DJ Khaled’s personal sneaker connect is waiting for me in the lobby of the Time Life building, but there’s an issue with him getting past security. Benjamin Kapelushnik, widely known on the Internet as Benjamin Kickz, the high schooler from Miami who takes pictures with piles of sought-after shoes, is only 16 years old and does not have the required identification to enter the office.
Benjamin’s gained quite the reputation online as a reseller, showing off bundles of sneakers, such as the adidas Yeezy Boost, and for rubbing shoulders with A-list celebrities, who are typically years older and often literal shoulders above him. But you wouldn’t know this from meeting him in person. He’s just excited to be in the office of a magazine that he regularly reads.
Like many kids his age, Benjamin’s love for sneakers started young. “I came home one day in fifth grade, and my mom went to the mall and she bought the ‘Galaxy’ LeBrons and Kobes. I didn’t know anything about sneakers,” Benjamin says. “I wore them to school and everyone was going crazy. Then I started gradually liking sneakers more.”
It would be a few years before he got into reselling sneakers, which he’s now become recognized for, and it all started with just one pair. “I did my first campout in seventh grade. I think it was for the Cheech & Chong Nike SB Dunks,” Benjamin says. “I grew a collection of shoes and people would try and buy them off me. I didn’t want to sell them, because I wasn’t into sneakers for business. Then I camped out and got two pairs and sold one, because I got money for my birthday and for Hanukkah, but it started to run out. I thought to myself, ‘If I want to keep buying sneakers, I’m going to figure out a way to get the money.’”
It wasn’t long before Benjamin’s reselling venture expanded, and he realized the possibility of essentially getting his sneakers for free. “I thought, ‘This is smart, I can buy two or three sneakers and keep one for free and sell the other ones,’” Benjamin says. “I wasn’t into it for the profit, I was into it for the shoe itself. I didn’t have a job and I had to get money somehow.”
To get the sneakers to resell, Benjamin knew that he had to have extra money upfront to secure an inventory of shoes. “I started building my money off of selling one pair at a time. I used to pay my friends $40, $50 to camp out for me, and that was for just one shoe,” Benjamin says. “Then I ended up getting a lot more money than that. I knew that camping out for 10 pairs wasn’t going to get me far. So, I just laid out all my money on one release, and it was a hit. I almost doubled my money off of that. I kept going, and that was it.”
Benjamin’s money began to grow exponentially, but he needed the right plug to get him unreleased sneakers by the caseload. This would come in the form of a friend who wasn’t invested in footwear, but knew the right person. “I started looking for a plug, and it happened to be my friend, who’s not interested in sneakers, had a friend who owns a store and had Nike and adidas contracts,” says Benjamin, who also admitted that he found another store, located in a different state, that hooks him up. “I pay them extra. We have to build a trust factor. I had to fly out to that state and start to build a relationship with them. Then, they’d start to trust me on a personal level where they’d get me all the shoes that would release. It’s difficult to trust someone to ship them shoes before they release, because it can get the shop in trouble with Nike or whoever.”
Benjamin claims he’ll often send thousands of dollars to these stores to get the sneakers early, and he attempts to make at least 35 to 40 percent profit on each sneaker release. For shoes that he can sell for greater profits later, he’ll horde the sneakers until they’ve reached a higher value. Benjamin says he has over 800 sneakers on consignment in Florida and he hopes to open his own buy-and-sell store sometime next year.
His parents thought he was out of his mind for attempting to resell sneakers at first. They didn’t think that anyone would pay lofty sums for a pair of sneakers that weren’t made by a high-fashion designer. “I bought the ‘Miro’ Air Jordan VIIs, and I paid $700 for them, and my dad said, ‘You’re crazy, you’re the only person who pays that much for a shoe,’” Benjamin says. “I sold them a few months after for $1,000, and he thought that was impressive.”
Arguably, though, Benjamin would not have become the success that he is without meeting one of his most faithful customers, Miami’s own DJ Khaled. It all started when a friend of his approached him about someone who needed three of the “Pantone” Air Jordan XI packs.
“I asked him what size he needed, and then I asked, ‘Who is it for?’ He said, ‘DJ Khaled,’” Benjamin says. “I thought it was impressive at first. So, I got them the sneakers, and then I met him. From then on, I’d get him every release and sell it to him right away. He buys every release and multiple pairs."
“Before I flew out yesterday, we went to a concert together,” says Benjamin about his relationship with Khaled, who has invited him onstage during live performances and can be spotted throughout his Instagram feed. “I go to all the concerts with him and he plugs me in with all the celebrities. I’ve met a lot of people through him. He’s helped me a lot.”
This has opened the door for Benjamin to get a celebrity clientele that extends beyond Khaled, often selling sneakers to rappers. He prefers to work with rappers over athletes, and not because of the money involved. “I like working with rappers more, because I love hip-hop and the music industry. It’s more satisfying for me. Don’t get me wrong: I like selling to athletes, too, but I can relate to the hip-hop stars more.”
Even with all the attention, in real life and on the Internet—his Instagram account currently has over 36,000 followers—Benjamin is still a high school kid who needs to deal with the day-to-day realities of being a teenager and student. Finding a balance between his two worlds has left his teachers worried about him, even though his business model is bringing in the equivalent of a healthy annual salary for an adult. “Last week, my teachers told my parents I shouldn’t bring a phone to school because it’s so distracting. So, I got another phone, which I bring to school that has my friends and parents on it. Then, I have my phone for sneakers, celebrities, and business. When I leave school, then I get my other phone, so I kind of play them.”
Living these two very separate lives can be stressful for Benjamin, who says he’s made nearly a million dollars reselling sneakers so far. “I like doing the sneakers, but sometimes I need to take a break and chill,” he says.
He’s turned himself into a business mogul at a young age, but he still plans to go to college and get an MBA degree, hopefully opening a chain of retail stores in the future. Benjamin doesn’t see himself selling sneakers on Instagram forever. “I’m not going to be 26, 27 years old selling sneakers on Instagram. I’m doing this as a ‘kid thing’ right now; it’s going to be a lot wider scale,” Benjamin says.
As business savvy as he is, it’s very clear that Benjamin’s number-one priority is his love of sneakers. His personal collection, which only contains somewhere between 25 to 30 pairs, is full of “heaters,” as he says, and includes such shoes as the Nike Mag, Air Jordans from the Doernbecher and BIN collections, as well as the ultra-limited “Yellow Lobster” Dunk, a collaboration between Concepts and Nike SB.
While we’re wrapping up the interview and I’m giving Benjamin a tour of the Complex office, he says, “I’d love to work here. I just want to do something that I care about.” A package arrives for me; it’s a pair of “Neon” Nike Air Max 95s that we’re going to give away to a reader. I’m having a hard time ripping open the plastic, and Benjamin helps me pull out the collector’s edition box from the wrapping. He’s just as excited to see the sneakers as I am. It’s not a surprise, either, as Benjamin tells me about why he resells: “I do it, in general, to keep the shoe, not to make money on it.”