From sneaker blog to Prada retailer: how Highsnobiety is courting brands with curated e-commerce
Streetwear publication Highsnobiety has rolled out an exclusive e-commerce platform, but it won’t be open to any advertiser: the company’s chief executive envisages a client list as meticulously curated as the products it sells.
David Fischer launched Highsnobiety as a blog in 2005
Highsnobiety began life as David Fischer’s personal blog exploring urban fashion, footwear and culture. In 14 years, it has since morphed into a fully-fledged online magazine known for discernment on matters of sneakers and Supreme drops.
Now it’s run out of achingly cool offices in New York City, London and Fischer’s native Berlin. The latter has proved a fertile ground for the talent needed to launch Highsnobiety’s latest venture: e-commerce, offering designers an alternative digital storefront filled with bespoke branded content.
“Highsnobiety has always been close to the product and product discovery, really from the first day that the blog existed in 2005,” said Fischer, who is now the company’s chief executive. "Ever since then we've dabbled here and there within the e-commerce space ... but now is really the first time we see it as a big next chapter for us and really the future second stream of revenue for us.”
Highsnobiety Shop does not look like any other e-commerce platform, however. The shop window of its launch partner, Prada, appeared online weeks before the Linea Rossa selection of bucket hats, Nylon vests and sneakers was available to purchase. A clock timer counted down the seconds until the items dropped on the Highsnobiety homepage.
During this time the Prada microsite was gradually filled with branded content: a collection film directed by Luis Alberto Rodriguez, an inside tour of the label's Italian factory and an oral history of the designer’s relationship with hip-hop all featured. These videos and stories are now nestled among the shopping cart links, and it’s this curated mix of content and commerce that Fischer believes brands will want to buy into.
“We really want to take our position as a curator and storyteller and fuse that with a great shopping experience,” he said. “That is probably the key advantage that we have today over traditional retailers and other e-commerce players. That's why everything happens on that one page – not reading one part of our website and shopping on the other, but seeing it all come together in one environment.”
Fischer believes advertising and branded content will continue to be the company’s highest revenue drivers. But while the two advertiser products are complimentary (it’s easy to see why a brand dropping a collection on the site would boost its promotion with, say, a series of paid-for articles), Fischer has, perhaps unusually, erected a “Chinese wall” between them.
Highsnobiety’s advertiser sales team are under instruction not to offer a Shop deal to their clients without the commerce team’s say-so.
“We want to make sure we're not cannibalizing advertising revenue with e-commerce revenue, and we also need to make sure that we only have the absolute best product in the world coming to our e-commerce offering,” Fischer explained. “We're being selective, extremely selective.”
“Selective” doesn’t mean all of Highsnobiety’s e-commerce partners will have to come with Prada-level price tags ($210 for a pair of socks, if you were wondering). It’s more about Kudos: Fischer only wants to sell the most culturally impactful items on the site, and he only wants to sell exclusive items through a collection drop model.
The shoppable site will also spin off a third revenue stream for Highsnobiety: private label products. The company has previously collaborated with the likes of Xbox and Umbro for Highsnobiety X collections, the majority of which have gone on to achieve hype status (its Adidas sneakers from 2016 still sell for $700 on eBay). Now, with a 24/7 retail outlet open for business, Fischer is plotting the expansion of own-brand drops, the next of which is scheduled for July.
He’s also in early talks with platforms such as Facebook regarding the evolution of the Highsnobiety shop.
“Part of the strategy is to not only offer great products but to really show up where our audience spends more of their time,” Fischer said. “It’s key for us to build more storefronts in the future, so Highsnobeity.com may be one storefront, but Instagram may be another and WhatsApp may be another. We want to make sure we innovate in terms of how we make things purchasable ... and we're definitely looking to do a lot of interesting things on that front.”
For now, however, the focus is on communicating the USP of Highsnobiety Shop to potential brand partners.
“Brands nowadays struggle to find the space, the time or the ability to tell the stories of the great products they produce,” Fischer said. “There's a great opportunity for them to do that through this new platform of ours. That's the most important thing.”