Urban Explorer Series: Interview with Sneaker Surge
“Growing up in a city like Hong Kong, you never know how to define a day. Anything can happen within the convenience and opportunity Hong Kong has to offer. In that sense, this has been baked into who we are.”
Ravine Mahtani and Mira Uttamchandani
Founders of Sneaker Surge
Our Urban Explorer
Could you please introduce yourself to our guests?
Mira: My name is Mira, I am the creative & colourful half of Sneaker Surge.
Ravine: My name is Rav, I am the heart, hustle, and other half of Sneaker Surge.
Where did your love for sneakers come from?
Ravine: I have always been a creature of comfort as well as a huge basketball fan, so sneakers have always been a part of my life. I grew up watching movies like “Like Mike” and “Space Jam” which instilled in me the idea that wearing Jordans meant that you would be a better ball player so that is what we all did. We did everything we could to buy Jordans.
What inspired you to start Sneaker Surge?
Ravine: Five years ago, it was impossible to get a pair of Yeezy’s – and when I realised that there was a gap between demand and supply, I found a great opportunity to jump in.
How do you think you fit into the term “Urban Explorer”?
Mira: I believe we’re both very curious beings and we like to learn about new spaces, whether it is in the digital world or physical world, from NFT’s to real cities. We also feel the best way to learn about these communities is by interacting with them, whether it is on discord or speaking and eating with locals. We enjoy the stories people share, their experiences, and the perspective we gain from being open-minded and immersing ourselves in these worlds.
Growing up in a city like Hong Kong, you never know how to define a day. Anything can happen within the convenience and opportunity Hong Kong has to offer. In that sense, this has been baked into who we are. There is a degree of spontaneity that Hong Kong functions on that encourage curiosity, open-mindedness, and fluidity.
What does a day in the life of Ravine and Mira look like?
Every day is dynamic. When there are new big sneaker releases, a lot of our team is buying merchandise. On other days, we’re working on building our B2B and B2C revenue streams – this could mean looking for new customers to work with, or creating new content for social media and Google ads.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
We love when we are right about a trend we saw coming, or an investment we made in a release that went right. Watching the pairs come in, get sold, and shipped out within 24 hours is a great feeling. It is also truly rewarding to see your customers wear and love the pairs they have bought from you – and return again for a repeated purchase.
You’ve Got Sole
How would you describe the sneaker culture in Hong Kong?
The sneaker market has progressed a lot in Hong Kong. Five years ago, the sneaker culture lived in a very condensed square footage in the city – which was coined “Sneaker Street (also known as Fa Yuen Street)”. Most of the store owners were collectors or people heavily influenced by basketball and hip-hop, as well as leading footwear brands like Nike and Adidas that occupied stores in this area.
With a global shift in culture, due to the rise of the athleisure trend and “Mark Zuckerberg affect” that instilled the notion that you can wear a casual black tee and sneakers get-up and still be successful, sneakers became a part of both high fashion and everyday lifestyle. It has influenced so much more than just music and sports. It has a much wider impact on art, food and even gaming.
Sneaker Surge established itself in Hong Kong’s sneaker market. What was the rationale for establishing it in Hong Kong rather than another city?
Having both lived here for most of our lives, we know the ins and outs of the city. We understand the habits of its residents, from where they like to eat and what they like to do to the type of content they consume and when and how they like to shop. This means we have the knowledge to cater to our customers, and understanding your customers is half the battle. China is also the second-largest sneaker market after the United States, so starting a sneaker business in Hong Kong was a suitable decision.
How do your curate your list of brands on Sneaker Surge – from Nike to Yeezy and Sacai?
Mira: I went to Parsons and spent a lot of time working in luxury fashion, so a lot of our curation comes from analysing market trends and data gathering from personal styling appointments. This is the key ingredient to Stock X and GOAT’s success – they provide global live market data of pricing and recent sales, which allows for incredible transparency within the industry.
Luxury and limited-edition sneakers these days are such a hot commodity. How do you get your hands on the best selection for your platform?
That’s our secret sauce! But let’s just say we get our supply from a tight-knit of trusted suppliers that we spent years building relationships with.
With so many players in the market – from StockX to GOAT- what do you think makes Sneaker Surge such a unique online destination for its shoppers?
Sneaker Surge sets itself apart in a few key ways. Firstly, we own all of our inventory – this means we will ship your product to you within 3-5 business days. We are also a direct-to-consumer business – which often means that our pricing is competitive. We also have our special concierge service which offers customers personal styling and the ability to source any pair of sneakers or collectibles they are looking for.
We admire your entrepreneurial spirit and passion for sneakers and streetwear. How has this journey of starting your own business been like thus far?
We’ve only just begun, and it has been both rewarding and challenging at the same time. The beauty about this space is that it is constantly evolving and we are adapting to these changes. Whether it is building our supplier list to meet the increase in demand or pivoting to e-commerce and learning new ways to acquire customers, we are just scraping the surface.
What challenges do you encounter of running your own business?
On a micro level, logistics is an issue because shipping costs are increasing, but in order to stay competitive and keep our customers happy we are taking on this increased cost.
What are the perks of having your own business?
For us, it is about being able to do something that we love. It never feels like a 9-6 job. We believe that your business is a reflection of yourself, and it is human nature to want to improve and grow. So, we wake up at 4am inspired with new ideas to make Sneaker Surge a better experience, or sleep at 2am making sales – all to improve and grow.
Do you have any words of advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
An idea without structure is just a thought, not a business. You need to be able to execute.
You need to be able to pivot multiple times – because the world is constantly shifting and progressing and you need to move with it. It is also unpredictable – take for example, the Covid-19 pandemic which sent the whole world into lock down. Hence, the businesses that not only survived but thrived during these difficult times are those that were willing and ready to make changes.
You also really need to love what you do because it is tough to build a business and every day there is a new challenge – so you need to live and breathe that business.
How often did you travel pre-pandemic? Did you travel more for work or pleasure?
Mia: We travelled a lot pre-pandemic, both for work and pleasure. I think traveling gives your perspective, provides growth and it also serves as an important break that everyone, especially those living in Hong Kong, needs.
Restrictions will be lifting soon! Any plans to travel? If so, where would you like to travel first?
We will actually be visiting Los Angeles and Tulum for both work and pleasure this coming summer. Ideally, we hope to catch a playoff game as well while we are in LA!
What other destinations are on your bucket list?
We don’t necessarily have destinations we would like to visit on our bucket list, but rather experiences we would love to try. We would love to watch a Christmas Day NBA Game, eat the best sushi in the world and learn how to master the classic Old-Fashioned cocktail in Japan.
Given the current circumstances, how do you find other ways of exploring the city?
Ravine: In the midst of the restrictions, we have been exploring a lot of different hiking trails around the city. To occupy ourselves, we have also taken on new hobbies. For instance, Mira has learned to master the game of chess!
What must-have items do you carry with you when you go exploring in Hong Kong?
HKD30 – It is amazing how far this amount of cash can take you in Hong Kong. You could spend HKD2 traveling from one side of town to the other. You could also purchase HKD10 snacks at a dai pai dong (open-air food stalls), and another HKD10 to get home by MTR (mass transit railway) and still have HKD8 left.
Sneakers – In Hong Kong, you never know where the day is going to take you and who you will meet, so the best way to travel around the city is in a pair of cool and comfortable sneakers that express who you are, and that can also be dressed up or down.
Headphones – You do a lot of walking in Hong Kong, so we always have a pair of headphones on us to listen to a podcast or speak to a friend.
What are the 3 things you love most about Hong Kong?
- The varied sceneries you can experience in one day – It is such a condensed city with so many contrasting options. You could visit a morning trail – and see the city from above at Victoria Peak and experience its stillness. You could also feel the bustle in Central streets, or luxury in the malls, and then grab two-dollar noodles.
- It is easy to have a great time – It doesn’t require momentum to have a good time.
- There is a strong sense of community and belonging in Hong Kong – No matter where you go in the world, if you meet someone from here, you automatically have a connection with them.
In 3 words, how would you describe Hong Kong?
Flexible/Buoyant, Pulsating, All-encompassing
As much as urban explorers enjoy visiting must-see tourist attractions, they also enjoy being enriched by the city’s authentic local culture and taste. If you could pick one place or district that embodies the essence of Hong Kong, where would it be?
The MTR. It is the fastest and cleanest mode of usable transport in the world. Every “type” of person takes it – whether it is a business tycoon or the barista who made your bubble tea and served your egg tart. To us, it is a symbol of Hong Kong in every way and it is above no one!