In a land before the time of the hypebeast era, you were able to stop by your local sneaker shop to purchase the new release of Michael Jordan’s signature shoe the “Air Jordan” without hardly having issues. Sneaker collecting was an affordable thing to do, waking up the day of a shoe release knowing you will definitely get a pair. The internet age changed the sneaker culture forever.
Today's sneaker collecting has changed for the worst, for the consumer at least. You are lucky if you are able to buy sneakers at retail before the resellers get their hands on it. With a “lottery system” you have to win in order to buy the sneakers, what kind of lottery is that?! Resellers usually buy up the shoes in store and online for retail and resell it above the retail price. Forget about going online to purchase the sneakers, resellers create computer bots that buy up the shoes moments after the release!
(DJ Khaled with his ridiculous sneaker collection.)
The global sneaker resale market is estimated to be worth around $6 billion by the end of 2025. It is a good time to be in the resell business. A lot of fortunes have been created on reselling sneakers. Some brands and stores limit the amount of the same shoe you can buy, to prevent resellers easily buying up a whole release. It's not as easy for the reseller to buy a whole release, but they still find ways to get the supply they need.
Bots have been an ongoing problem with online releases with high demand. Bots are coded to immediately buy merchandise online, down to seconds of a release. The government has been trying to regulate the bots problem by sending warning letters to people using the bots to purchase things for resale; with no drastic changes to the bot problem.
Sneaker companies build up hype by creating a scarcity of supply. The low supply of the shoes makes the shoes very valuable to the reseller market. The resellers build the hype around brands by the price tag they put on it. Today there are platforms like GOAT, StockX SNKRS, and the old faithful eBay, where you can find sneakers on the resell market. These platforms attract hundreds of millions of visitors a year to pay reseller prices. StockX single handedly facilitated 37 million transactions in a year.
(The godfathers of the sneaker culture, Run DMC.)
Early pioneers like Run DMC and Michael Jordan paved the way for the hype of the sneaker culture. Air Jordan sneakers and hip hop are biggest contributors to the rise of sneaker collecting. Nike executed marketing genius by implying to consumers that the Air Jordan shoes will help you soar in the air like Michael Jordan. Young minority kids from the inner city would buy these shoes to emulate their favorite athletes and rappers. Over time, the sneaker culture crossed over into pop culture; edging out minorities who created the sneaker culture.
(The first Air Jordan commercial that appeared on televisions across America.)
As the sneaker industry attracted a broader audience, minorities have been pushed out due to the higher price tag that retailers and resellers put on it. What used to be an affordable hobby for black and brown kids became a hobby exclusively for consumers with deep pockets. The sneaker culture has been gentrified, abandoning the black kids that created the sneaker market. With the soaring price tags of shoes, the more dangerous it is to own a pair.
(An early article about the dangers of owning Air Jordans that Sports Illustrated released on May 14th, 1990.)
The hype around the popular sneakers have made it dangerous to own a pair. In the 90's, America had it's first glimpse of how dangerous it can be. Articles started to spread about robberies and murders over the highly coveted Air Jordan sneakers in Chicago. With the high ticket price on the hypebeast sneakers, they are valued like jewelry. Many innocent civilians lost their lives over a pair of sneakers as the years go by. In 2015, it was estimated that 1,200 people die in sneaker related incidents every year!
Even though the sneaker industry has its dark side, there’s also a bright side to it. With the crossover into pop culture, the sneaker culture has been a way that people from different cultural backgrounds to connect through shoes. People meet at conventions, camp outs, boutiques, forums, social media; all in the love of sneakers. Some collectors meet their best of friends at one of these meet ups to buy, sell, or trade sneakers. The sneaker culture has brought people together like collecting baseball cards.
(A glimpse of what a Sneaker Convention looks like in Toronto, Canada.)
Times have changed but the essentials to sneaker collecting are still there. Going to great extents to find places that sell the rare sneakers is what the sneaker culture is all about, even going to resellers is part of the game. Sneaker collecting has been embedded into popular culture, creating a bigger market for sneakers. A broader audience brings the good and bad with it. Though sneaker collecting changed a lot, sneaker collecting is not going anywhere any time soon.