Technology has had an unbelievable effect on everything in our lives, and shopping is no exception.
From the rise of Amazon and eBay to newly-minted social media marketplaces, online shopping has led to some of modernity's most interesting innovations. It allows flexibility for creators to share products with audiences around the globe, and consumers who find a niche they may have never discovered otherwise.
Aaron Levant knows all this very well. He’s the CEO of NTWRK, a livestream shopping app described as a cross between home shopping networks and Twitch. NTWRK offers an interactive shopping experience that blends celebrity with luxury goods and quirky internet culture, and it’s making a serious impact.
Levant believes the prioritization of the individual is essential for the new generation of shoppers, especially as they begin to create their own brands and find themselves in dimensions never seen before.
“NTWRK is a platform that's all about creators,” Levant says. “'Creators' is a word we use that encapsulates any person, brand or entity of influence that creates creative products that we sell on a platform. My whole career has really been predicated on working with prolific creators across multiple genres; art, music, fashion, design, athletes. The thing that I enjoy is working in the creative field and working with some of those prolific people in the creative industry, and this job puts me squarely at the cross section of that.”
The platform has seen collaborations with “creators” Billie Eilish, Doja Cat, Jonah Hill, FaZe Clan and more, as well as produced hours of original content and selling unique products through live streams. There’s certainly an emphasis on creating not just a personality with the product, but also a consumer relationship.
“We have two sides to our platform,” Levant says. “We've got our users—our customers—and those are highly fandom-driven audiences [that are] passionate about their pastime. It's what they do for a living, what they're passionate about; music, art, fashion, toys, gaming … They define themselves by it, so we're really passionate about bringing them the best things we know they're going to be in love with.
“It’s about finding those top authentic creators in those various genres,” Levant continues. “Making the best products of the most authentic culture, and getting those people to bring them unique experiences through our platform.”
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Creativity and individuality have always been central to Levant’s life. Growing up in Los Angeles, Levant struggled in school due to a battle with dyslexia. He eventually strayed from the path of education, teaching himself Adobe to create his own magazine, streetwear and graffiti style. Taking his cues from Banksy and Shepard Fairey, Levant took a position at a streetwear label, climbed the corporate ladder, and eventually created Agenda, his own label, when he was 19.
He noticed a growing “creator community” even before the Internet's heyday and knew there was a way to push it even further. In 2018, he tapped into his relationships with thousands of brands, retailers, media companies, athletes and designers and launched NTWRK as a hub for all.
“I'm an aggregator,” Levant says. “I'm able to bring prolific and influential individuals and companies onto a platform… NTWRK is the ultimate manifestation of that, where instead of a physical event or conference, it became this year-round, always-on digital presence of these creators, and became even more expansive.”
In its first week, NTWRK brought media mogul and sneakerhead Gary Vaynerchuk to the platform, selling $100,000 worth of sneakers in minutes. Top NFL wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and Nike came on a few days later, and things kept exploding from there.
“I saw the urgency this format could create,” Levant says. “It was beyond anything that I was planning on from a financial perspective in a singular, 10-minute livestream.”
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The launch was still a difficult transition as Levant and his crew tried to figure out what they had just created. Still, Levant counts that time as an advantage, as they got to set the tone for themselves and their standards, driving the conversation on what this medium could accomplish.
Upon opening the app, customers are treated to a few categories: drops, shop, search, profile and cart. Each page features live streams as well as a schedule of upcoming streams for which customers can be notified once they begin, and previously-streamed programming. If a customer sees a product they like, they can head to the “shop” or “search” tabs to find that product and complete a purchase.
Each user creates their own profile, too, with customizable usernames and avatars, as well as interests and noted purchases. NTWRK offers both physical and digital products, the latter can be displayed on a user’s profile. Overall, the app creates a personalized experience for the shopper, learning from its like channels and TV shows to offer more things the user may enjoy and a customized feed that appears upon opening the app, so users can get involved right away.
In the beginning, Levant and his team curated most of the platform’s product options, but with NTWRK’s success, creators are now coming to them with their own ideas, choosing to launch exciting releases and product lines with NTWRK exclusively.
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NTWRK eventually keep out of the content creation process, instead allowing creators to pitch their dreams and foster a community directly with consumers.
“NTWRK is not a utility,” Levant says. “We're selling culture, passion and fandom … We've gone through the needle in the haystack that is the Internet.”
This isn’t to say that NTWRK is leaving it all up to the creators. The company continues to work with creators on unique projects for certain causes, especially those important to Levant’s philosophy. Case in point, a 2020 collaboration with Japanese artist Takashi Murakami on a series of lithographs that donated 100 percent of process to Black Lives Matter charities.
“We raised, I believe, $1.4 million in charitable donations in one drop,” Levant says. “Those are the kind of things we feel proud of—not just furthering rampant consumerism, if you will, which is what we do the other seven days of the week.”
In 2021, NTWRK jumped into the realm of NFTs, which Levant hopes will invite more digital creators to the NTWRK platform. Likewise, the platform launched a virtual shopping festival for each fandom. In December, NTWRK hosts the street art-based festival Beyond the Streets timed with Miami’s Art Week celebrations. In February there’s a basketball festival, a designer toy festival in March, and more.
Comparing it to the hype built around Black Friday and Cyber Monday, Levant hopes this will become an annual tradition; not just for NTWRK, but for all digital shoppers.
“It’s this idea of celebrating a moment in time,” he says, “but we do it every other month, and we're doing it [for] different passionate fan cultures … If you happen to come during those two days, you really get to immerse yourself in this specific genre.”
NTWRK may have been the culmination of several years of work and relationships, but there’s still plenty to build. Much like the cultures it aims to please, NTWRK is ever changing.
“It’s an evolving conversation,” Levant says. “[Users have] found the experience we deliver [to be] highly differentiated and unique, and it still serves the value ... even in a post-pandemic era.”
Photography by: Courtesy of NTWRK / Clin Defenbau