KICKS + COVID
Words by Valentina Carrizo
Sneakerheads everywhere at this very moment are hunched over computer screens, brows beading with sweat in the fluorescent glow of the monitor as they try in vain to secure possession of exclusive sneakers that are being launched online. The faint smell of cardboard hangs in the air around them, oozing from the stacks of shoeboxes shrouded in the shadows of their bedrooms. Yes, they still live with their parents but not out of choice - out of dedication to the craft, to the financial strain but spiritual gain of collecting and reselling sneakers. Nothing will stop them. They may have lost the ability to walk down the street to the store, but they haven’t lost the ability to revel in their latest purchase, the high of receiving a new pair in the mail and the ecstasy of wearing them for the first time.
In the exclusive and limited sneaker industry, queues of kids (by which I mean 30-year-old men dressed in Supreme) bending around street corners are the visual marker of hype - a word that is thrown around but was born out of the sneaker world. Physical queues serve as a visual aid that something big is happening at the local Footlocker, causing boomers driving past in their Honda Accords to crank down the window and ask a politely baffled question to the nearest bumbag-slinging Hypebeast; ‘what’s this for?’ to which the human box logo billboard yells ‘Nike’s dropping their Dior collab’ being sure to pronounce it “Nikey” like the American that they truly are not and leaving the now bamboozled boomer wondering what the hell “Nikey” is, what “dropping” means, what “collab” could be short for and what a perfume company could have to do with any of this.
While this tired old narrative of fashion consumerism and the generational divide has been lost to the health crisis, the highly competitive process of online raffles has continued on as a non-contact option.
For those of you who have not managed to cultivate an unhealthy obsession with throwing money you don’t have at exclusive limited sneakers and may be unfamiliar with the raffle concept it can be summed up simply: You enter a draw where a predetermined number of winners are randomly selected, and they then receive the opportunity to purchase the sneakers in question. It’s a process which has been employed to make the buying experience as equitable as possible and combat the physical fights which have been known to break out in queues at sneaker releases. One only has to look at the chaos that erupted at the release of the Sean Wotherspoon Air Max 1/97 to glimpse the disappointment fans feel when they queue days prior only to have the event shut down by police. During the pandemic it has made the transition to completely online drops smoother and simpler, being a process avid consumers were already familiar with.
However, in some instances, brands have gone even further to postpone releases altogether until they can be carried out in person when bans on physical gatherings are lifted. Most notably, Nike has postponed the release of the Dior x Air Jordan collaboration. This shoe will retail at over $3000AUD, a price point which possibly prompted the brand to wait until they could do a full-scale drop complete with celebrity features, physical launches and release parties worldwide.
This decision has proven controversial for Nike, as the unveiling of the Dior Air Jordan earlier this year was met with negativity amongst the community for not being imaginative enough, and not progressing the sneaker scene in any memorable way. While every Nike collaboration is well placed and enacted with the intention of promoting sales and brand awareness, devout sneaker lovers are usually happy to overlook the money mongering side of the business and focus on creativity and meaning. However, since this highly anticipated collaboration was with a respected luxury fashion house, the lacklustre final product appeared to capitalise upon the Dior branding as a fad more than a creative collaboration, or a shoe which paid its respects to the culture surrounding a sneaker, resulting in many deflated sneakerheads who wanted to love it but were left un-moved by the design.
DIOR AIR JORDAN LOW
Travis Scott at a Dior Event in Miami, wearing the unreleased Jordans
The sneaker resale industry is an important part of sneaker culture. This DIY movement has allowed many to make their fortunes on the legal buying of exclusive and limited stock and selling this forward at a higher price tag. Big retailer names like Flight Club in New York City and Round Two in Los Angeles were born out of such reselling and are now reputable establishments revered worldwide. While larger-scale retailers are feeling the pinch during the pandemic, sole traders are suffering the most. The highly anticipated Off White Retro Air Jordan 5 that was released mid-February retailed at $355AUD and reached a resale price of $2690AUD has now dropped to $1034AUD since the implementation of self-isolation measures.
Off White Retro Air Jordan 5
StockX, Goat, and Stadium Goods which are all online reselling platforms reported that inventory has stalled since consumers are not spending as much money on anything other than essential items. The sole traders who rely on these platforms as their only source of income have been hardest hit. As an effect of the sneaker drops that have been postponed (six in total now), the resell market will likely experience the aftershocks of having no new sneakers to flip and will stall in the aftermath of the virus.
Since many Nike Jordan launches have been postponed, it is perhaps surprising that the Women’s Air Jordan 4 Retro ‘Rasta’ went ahead as planned on April 16. Designed as an ode to the Jamaica Carnival, the shoe features red, yellow and green translucent rubber and the iconic white cement toe wrap. Additionally, it is produced in women’s sizing only - something that is more of a trope in the hype sneaker world than standard practice. Female sneakerheads are no strangers to doubling up socks, swapping out innersoles and having Band-Aids on hand to fit into men’s sizes and pull off the proverbial ‘drip’. It is curious that this release wasn’t postponed since the carnival it pays homage to was rescheduled for October 2020. Possibly, it was assumed that female sneakerheads would jump to buy the metaphorical carrot that was dangled in front of them. Instead, this shoe did not sell out and is still available on a few websites at a reasonable price. In fact, the sizes that sold out first were the largest ones - US 10s and 11s - suggesting that men are still the dominant buyers during the pandemic. If this trend is replicated over most drops then it would be more constructive for brands to continue to release men’s sneakers in order to carry on the momentum of the sneaker sale and resale industry in whatever capacity they can.
For the economy to evolve beyond this pandemic people need to feel confident in spending their money, and the same goes for sneaker shopping. If buyers and sellers lose confidence in the enterprises which prop up this industry, the end of the pandemic could bring with it a mass reshuffling of the way sneakers are bought, sold and worn.
WOMENS AIR JORDAN 4 RETRO 'RASTA’
StockX is perhaps the most highly used and recommended platform for sneaker resale. It’s an idea that has manifested in the past five years into a lucrative business for its founders and for the many sellers who have flipped hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of sneakers on the site. As of June 2019, the company is worth 1 billion US dollars.
In the midst of this pandemic, StockX notified its users that a 3% processing fee would be applied from April 22nd to all buyers, on top of the price of the item, shipping costs and the sales tax applied to sellers. These higher fees will force sellers to decrease the price point of their inventory in order to keep prices reasonable for buyers, causing their own profits to suffer in the process. StockX failed to provide information as to where and how the fee would be reinvested into the company, or why it was introduced in the first place.
This comes at a bad time for StockX as the past year has seen them come under scrutiny for failing to uphold their guarantee of authenticity (a fee they claim is “free” on their website). Many comments on StockX socials point out that the fee can’t be free if the authentication process doesn’t even work. Many customers claim to have received counterfeit sneakers through the site.
Since StockX was founded to be the friendly neighbourhood informant of the market value of a sneaker as well as protector against bootleg sneaker scams, increasing fees which drive sales prices to the higher end of the market and letting fakes slip through the cracks will turn StockX into the Eddie Brock of resale platforms.
The new 3% surcharge has sellers hitting up StockX socials threatening to permanently swap to other resale platforms with fewer fees, such as eBay or Stadium Goods. Not only this, but any loss - financial or otherwise which StockX may concede during this time will impact upon their key investors’ trust in the company, among whom are some recognisable names; Karlie Kloss, Eminem, Scooter Braun and Mark Wahlberg. As the industry’s leading resale platform it is up to StockX to set the tone during the pandemic and enforce 100% transparency to regain customers’ trust and make reparations with a community of passionate and knowledgeable customers who are not afraid to make their voices heard through their wallets.