Inside the world of Plug Leon – personal shopper of the biggest names in football

“If you feel good going into the game, wearing the Chanel sneakers with the Goyard or Louis Vuitton toiletry bag, you will play better. It’s as simple as that, man. If you look good, you feel good and you will play well.

Leon Gissing is a personal shopper, stylist and friend to some of the biggest names in European football.

The London-based entrepreneur spends his week traveling the UK and across Europe, ensuring his clients are equipped once the final whistle blows and the weekend begins.

You might know him as Plug Leon, the 17-year-old social media personality who recently completed his GCSEs. Yet with a list of regulars ranging from Real Madrid and France striker Karim Benzema to legendary Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, he is as senior and influential as anyone in the football fashion game. .

When Athleticism first met Leon was less than 24 hours after Benzema scored a hat-trick against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in the first leg of the Champions League quarter-final. Benzema had contacted Leon weeks before after noticing his page on Instagram, but the pair resumed talks when it was clear the Ballon d’Or contender would travel to London to face Chelsea. After Benzema provided him with a seat inside the stadium for the draw, Leon met the striker after the final whistle and delivered him some highly sought after and exclusive clothing in his red ‘Plug Leon’ bag.

“Benzema just sent me a message on Instagram, and it went from there. He said he would contact me if he needed anything, and he did,” Leon said. “So I came and sorted it.”

A “plug” is someone who can source hard-to-find items, usually positioning themselves in the resale market, where clothes and shoes that are no longer available or hard to find in stores are bought and sold. According to market research firm GlobalData, the online resale market is expected to reach $84 billion by 2030, as more and more people turn to resellers or “plugs” to unearth clothes they can buy. customers without a connection cannot easily access.

Without a clear framework on how to break into the sports personal shopping industry, Leon accidentally fell into a world where the demand for exclusive footwear, apparel and jewelry far exceeded the supply. As the influence of North American rappers like Drake and Kanye West grew in the 2010s, sportsmen began to replicate their style and try to get their hands on clothing and shoe collaborations.

His first breakthrough came at age 13 with American tennis player Jack Sock, after he noticed Leon’s shoes while taking selfies with fans on the court.

“Nice sneakers,” Sock said, to which Leon, noticing the opportunity to use his resale market contacts, replied, “I can get you a pair.”

A few weeks later, Leon provided him with some highly sought-after pairs of shoes that Sock couldn’t find elsewhere. This served as a light bulb moment for Leon. Recognizing the growth in the number of athletes seeking designer brands and limited release footwear, he set out to expand his contact base in the resale footwear market.

The first foray into the world of football as a stopper came with England Under-21 international striker Reiss Nelson, who is now on loan at Dutch Eredivisie side Feyenoord from Arsenal.

“I was 13 at the time, and Reiss Nelson had added me on Snapchat by a friend who shouted at me,” Leon said. “I couldn’t believe it. He was at Hoffenheim in Germany at the time on loan from Arsenal. I messaged him saying, ‘If you ever need anything when you’re in London just send me a message. just a message,” and a few weeks later he did. I stood outside his house and waited for him to come home from the airport with the sneakers he requested.

“He then passed me on to Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka who were in the academy at the time. It’s so cool that I grew up with them. We went on our journey together because they always buy from me now, and the service has never changed.

It was 2018 when Leon was just 13 and his parents were driving him to meet clients. Now 17, he is at the top of the personal shopping industry in Europe, with more than 79,000 followers on his Instagram account. The Plug Leon brand went from being a schoolboy – who hadn’t even started his GCSEs – to running around team buses and handing out business cards to a Companies House-listed limited company with several part-time employees full.

“We had to grow the business as the demands increased,” recalls Leon. “At first my friends would ask me if they could do some work for me, and I would pay them a little here and there, but they were so unreliable. They were doing a job and saying, “It’s too much work! “.

I used to think, “Imagine what it’s like for me to have to do two or three tasks a day while balancing homework and staying on top of Instagram posts!”. I think it made them see how difficult it was.

While sourcing exclusive “pieces” is the bread and butter of its industry, influencing the latest trends is what sets it apart from the competition. While other big names in the industry may focus on providing simple service in order fulfillment, Leon helps football players stay on top of fashion, providing them with brands of shoes or clothes before they gained popularity.

“I can push the trends in football a bit because I can sell items that I am confident of sourcing,” says Leon, speaking of the innovative service he provides. “There are some customers who are quite straight; they approach me and say exactly what they want. But others ask for recommendations. I wouldn’t call myself a stylist, but I can definitely put an outfit together.

“Over the years, Jordans have remained a constant, but Yeezys (the Adidas shoe designed by Kanye West) have become less popular as supply has increased. Supply and demand are so important in this industry Dior was big in 2019 and Louis Vuitton has become very popular over the last couple of years Chanel sneakers are very popular because they are primarily a women’s brand, and they are quite hard to get in sizes for Rhude is now a big player on the clothing side, just like Gallery Departments, it’s all about knowing the right people and finding them like that.

Leon’s tight schedule necessitates the desire to always stay one step ahead. After achieving outstanding results in his GCSEs, he is now in his first year of sixth form studying history, French and Italian, hoping to get the grades needed to attend Oxford University . He makes sure every second is put to good use with barely a minute free.

During the week, Leon attends sixth grade while making time to wander around London, ensuring his business runs smoothly, keeping an eye on his employees and filling orders quickly. In between, he might take a short trip to Arsenal or the Chelsea training ground to fulfill orders with clients including Gabriel Martinelli or Reece James, or stop by a player’s house to chat or play Call of Duty on the PlayStation.

At weekends, Leon frequently travels as far north as Newcastle to meet regular clients Joelinton, Miguel Almiron and Joe Willock – who he first came into contact with when Willock was an Arsenal academy player. Yorkshire is another hotspot, with clients at Leeds United including Pascal Struijk. On the way back to London he could stop in the Midlands, where recently promoted Nottingham Forest youngster Alex Mighten is a long-time client.

Understandably, as a teenager running a successful business for over four years, Leon had to sacrifice time spent with friends and family, as well as his passion for football and tennis, to ensure that he can continue on the path to success in school.

“I’m in lower sixth, so I just started my A-Levels. I had to make a lot of sacrifices in my social life. I don’t see my friends or play football or tennis as much as I would like, but these are sacrifices I have to make if I want to get the most out of my studies and my business. If it means hiring new employees or making less money because of my studies, I’m okay with that. Aspiring to go to college means making sure I’m still young and still enjoying my childhood.

“My parents are super supportive. Their key messages are to focus on schoolwork as much as possible and take care of my mental health, but they’re 100% behind me. When I was younger, my mother would post for me while I was at school, and my father would drive me between customers in London. They could easily turn around and say school is more important, but I weigh my weight with grades, so right now they’re happy.

As the world evolves, Leon wants to evolve with it too. VIP customers entered his direct messages on Instagram looking for expensive and sought-after Rolex, Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet watches. He responded by expanding his contact book to ensure his service is for everyone.

“As great as it is to sell clothes and fashion items to footballers, that’s not how I’m going to make millions. I’m going to have to evolve the business into new ways to make a lot of money. Watches were the next stage of expansion, many dealers who start selling shoes later move on to selling watches, so I built my network to provide this service, now I have access to the most exclusive watches. of the planet.

A strong believer in keeping competitors guessing, Leon is tight-lipped about how he plans to take the business to the next level. However, he notes Manchester City and England star Jack Grealish has signed a seven-figure deal with luxury Italian fashion house Gucci as an example of the endless possibilities for someone involved in football and football. fashion, a landscape he wants to continue exploring.

“Sport and fashion are intimately linked. These footballers love clothes and sneakers; as it should be, they are the ones who set the trends. When your favorite footballer marks a Saturday and then posts on Instagram with a new outfit or new sneakers, you are naturally drawn to visit this store. There is a lot of money to be made by investing in footballers as ambassadors – it increases their visibility in football and taps into a massive population of potential customers. People underestimate the impact football has on fashion. The opportunities are endless.

“If it goes even further, they need to start doing tunnel shots like they do in the NBA. Stop forcing players to wear their team tracksuit and let them wear whatever they want! In the end By the way, it’s more competitive, the players would like that, and the fans would like that too. That would be so cool. Premier League, make it happen!

(Illustration: Sam Richardson for The Athletic)

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