Inside the world of Plug Leon – personal shopper to football’s biggest names

Inside the world of Plug Leon – personal shopper to football’s biggest names

“If you feel good walking into the game, wearing the Chanel trainers with the Goyard or Louis Vuitton washbag, you’re gonna play better. It’s as simple as that, man. If you look good, you feel good, and you’re gonna play well.”

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

The London-based entrepreneur spends his week travelling up and down the United Kingdom and across Europe, ensuring that his clients are kitted out once the final whistle blows and the weekend begins.

You might know him as Plug Leon, the 17-year-old social media personality who has recently finished his GCSEs. Still, with a list of regular customers stretching from Real Madrid and France striker Karim Benzema to legendary Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, he is as senior and influential as anybody in football’s fashion game.

When The Athletic first met Leon, it was under 24 hours from Benzema scoring a hat-trick against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in the first leg of the Champions League quarter-final. Benzema had reached out to Leon weeks before after noticing his page on Instagram, but the pair re-engaged in discussions when it was clear the Ballon d’Or contender would be heading to London to face Chelsea. After Benzema had provided him with a seat inside the stadium for the showpiece tie, Leon met the striker after the final whistle and delivered highly sought-after and exclusive clothing items in his trademark red “Plug Leon” bag.

“Benzema just dropped me a message on Instagram, and it went from there. He said he’d hit me up if he needed anything, and he did,” said Leon. “So I came through, and I sorted him out.”

A “plug” is someone who can source hard-to-find items, typically positioning themselves within the resale market, where clothes and shoes that are no longer available or difficult to find in-store are bought and sold. According to market research firm GlobalData, the online resale market is set to be worth $84 billion by 2030, as more people turn to resellers or “plugs” to unearth clothing items that customers without connections cannot easily access. With no clear framework on how to break into the personal shopping industry for sportspeople, Leon accidentally stumbled into a world where demand for exclusive shoes, clothes and jewellery far outweighed supply. As the influence of North American rappers like Drake and Kanye West grew in the 2010s, sportspeople began replicating their style and trying to get their hands on clothing and shoe collaborations.

His first breakthrough came at 13 years old with US tennis player Jack Sock, after he had noticed Leon’s shoes while taking selfies with fans courtside.

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

A few weeks later, Leon supplied him with a few pairs of highly sought-after shoes that Sock could not find elsewhere. This served as a lightbulb moment for Leon. Recognising the growth in sportspeople seeking designer brands and limited release shoes, he set about growing his base of contacts in the footwear resale market. The first foray into the football world as a plug came with England Under-21 international forward 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 from a friend who shouted me out,” said Leon. “I could not believe it. He was at Hoffenheim in Germany at the time on loan from Arsenal. I sent him a message saying, ‘If you ever need anything when you’re in London, just send me a message’, and a couple of weeks later, he did. I stood outside his place and waited for him to get home from the airport with the trainers he’d asked for.

“He then passed me onto Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka, who were in the academy at the time. It’s so cool that I have grown with them. We have had our journey together as they still buy from me now, and the service has never changed.”

This was in 2018 when Leon was only 13 years old, and his parents would drive him around to meet clients. Now 17, he is at the top of the personal shopping industry in Europe, with upwards of 79,000 followers on his Instagram account. The Plug Leon brand has gone from a school kid — who had not even started his GCSEs — chasing around team buses and […]

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