How Coolkicks Became A Global Sneaker Brand

Meet Adeel Shams, the footwear-focused entrepreneur who is building a sneaker empire.

Lil Durk (left) with Coolkicks co-founder Adeel Shams
(Adeel Shams)

Some inherit the throne, but Adeel Shams built the Coolkicks kingdom brick by brick and box by box.

Alongside Bereket Abraham, Shams co-founded what would become the Coolkicks brand immediately after entering grad school. In 2014, the best friends opened one of the first buy-sell-trade sneaker shops on Virginia Commonwealth University’s Richmond campus before GOAT, StockX and other retailers arrived and proliferated the online sneaker sector. Two short years later, the pair had earned their degrees and fully realized their business’ growth potential in that geographic area.

(Adeel Shams)

“I decided to take this business model to a bigger market,” Shams says. “I ended up moving to LA—three days after I got my grad school degree—to open Coolkicks on Melrose, which is still our flagship store.”

Today, two other purely brick-and-mortar Coolkicks locations reside in massively desirable markets. November of 2023 saw the opening of Coolkicks Las Vegas—an 11,000-square-foot hotspot in The Forum Shops at Caesars Palace. Coolkicks’ most recent store arrived in March at the Farmers Market L.A., which sits adjacent to The Grove, one of the three busiest shopping centers in the country.

Each location is currently averaging between $7 million and $10 million in annual revenue—two to three times that of a typical Foot Locker retail store. Shams revealed exclusively to Maxim that the Coolkicks empire is projected to earn over $25 million in revenue in 2024, surging from $15 million in 2023.

Not to mention, every single sneaker has been sold in-person at one of their three locations—an in-store strategy that’s paid off big for the burgeoning brand.

(Adeel Shams)

“A lot of retailers are obviously online, but at the end of the day, Apple Stores aren’t going anywhere, because when you go to an Apple Store, it’s an experience,” Shams explains. “I feel like we are the Apple Store for sneaker culture. You can physically feel and touch a product and play with it. And that’s how it is when you walk into Coolkicks.”

A decade of groundwork has earned Coolkicks a reputation as a distinguished sneaker mecca among hypebeasts and tastemakers, plus a stellar status as one of the world’s most-followed sneaker resale brands. Across all social channels, Coolkicks boasts 4.3 million followers—2 million and 3.3 billion impressions have come from YouTube alone.

With this reach, visits from celebrities like Lil Uzi Vert, Kai Cenat, Mike Tyson and Sandra Bullock have become routine, and brands have begun to take notice. Perhaps most impressively, Coolkicks hasn’t taken a dollar from outside investors or spent a cent on marketing.

(Adeel Shams)

How did you get interested in sneakers?

My mom never really worked growing up, and my dad was a cab driver, so they didn’t really have the money to afford $200 Jordans. So they would just buy my shoes from Payless or fake stuff from flea markets. When I was in high school, I saw a bucket of used Jordans. I ended up buying a pair, cleaning them up and selling them on eBay. I noticed that there could be a potential business in this, and I started keeping pairs for myself. 

I’d buy shoes from yard sales, clean them up and sell them. I flipped one pair into three pairs, five pairs, then 10 pairs…. there reached a point where my collection was big enough to open my first store. I decided to open my first store on campus in Richmond, Virginia on the same day I started my grad school program at the Virginia Commonwealth University Brand Center for advertising. We were one of the first buy-sell-trade sneaker stores in existence.

How did Coolkicks become the sneaker empire it is today with over 4.3 million social media followers?

(Adeel Shams)

During Covid, we had more time to focus on social media. We were always on YouTube and Instagram, but it just wasn’t taking off. So we had an in-house team—just me, myself and a couple of the guys. But we started focusing on YouTube videos; long-form content and short-form content.

Today, we have almost 2 million YouTube subscribers. We are one of the most-followed sneaker brands on social. Across all social media channels, we get over 100 million impressions a month. And we did it all without spending any money on marketing or taking capital from investors, which is unheard of. All of our growth has been organic and in-house. It took 10 years to get here, but that’s how you build a core audience, and that’s how you build a real community.

There’s been an explosion of social media content showing interactions between sneaker store employees and customers. Has Coolkicks played a major part in this explosion?

We’re the leaders in this space when it comes to that type of content. Coolkicks has become a big media company. We sell sneakers, but then we’re also a lifestyle brand. We also build the creators within our ecosystem, like [Rami The Icon] has 1.3 million subscribers on YouTube. Frankie has over 62,000 YouTube subscribers, and he just launched his channel last month. We have a Twitch stream that’s one of the the top 1,000 in the world right now by subscriber count. We’ve created so many different personalities within the company that people from all over the world want to come to us.

It’s pretty amazing that Cook Kicks has become so culturally relevant so quickly. 

Typically businesses go online first and then establish brick-and-mortar, but our goal was to start a brick-and-mortar store first and create a brand from there. Once you create a brand, everything else will come. By being patient, we grew into a global brand organically, and that has allowed us to be in top-tier locales like The Forum Shops at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas and Farmers Market in L.A. Plus, you wouldn’t believe how many times a year parents come to our stores and they’re like, “Our kids wanted to come here instead of Disneyland.”

What are some major trends you’re noticing among hardcore sneakerheads? 

Obviously, Nikes and Jordans are always popular.  But when I started in 2016, you could resell Adidas Ultraboosts and make 30 or 40 percent. That died down after a couple of years, then the Nike Dunks came back. Nike Dunk Lows, Dunk Highs—they’ve been trending the last couple of years now.

Meanwhile, Yeezys aren’t doing as well as they used to. A few years ago, a lot of our revenue was coming from Yeezys. Now, a lot of our revenue comes from Jordans and Nike Dunk Lows. There are also brands that are coming back, like Asics and New Balance. It’s just trends, it just happens. 

Are there any shoes in your personal collection that you’d never sell? 

When I first started my collection, before we opened the first store, all of my walls were shoe boxes. I couldn’t even see through my windows. Having been in the business for a decade, now I’d rather have a solid 50-pair lineup of shoes that I actually wear and enjoy. I don’t fall for anything that’s hyped unless it’s actually a good shoe.

Currently I’m wearing Jordan 4 SBs, the green ones. But I’ve also been wearing these Alo Yoga sneakers that are super comfy. But Jordans are really popular in my closet. When I’m over a pair, I just go sell them inside of the Coolkicks store and cop whatever I like next. 

What are some top-selling sneaker silhouettes at Coolkicks stores? 

When it comes to Jordans, Jordan 1s are bestsellers, but also Jordan 3s, Jordan 4s, and Jordan 11s. These are our top silhouettes. When it comes to Nike Dunks, Dunk Lows are our best silhouettes. And then when it comes to Yeezys, Yeezy Slides and Yeezy 350s are our top sellers.