Back in 2009, at just 9 years old, Gautam Malik operated his own gumball machine, collecting quarters that would someday go towards something of personal value. One year later, Malik poured his savings into a fresh new pair of Foamposites, the Nike Air kicks that took the sneaker community by storm. This was, perhaps, Malik’s most important purchase, for it not only marked the beginning of his entrepreneurial empire, but it also represented the early stages of his self-made success story.
“I just wanted something to show off,” said Malik. “I wore that shoe for six to eight months straight, and I don’t think I’ve ever taken care of something more in my entire life.”
Less than a year after making that purchase, a sneaker fan on Facebook initiated a trade off with Malik for the Foamposites, and while the kicks kept young Malik standing tall and proud, they were also the skeleton key that unlocked a newfound interest in sneaker resell markets. It wasn’t long before Malik consumed hours of content learning the in’s and out’s of sneaker appraisal on YouTube, and throughout middle school Malik maintained an ebay account called Sneaker Highway where he navigated a new world of digital consignment, gaining immediate access to the world’s most coveted pairs of kicks. With the money he generated from the ebay account, Malik procured a sparkling event called “KickzFest” at the University of Maryland, where he commingled with other hobbyists in Washington, D.C.’s sneaker community. In a sense, this launched Malik’s name into the webwork of shoe consignment, and Kickz Malik, the eponymous powerhouse leading today’s footwear network, became a reality.
Malik grew up in McLean, VA, where he frequented Tyson’s Corner Center. While the first KickzFest took place at the University of Maryland, the second run occurred at Malik’s high school, where he had already established a stronghold of classmates who admired his ambitious stride. The seeds of Malik’s tenacious attitude were evident with his gumball machine, but became evermore influential as the brand took shape. The nuances of sneaker grading are easily lost on the ill-informed, and Malik prides himself on being self-taught in such a niche market that demands authenticity and careful attention to detail.
“It’s like riding a bike, once you get it, you get it,” said Malik. “But even still, every silhouette is different, so in a way you have to relearn what you know each time.”
The YouTube videos were paramount in the development of his sneaker palette, but much of Malik’s success rides on the durability of his surrounding support groups, both at school and with his chosen families.
“I learned a lot from dealing in consignment, of course, but also from my community. They taught me so much.”
On the other hand, the business world was new to Malik, and the cadence of conducting smart business strategy is not something that is easily understood on the first try. Presently, Malik is studying business and marketing at the University of Maryland, but during the genesis of his sneaker story, much of his early decisions were riding on a wave of faith. This kind of approach to business is critical at times, learning to trust your gut and the enduring support of your communities, proved successful for Malik when he decided to open a retail store inside his childhood mall.
Opened in May of 2021, the first retail installment for Kickz Malik, called Grandeur, was a step into the unknown. We live in a world where shopping malls are running as dry as a desert landscape, seemingly overnight, and for a young entrepreneur on the edge of his success, making space inside of a mall is towards the bottom of the laundry list. That being said, Malik’s technique in operating a shoe boutique is innovative and fresh, ditching tired tropes of mall memorabilia for something more exciting and dynamic in design. Located on the first floor of Tyson’s Corner Center, Grandeur is so much more than a retail space.
“We just signed a longer deal for Grandeur,” said Malik. “It’s a space where we can really display everything we have, including shoes, apparel, and art.”
Malik has filled the walls of Grandeur with original pieces from local artists, creating a platform for homegrown talent to display their work, make a larger investment without burning a hole in their pocket, and solicit some interesting conversations in the shop.
“A lot of local artists don’t have the opportunity to showcase their work, especially inside of a mall where rates are insanely expensive,” said Malik. “They’re getting a unique kind of exposure here that’s also affordable.”
In fact, Malik has stated that many of his customers visit Grandeur just to hang out, enjoy the artwork, and socialize. The retail space has been so wildly popular during its first rotation that a second, supplemental space was opened right next door back in August. In short, Kickz Malik and the Grandeur store are bringing something new to Tyson’s Corner. Sneaker outfits, like Kickz Malik, are adding value back into shopping malls by fostering community in different ways that overreach the conventional models of mall culture. The sneaker resell market is a hot commodity these days, and most of the business side of things takes place on digital platforms. A storefront like Grandeur puts the opulence in motion, allowing local consumers the opportunity to conduct business in-person.
“Selling shoes is easy, but creating a new market inside of a shopping mall is difficult,” said Malik.
Eventually, Kickz Malik hopes to open a second retail location, gaining more exposure from around the world. Whether or not future storefronts would occupy a shopping mall shell remains to be seen, but Malik has proven that our perceptions of what a mall is or is not can be easily adjusted to reflect people’s interests. Traditionally, malls have been central locations where any and everything is available within walking distance. Online shopping has, of course, shuddered much of the mall industry, but spaces like Grandeur reveal a hidden layer of potential that puts humanity back into the mix. Social interaction is part of what defined shopping malls of yesteryear, so a possible pivoting point for future installments is to include these engagements in the framework. Affordable retail is also a benefactor, allowing certain markets the chance to exist in domains they were previously turned away from.
Malik believes the magic happens in-store, where he can personally work with customers on securing their new favorite pair of kicks.
“My favorite aspect of the business has changed since we opened Grandeur,” said Malik. “It’s about the people, now. I find more reward in making connections with people who visit, helping them put together a fit, showing them which shoe pairs with which shirt.”
On a skeletal level, sneaker consignment is a transactional business. The anatomy of the game runs deeper, however, and generates a loyal community of followers who share a passion for quality work of any medium. At Tysons Corner Center, there are over 300 stores and services that supply the greater Washington, D.C. metro area. It opened in 1968, and was also the home of the first Apple Store worldwide, inducted in 2001. Malik’s sprawling sneaker space befits the legacy of this classic collective, but at its core, Grandeur glows a bit brighter than the rest, thanks in large part to its mission in building honest community. Kickz Malik is the story of self-made success, beginning when Malik saved up his money to purchase his first pair of sneakers, the Foamposites, at the very mall he now resides, inspiring other young go-getters to take a leap of faith and always land on your kicks.