When Nike purchased digital goods startup RTFKT (pronounced artifact) last December, it signaled the company’s ambitions to expand its sneaker dominance into the metaverse. It was also welcome news to its founders Steven Vasilev, 26, Benoit Pagotto, and Chris Le, who described RTFKT in their pitch deck to investors as executing Nike’s roadmap for 2050 by offering digital sneakers for Gen Z.
“It was kind of a joke. We knew someday they’d approach us, but we didn’t know if they were going to sue us or acquire us,” said Vasilev. The company helped Nike launch its first collection for the metaverse this past April, releasing 20,000 digital sneakers dubbed Nike Dunk Genesis CRYPTOKICKS, with some special editions fetching upward of $130,000.
Vasilev is just one of the young entrepreneurs featured on the 2023 Forbes 30 Under 30 Retail & E-commerce list, which offers a window into where the retail industry is headed next.
Take Emily Gittins, 29, who studied fashion and sustainability in grad school at Stanford and is now helping brands like The North Face, Oscar de la Renta, and Dagne Dover sell used versions of their products online. Anuj Mehta, 24, Kushal Negi, 22, and Akash Raju, 24, are placing brands’ products into vacation rentals, giving them a novel way to acquire customers. Sherwin Xia, 27, is helping Shopify entrepreneurs stock their online stores without touching any inventory and has raised $30 million in funding to do it.
Some are behind the next big brands. Professional skier Kiley McKinnon, 27, and friend Ariana Ferwerda, 27, are addressing a gap in the market with their functional and stylish women’s ski wear. College classmates Logan Lamance, 26, Austin Maxwell, 27, and Ryan Frazier, 28, tired of drinking warm beer, created a soft-sided cooler that keeps a six-pack cold for up to seven hours without ice. Eighteen-year-old Jungmin Kang, 18, is making millions selling slime.
Personal care continues to be a ripe area for innovation. After refusing to use standard petroleum jelly on his freshly tattooed skin, Oliver Zak, 25, and classmate Selom Agbitor, 26, created a line of products that brighten, preserve and soothe inked skin. Kasper Kubica, 27, and David Spratte, 28, bonded over their sweaty hands during college and made a line of sweat-absorbing products for different parts of the body. Jordan Christopher, 29, who worked as a barber in college, developed a line of inexpensive natural shampoos and conditioners sold at Target, Kroger, CVS, Walgreens, and Rite Aid.
There is also that testing demand for specialized marketplaces. JT Garwood, 26, and Jack Miller, 27, have raised $26.5 million from Tiger Global and others for their healthcare supply site that sells gloves, bedpans, and IV catheters to hospitals and doctors’ officers. Ryan Amoils, 25, Andrew Sample, 26, and Nick Tomasunas, 24, created an online marketplace for new and used dirt bikes, bike parts, and riding gear after becoming frustrated by how expensive dirt biking was.
Others are improving the online shopping experience. Sylvan Guo, 29, and Janvi Shah, 29, who met during business school at Harvard, are making it easier to shop for makeup online. Nafis Azad, 25, and Sneh Parmar, 27, are helping Sephora and other retailers tell online shoppers whether products are available at nearby stores. Kimiloluwa Fafowora, 26, works with brands to surface user-generated videos from a diverse range of customers.
Our finalists were selected with the help of our esteemed judges: Bobbi Brown, founder of Jones Road Beauty; Jamie Salter, founder of Authentic Brands Group; Eurie Kim, partner at Forerunner Ventures; and Yelitsa Jean-Charles, founder of Healthy Roots Dolls and Under 30 alum (Class of 2021).