He’s a legend who built a following in the tens of thousands within the sneakers lovers community, he’s dealt with underground Chinese suppliers and he was the go to guy every celebrity phoned if they wanted to be the first to get exclusive shoes before they were released to the public. You may know him through his Instagram page kicksordie, or you might have come across his name when Kevin Heart gave him a shout out, but what is certain is that there is little you know about the crazy background story of Daniel Haddad, the genius behind kicksordie. We had the pleasure to sit down with Daniel in Dubai in order to understand his story better, and to bring you exclusive insights on the unbelievable stuff he had to do and go through to bring kicksordie to life!
The question everyone has on their mind, how did it all start?
The way it started, I was about 18, graduated high school, and deep down I always felt I was smart, I always knew I was destined to go into business. The hustle was real from day one, selling Pokemon cards and the likes; the hustler mentality was an integral part of who I was. I was on instagram one day, went to the popular page, then I started seeing a bunch of shoes and I said to myself I can’t believe people pay that much money for sneakers. I didn’t even know there was a huge market for these kind of products. I knew people spent serious money for Jordans and obsessed over the releases, so it made perfect sense to me that this is an industry I wanted to get into. I knew there was a way to get these sneakers for a cheaper price and exclusively from the source. I did my research, went onto websites selling Chinese fakes and then decided to go on a little shopping spree to see what I can get my hands on.
The first shoe I bought for a 100 bucks was a pair of Concorde 11, I had the pair mailed to me from a Chinese seller. I listed the shoe on Craigslist, and I thought I was going to make hella money. Someone reached out to me asking to buy the shoes, I took the subway to meet the guy and once he checked them out he said these were fake as hell. I was like damn, how did he figure that out. You know when you’re new to the game, for you they all look the same, class A fakes and reals were indistinguishable for me, but for those who are passionate about the shoe game they know how to spot a fake when they see one.I realised after this incident that I needed to readjust, this was no joke, and I was likely to get shot if I made the same mistake again. I went back to research, it was 2013, it was a critical period for sneakers. There are 2 areas in China, Putian and Dongguan. Putian based factories make fake shoes of poor quality, while Dongguan started manufacturing class A sneakers. The Nike and Adidas factories were stationed in Dongguan so people had access to the machinery, equipment and manufacturing processes of Nike after the lease on the factory ends. Contracts stipulated that factory owners needed to update their equipment after a certain period of time and dispose of old equipment, instead what happens is you have these people who buy the equipment to manufacture class A shoe replicas that are almost identical since they use the same processes and equipment as the original manufacturers. I call them genuine fakes, there is no difference, except the craftsmanship and quality control.
Did you have a grand plan for kicksordie from the start?
At first I didn’t know what kicksordie would lead to, I had no idea about its potential. I decided to start with Space Jams sneakers when the genuine fakes went into mass production from China. First I was making money off the Space Jams, but then people started sensing that something was iffy and that they were too many out there to be all real so I decided to cut that off after a while once the market caught up with what was going on. I knew I had to step up my game and always remain ahead of the curve if I wanted to master the business of sneakers.
I was set on finding a direct source. I was one time on Taobao.com and I spent hours and hours searching every Chinese tag, label, translating Jordans to Chinese characters, it was an assignment for me and I was enjoying the process. I ended up coming across someone who would revolutionise the industry and the early release game, and change my life on the way. The guy was called “He”, I called him Mr. He. I remember the first day I hit the jackpot when he sent me a photo of Hazel Nuts Lebrons 6 months before the release, before anybody has seen them. I causally posted it on instagram and people were going like what the hell is that, how come? I knew then that Mr. He was gold. I realised I needed to step up my game, rebrand, and use a professional approach to the kicksordie page. I was paying $300 to get the shoes and I was selling them for $750. The Chinese weren’t active on social media so I positioned myself as the middle man, tap directly into the source and make a huge profit on the way.The way these shoes came my way was twisted. Nike factories would start early production or just produce few early runs for testing, then someone at the factory would steal some from the manufacturing line and get them to Mr. He, then Mr. He would reach out to me to sell me in bulk and I would then put the shoes out there before anyone heard of them. I was focused at that time on growing, and although I knew I was getting these shoes in a twisted way, I didn’t want to question how my source got the sneakers so long as I can get them first and sell them at a premium on the US market.
I started buying all of Mr. He’s inventory, taking pictures, watermarking them, and blogs started picking up my pictures and that’s how the buzz came by. I became known as the foremost authority in the industry, the one who had the sneakers first, the go to guy if you wanted to get a shoe before everyone else. One thing led to another, and after knowing Mr. He, I started getting acquainted with Mr He’s supplier and the middle men down the chain. It was a win win situation for everyone. I had the consumer base and the media leverage, celebrities knew me as the prime supplier of exclusive kicks, and the Chinese had inventory they wanted to move, so everyone was profiting from this hustle.
Did kicksordie always draw positive responses or did you have to deal with challenges along the way?
My growing popularity and the page’s increasing following draw a lot of attention, and soon enough I was being contacted by all sorts of celebrities who wanted to be the first to have a hot sneaker before it even hit the market. I gotta tell you, with all the bling and fame, a lot of them were actually cheap customers, asking for discounts and not paying on time. It was an experience though, and I made sure that the celebrities rocking my pairs gave me a shout out on their social media so as to channel some of their fan base towards my platform.
How did your journey impact you as a person?
I started maturing fast, my business exposure, my contacts, my dealings with the Chinese, all contributed in turning me from a naive 18 year old kid into a professional entrepreneur with strict and sound business plans and practices. Dealing with negative comments and haters was also part of my growth. Some people don’t understand the way this industry works, and few understand the trouble I had to go through in order to get to the bottom of it and gain an insider advantage with the Chinese suppliers. Some would point fingers and say I am a spoiled brat flaunting thousand dollar shoes on instagram, others would just say the shoes were fakes, and that’s to some extent understandable. That’s the price of growing too fast. I mean getting shoes before their official release, that’s some crazy stuff that most people would not comprehend.
What the public doesn’t understand is that shoes are not just a pair you rock and that’s it. It’s a monetary investment, it gains value over time, and buying rare kicks is much like buying a piece of real estate or a financial security. One day it costs 1000 USD, and few months or years later you can make a 10x return on them. They are a commodity you can buy, sell and trade as demand or pricing changes. You have to understand the market, understand the product and understand channels for supply and demand.
What’s the state of the market today and what did you work on after kicksordie?
Now that it’s 2015, the market has changed. The Chinese suppliers, through my experience, observed what I do and how I did it, so they just decided to bypass me as the middle man and set up their own instagram pages and market directly to consumers. The issue with that is, Chinese sellers failed to understand that you can’t do everything from China through social media. You need people on the ground, representatives, in order to prop up your credibility and reliability. China has a problem: their products are seen as fakes, so Chinese sellers trying to market products to US Americans fail to gain credibility with consumers, there is no trust, especially with all the other platforms buzzing with fakes from China. The market now is a mess, with so many Chinese sellers online, you can’t distinguish between who sells fakes and who sells genuines. They destroyed the market by bypassing legitimate platforms like mine. The profit margins were also destroyed, and so it wasn’t an area I wanted to keep invested in anymore. I didn’t throw the towel though, I decided to come up with a solution to a problem I understood all too well: how to check if your pair is a real.
I worked for years on creating a platform for people to check their shoes through their serial numbers and find out if they are genuine, as well as tracking where they were bought and who bought them. How it works is, Nike authorized retailers, after every sale, enter the shoe’s serial number and details in a centralised platform, the details are then saved on Shoe ID database. If someone then later on tries to buy a second hand sneaker, all he has to do is check if the serial number on the pair matches an existing serial number on our database, if it does then he is sure that the shoes are legitimate. the Shoe Id platform also offers a fool proof system where you can also see, with each serial number registered on our database, pictures of the pair, size, color, identity of first buyer, that way there is no way you can be screwed. The platform, in the long term, can serve as a verification system for other products besides sneakers. We have a few stores on board but we still need more traction in order for the system to be optimal and functional on a larger scale.
Looking back at your kicksordie saga, what are you most proud of and grateful for?
I am grateful for the experience I went through, I learned so much from launching kicksordie and shoe ID. I’ve been in situations only experienced 40 year old professionals would ever go through; I dealt with companies, celebrities and underground networks that people would never come across in a lifetime. So now whenever I am in school, and I interact with students who didn’t go through as much, I feel like we’re on totally different levels. Some of the students today don’t even know how to speak to people, let alone leading a business. Not to be boastful, but I feel like I am so much richer than them, not in terms of cash, but character traits and experiences that money can never buy. Everyone should try and get out there to start stuff, start a business, interact with people, hustle your way to the top. Get your hands dirty and learn through real practical experiences. I know people who spend all their days smoking pot and chilling on a couch, and that’s not how you build a future, wealth, or success. Unless you hustle and you put in the effort, the research and the time, you can’t become the best version of yourself. School is hustle in itself, that’s why I went back to school to get my degree and complement my practical experience with academic knowledge. I came to Dubai to study and explore new opportunities, and I feel that a country like the UAE can be an amazing place to be innovative, start businesses and build empires!
It’s a new chapter of my life, a new start, and I’m set to make the most out of it! All I have to say is, watch my next move!
Photo Credit: Daniel Haddad