Culture Kings: more nightclub than retail store
The same year they’d met, there was a larger movement underway. For years, Simon had been doing business with a boutique in Miami called Culture Kings. He would buy sneakers from the U.S., pay a commission, then resell them in Australia. It was a good hook-up for a few months, until Culture Kings itself started going under. Simon had taken a liking to the name and branding—he’d been using it on eBay already—and wished to secure the trademarks.
The asking price stunned even him: $30,000. “At the time,” he says, “that was f--king everything I had.” He called it “crazy money,” but in the end he paid. He loved the universality to the name. Culture Kings meant not just selling shoes or apparel. It meant never being pigeonholed into one line of products, or one idea about what a business could be. To Simon, Culture Kings was unlimited.
They opened the first store in 2008, a tiny shop on the Gold Coast. Simon and Tahnee funded every last bit themselves, so every move forward required a lump in their throats. “That moment of going to sign the lease, like ‘Oh, f--k. This is a big commitment.’ It’s that moment of going all-in, you know?” Simon says. “To build the business and self-fund it the whole way—it means the only way you do that is you go all-in every time. Every time, we’re betting the farm on everything.”
It took a leap at every stage, from the first store on the Gold Coast, to the second in Brisbane, to the third in Sydney. And on and on. But each new Culture Kings store established something. Simon and Tahnee believed they were creating a shopping experience not seen anywhere else.
They had observed the sports apparel chains that filled malls and plazas, the same sterile feel, the same indistinguishable experience, just minutes down the road from one another.
Culture Kings was not that. Inside, the lighting was darker. The sounds were different, too—a live DJ often providing the soundtrack to the store. There were barber shops and basketball courts, Ferraris parked at the curb out front. It was more night club than retail shop. “And you actually love it,” Simon says. “You don’t want to leave.”
Celebrities were taking notice. Simon had always recognized the power of fame. He never forgot seeing 50 Cent once when he was younger, at a concert in Brisbane. That rush of being so close never left him. In 2013, long before he believed stars of this magnitude would know the brand, Bieber visited the Culture Kings store in Sydney. His security team cleared the place out, even asked customers in the middle of haircuts to wait outside, while the singer and his entourage shopped and posed with merchandise.
The co-founders couldn’t ignore the impact, the way it energized their customers and staff, the buzz it created for Culture Kings. If you were a celebrity who was young, cool, and into streetwear, the stores became a rite of passage to visit, destination stops anytime you were in Australia. Drake, Snoop Dogg, Cristiano Ronaldo, Migos, Cam Newton—they all came.
Simon and Tahnee had built it together, up to eight stores and millions in sales online. And they were building a family, too. In 2015, Ethan was born. In 2016, Tahnee became pregnant with a girl. This was the life they had earned, what they had sweat to make for themselves.
And then, on January 8, 2017, Tahnee Beard dashed madly down the stairs with the news that threatened to bring it all down.