Headquartered in Singapore, Novelship is an online sneaker and streetwear marketplace. Founded in 2018, the startup aims to create a safer buying and selling experience for streetwear and sneaker aficionados.
KrASIA had a chat with Richard Xia, co-founder and CEO of Novelship, to find out more about his sneaker business.
This interview has been consolidated and edited for brevity and clarity.
KrASIA (Kr): Tell us about how you set up Novelship.
Richard Xia (RX): My co-founder, Chris, and I launched Novelship even before we had graduated from university.
We already had two ventures under our belt—a mobile café and a software platform for customer service. We were starting to see interest from investors. But ultimately, we knew they were not what we wanted to do in the longer term. So we sat down and thought about our true passion and how we could go about building a business venture around it.
We were both self-confessed sneakerheads, so sneakers felt like a good place to start. As a consumer in the sneaker economy who has connected with many fellow sneakerheads—we often found ourselves in long queues to get our hands on the latest drops—we recognized the pain points that we wanted to address.
Today, I’m proud to say that Novelship is a fast-growing online marketplace in Asia for authentic, limited-edition sneakers, apparel, and collectibles. We are a safe and trusted ecosystem for buyers and sellers.
Kr: What are your major markets?
RX: Novelship currently serves customers across Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Taiwan, Australia, New Zealand and Japan.
Kr: How do you differentiate yourself from your competitors?
RX: Novelship isn’t a marketplace for just sneakers, but also collectibles and apparel. Compared to offline sneaker stores, Novelship has a much larger collection of sneakers, apparel, and collectibles.
We also ensure that every single item transacted through our platform is authenticated. How the purchase process works is that sellers will first ship their products to Novelship for us to inspect in terms of their authenticity and condition. Once authenticated, the product, which comes with a Novelship authentication tag, is delivered to the buyer. The entire process takes an average of about five working days, which is considerably more efficient than our competitors.
We’ve also spent the past 3 to 4 years improving our logistical process. It can be difficult to build a robust logistics network across borders, especially in Asia’s fragmented market.
Kr: Novelship currently covers a couple of luxury brands for sneakers, while the rest are more mass market. Is there a specific direction that you’re aiming for?
RX: Novelship doesn’t only cover those luxury brands. We take our cue from consumers in the region. Our product team is constantly reviewing trends and demand and uploading fresh products. We also have a link on our website which allows consumers to request the products they want.
Moving forward, we’re looking to become a change driver in the industry. This includes uploading products well in advance, expanding our collection, and offering more affordable products.
Kr: Tell us about your funding.
RX: We had our seed funding round of USD 2 million in mid-2019, which was led by Global Founders Capital (GFC). In June 2021, we raised around USD 10 million in our Series A, co-led by GSR Ventures and East Ventures.
Kr: There appears to be an over-saturation of sneaker collaborations in the sneaker economy. Do you agree?
RX: In my opinion, sneaker collabs right now aren’t oversaturated, and certainly not denting market prices. The sneaker resale market is one driven by supply and demand. Market prices in the sneaker resale marketplace fluctuate. For example, when a celebrity wears a particular apparel or sneaker, its demand goes up, which leads to an increase in price should its supply remain unchanged.
Kr: Share with us a fun fact about the sneaker market that not many people are aware of.
RX: Well, I happened to chance upon this interesting fact when I first got into the sneaker resale marketplace in this region.
If you search online for the most popular sneaker size in the world, Google’s search results will tell you it is size US 11. However, in Asia, the most popular size is actually between US 6 to 9. This is very valuable information, especially for sneakerheads who are looking to start up their collection for resale here in Asia.
Kr: Any other challenges that you see in the space?
RX: Currently, brands such as Nike and Adidas control a large share of the market. Despite competition from relatively new players such as Asics and New Balance, the space is still too concentrated. This is a big challenge.
The sneaker industry is very vibrant and continues to grow. Personally, as a sneakerhead, I would like to see more diversity where more individuals and boutique designers can enter the space. I would also love to see smaller brands as well as more innovative designs.
Kr: How does the current crypto bear market impact your business operations and crypto strategy?
RX: Our crypto and NFT strategy has always been focused on giving our users long-term value.
We are not too concerned about the current bear market, and we will still continue to accept crypto as a payment option.
Likewise, our NFT strategy is going to be tied very closely to strong use cases for our users. This could possibly extend to perks where we reward loyal Novelship users.
Kr: Where do you see opportunities in the industry moving forward?
RX: Already there are boutique designers emerging from China and the US. I personally know of several great local designers in Singapore, Malaysia, and Taiwan. However, in the APAC region, they are not a significant presence as there are no major platforms for them to showcase their talent.
This is an opportunity that Novelship is currently exploring. It’s vital to bridge the gap between up-and-coming designers and the marketplace. We’re aiming to give budding designers a platform to showcase their talents.
Kr: What are your future plans?
RX: Our next goal is to enhance the Novelship community. More than just a platform where people buy and sell sneakers, we want to start seeing people having discussions about collectibles and sneakers that they’re passionate about.
Our expansion plan also includes launching new products for our customers. Just a few months ago, we launched our first in-house product—a sole protector. We’re continuing to work closely with our in-house team to develop more such products.
We’re also exploring expansion to at least one more geographical market by the end of 2023.