The Sneaker Business is “Boomin’” and the Kids are Taking Over

A black sneaker popped out in a crowd, peaking above walking heads. The high-top shoe was midnight black: everything from the rubber sole to the suede upper. A 13-year-old held the high-top sneaker above his head and waited for the crowd to notice. It wasn’t just any shoe, but a new, unworn Adidas Yeezy Boost 750, a $1,000 shoe, and he had more than one pair. By the end of the day, he intended to sell every pair, for cash.

New York City had its first two-day sneaker event this past weekend. Sneaker Con – the stock exchange of the sneaker resale market – was held at the north end of the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center; and this weekend business was “boomin” for youngsters.  

The 80,000 sq ft. space was filled with “sneakerheads” buying, selling and trading the hottest kicks on the streets. Tables were covered with coveted sneakers, including the new Kanye West sneaker’s Yeezy 350 Boost V2. These shoes, as well as the Air Jordan 1 Satin Retro high-tops, are some are the hardest shoes to find. Due to their limited quantity, companies like Nike and Adidas make them challenging to purchase: a customer either has to wait in long lines at a specific location on the day of the release, or they can enter the online raffle and hope to be one of the lucky few to secure their size and purchase the shoes.

The only other option is to purchase them from a reseller, who purchased the shoes at retail value – which in this case was $220 – and is now selling them for about three times that value.

Younger buyers usually get their hands on a pair of Yeezys by winning the raffle and asking their parents to purchase them.

The average attendee at Sneaker Con appeared to be about seventeen. The space was broken up into three sections. Sneaker and apparel vendors were in the front, the trading pit was in the middle, and there was a basketball court with stands in the back. The trading pit - a gated section of the room where guests could buy, sell, or trade authentic shoes – was packed with boys, most of whom seemed to be twelve year olds and wearing braces. These boys were hustlers; cell phone in hand, negotiating prices, wearing one pair of Yeezys, while selling another.

“What size?”

“8”

“How much?”

“$1000”

If a potential buyer was interested at that price, he would check to see if the shoe had been worn, and if it was real or fake. If there was any doubt, a buyer could bring the shoe to the authentication section, where an authenticator would make the final decision. When asked how the authenticator qualified for his position, the answer was simple:

“He’s been doin’ it for a minute, that why.” said Christian Pierre, a 23 year-old social team stream curator at Bleacher Report, where he curates the top sports team with socially relative topics. 

Pierre picked up a pair of black Yeezy Boost 350s off of the Bleacher Report vendor table and began to count the red dots on the back of the shoe. “This is one of the easiest ways to tell if they’re real,” said Pierre. He made it clear that in time, anyone can learn to be an authenticator.

At the front of the convention center, eBay had a booth where people could look up the shoes’ value and compare bid amounts, in case they wanted to turn around and resell a purchase.  

“Only half of the people here are selling on eBay,” said Jacob Hunter, a retail partnership manager at eBay. “The younger kids have built a market on social media.”

Young sellers are likelier to post pictures of their shoes on Instagram so their followers can see their collection.

At 19, Chase Reed owns two sneakers stores in New York City and has 23.4 thousand followers on Instagram. It’s safe to say he understands how social media created a new platform to buy and sell sneakers. “Having a social media following is the same thing as having money,” said Reed. The more shoes posted, the more followers are gained, and this leads to more sales being made.

Reed uses social media to show what products he has to sell online and in his store, SneakerPawn USA. At sixteen, he opened his first shop out of his dad’s apartment on 120th and Adam Clayton Powell, in West Harlem. Today, he has a storefront on 125th and Adam Clayton Powell, and just opened up a new store on 14th Street, between 5th and 6th Avenue.

Although Reed now runs an established sneaker resale business, he understands the mindset of the young entrepreneurs at Sneaker Con.

“The outlook is just different,” Reed said, “if I’m 12 years old, I don’t have any responsibilities. They don’t have to pay rent. There’s no worries.” 

According to Reed, the teenagers at Sneaker Con are buying and trading their shoes popularity reasons. In high school, Reed did the same, until he realized he could make money selling them.

The business, whether ran by teenagers or adults, is not illegal. Sneaker companies like Nike and Adidas are aware of the resale market, and have begun to compete by re-releasing shoes.

“They are making it harder for us to sell right away, because people are holding out, knowing that Nike will drop a new color in the next few months,” said Reed.

Kirsten Watson