Written by Kevin Smith (@officialKLS)
On December 27 last year, my younger brother left home and headed to our local Foot Locker. He met up with his friends around 1 p.m. and together they began the long, tiring process of waiting for a hyped shoe release. The only problem was that the “Bred” Air Jordan 1, the sneaker that they were on the hunt for, wasn’t set to drop for another 20 hours. And the fact that my brother was completely fine with waiting in line for almost a full day just to get a pair of sneakers puzzled me.
Don’t get me wrong, as a sneakerhead myself I’ve stood around in line for hours before just to get a pair of kicks, but I’ve never waited such an extreme amount of time. Why my brother would do this in nearly freezing temperatures made me really think about the current state of sneaker culture.
What really creates this obsession?
Compulsions, like deciding to wait in line hours for a pair of shoes or paying more than double the retail price is an interesting behavior.
Through some research I discovered that when a group of people deem something valuable (in this case sneakers), they believe that it increases their personal value once they get it.
It makes perfect sense. Just ask any Complex editor or sneaker blogger. It's because of this obsession that we all have jobs.
Guys think that rocking rare or exclusive kicks will help them do better with the opposite sex. And typically it does. Why do you think that some ladies save for months, even years, just to get a pair of Christian Louboutins? The only difference with buying a pair of Louboutins is that women typically don't have to wait hours on end just to get a pair.
There's actually a science to the hype of a release. Buying rare products creates a chemical reaction within our brains. Keep in mind that the brain is a very complex organ and the scientific reason for material cravings is difficult to concretely establish. While we can’t pinpoint a precise reason why someone would feel their self-worth increasing by acquiring an item, there are theories.
Retail expert and author Mark Ellwood said, “Chemicals in our brains are complicated. Compulsions, like deciding to wait in line hours for a pair of shoes or paying more than double the retail price is an interesting behavior. When we act on compulsion, our brains release dopamine, a chemical that gives a good, almost euphoric feeling. The dopamine high that comes from acquiring something that increases your worth will cause you to repeat that action over and over again to get the same result.”
In layman's terms, each time you cop a new pair of Air Jordans, you get high. The feeling from this act feels so good, that you want to replicate it, over and over. You get obsessed, just like you would with any other thing that makes you feel good.
In layman's terms, each time you cop a new pair of Air Jordans, you get high.
Ellwood also brought to my attention the theory of a Veblen good. In simple terms, this is when an item has demand that's exponentially proportional to its price. “A Veblen good is essentially a status symbol,” Ellwood explained. “When you own a Veblen good, you have essentially moved up the social ladder. You become more important by acquiring this thing and you want to pay for it.”
In sneaker culture, the more someone else wants something (like friends or someone you look up to) it makes you want that thing too.
While Ellwood was researching his latest book he looked at a very small number of brands that never go on sale. Some well-known examples include Apple computers, Louis Vuitton luggage, and of course—certain sneakers. Items that have the power of a Veblen good often see the value increase once it's acquired.