We’re also putting the shoe into the metaverse so you can wear it in your digital life. I don’t have all the answers just yet, but we owe it to customers to try something new. We’re a young, small company that can do things like this. When all the pairs are done, we’re going to do something very traditional, which we haven’t fully figured out yet.
A line up overnight in camp chairs!
I don’t know if we’ll do a campout [laughs], but maybe stop by the SoleSavy pop-up in New York City and you can try the SS4 on. Innovation comes with risk, but I think this one’s going to pay off.
Last question. This might be a big one, but what do you think the future of sneaker retail looks like?
I think it’s going to be all about the human experience. There has to be a balance of digital and IRL, but also returning to our roots, which is people and the story told through the product. We’re certainly thinking about it that way at SoleSavy.
While I don’t have all the answers, I’m going to try and be a positive influence. That’s why we’re doing the SS4 project. That’s why our platform is what it is. I’m going to give our members value anywhere I can, because they deserve that at the end of the day.
Head over to the SoleSavy site now to acquire your SS4 NFT, which you can use to claim a physical pair! Visit SoleSavy here.