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Knoxville Business News Tennessee Mountain Scenery Background
September 05, 2023 | Tom Ballard

There’s money to be made in reselling nearly new sneakers

UT, Knoxville student Zain Zitawi won $3,000 during the fall semester 2022 “Graves Business Plan Competition” and another $5,000 in the spring edition of the "Boyd Venture Challenge."

Zain Zitawi is a marketing major at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK) who has turned his passion for sneakers into a thriving online business with 11,000 members of a  growing community and just under 30,000 TikTok followers.

Not bad at all for a business that he co-founded in December 2021, now reselling mostly new sneakers that others have previously owned. ZNAKICKS sold its first pair of sneakers for $215 the day after Christmas to a Knoxville resident, and it has been growing ever since.

Zitawi is a Knoxville native who played basketball during his junior and senior years at Farragut High School before breaking his foot just ahead of graduation. After a year at Tusculum University where he underwent hip surgery and also broke his foot again, Zitawi says he decided he was receiving a “message from God that it was time to make a pivot away from basketball.”

So, he transferred to UTK where, without any prior experience pitching, he has now won funding in two student competitions hosted by the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

During the most recent – the “Boyd Venture Challenge,” Zitawi won $5,000. That followed the fall semester’s “Graves Business Plan Competition” where he captured $3,000 by placing second in the Growth Category.

Why was he interested in reselling nearly or entirely new sneakers?

“It was a way to be connected to my favorite basketball stars,” Zitawi says. As he was growing up, they included LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Kyrie Erving.

ZNAKICKS was not the first business idea that he considered, but it clearly was one that has gained good traction. In part, that’s because Zitawi, whose shoe size is 14, wanted a way to sell sneakers that he outgrew.

“The secondary resale market for sneakers is a multi-billion dollar one,” he adds, explaining that ZNAKICKS is a reliable and authentic source in that growing sector, having already served hundreds of customers in about 18 months.

His Co-Founder is another student who attends the University of Delaware. His name is Aiden Dufal.

“We met through the power of the Internet,” says Zitawi, who serves as ZNAKICKS Chief Marketing Officer. Dufal is the Chief Executive Officer overseeing operations.

While buying new or slightly used premium sneakers, refreshing the used ones as necessary, and reselling them is the primary business model, there’s also another important goal.

“We want to teach people how to buy the right sneakers,” Zitawi explains.

The start-up’s TikTok site provides an ongoing and robust source of information about everything from trends in the sneaker market to new product introductions. Separately, there’s a soon-to-be-launched website named ZNAkicks that is described as the “Ultimate Reselling Hub.”

When Zitawi and Dufal launched the business, roughly 50 percent of the product was new and the other one-half was slightly used. Today, 95 percent is new, and the sweet spot is a sneaker that falls within the $150 to $220 price range. That provides about a 25 percent profit margin.

“I feel like it is the easiest market to dabble in,” Zitawi says, explaining that there are so many ways to liquidate inventory if necessary.

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