Sneakers nowadays are like neighborhoods in cities like New York, L.A., and D.C. The real people who’ve made these places cultural hubs are being priced out and in turn making everything that was once cool about those places corny. This same phenomenon is happening in the sneakers world. Like the mom and pop eateries that have been replaced by some shitty cafe, mom and pop sneaker stores and independent boutiques have either been replaced by consignment stores or have disappeared altogether. Cats are just now discovering Air Force 1s as if they were avocado toast. With the help of the Internet, fakes and herbs have gentrified sneakers like they’re doing to Brooklyn.
What was once a subculture of addicts, connoisseurs, and regular hood kids looking to stunt has turned into a race to wear the same sneakers. Brands insist on flooding consumers with limited releases, and the Internet and the sneaker resale market has turned something that was once cool into a cornball fest of the worst kind. Plus, they don’t even wear sneakers right. White girls run the streets with battered and dingy white Air Force 1s and adidas Superstars, laces all dirty, out here looking like a mechanic straight disrespecting the game. What ever happened to having your joints looking clean?
The ritual of cleaning your sneakers is a major part of being a sneakerhead, especially if you had younger siblings. It’s something you can bond over like that scene in Paid In Full when Mitch shows his little brother Sonny the proper way to keep his sneakers clean.
Cats are just now discovering Air Force 1s as if they were avocado toast
“The idea that a white/unworn/clean sneaker is better than one that has been worn/used played in is all Black culture and the art of presentation,” Internet personality and sneaker master Dallas Penn told me over the phone. “Sneaker culture has been colonized and the valuable resource which was authentic style and presentation has been extracted like diamonds from a mine in Rwanda.”
Penn said that he felt like this was colonization, rather than gentrification, but to me they mean the same thing in 2018. I’ve seen places like Jersey City, Manhattan, Harlem, and Brooklyn go from melting pots where I go visit family that have lived there for generations to them having to move because they can’t afford the rent. Now these places are filled with transplants who could care less of preserving the feeling that made those neighborhoods so dope in the first place. But more importantly, the cost of living is so high nothing authentic is able to flourish or cultivate. Once the mecca for sneaker hunting, NYC is having so much trouble keeping businesses open, the mayor is contemplating instituting a vacancy tax for property owners who refuse to lower rent. Sure, some of these gentrified neighborhoods may be “cleaner” or “safer,” but the soul is gone. And we all know these places become “cleaner” and “safer” because the local governments in these big cities don’t really care about poor people.
Sneaker culture has been so gentrified by brands and consumers alike that it’s hardly recognizable anymore. The biggest change is the art of the hunt. Searching for sneakers was the most important thing you could do as an avid sneakerhead. Queens native and owner of around 550 Nike Air Force 1s Paul Givelekian feels the same way. “It’s just not as fun as it used to be because you can see everything online, nothing feels special anymore.” He continued, “You go on YouTube and see all these herbs telling kids what to buy, shit is corny, man.”
These days everyone is chasing after the same kicks; the feeling is gone.
Lines around the block are filled with people who have no intentions of wearing the sneakers they’ve been sleeping in tents for. Sites like ours are complicit in all this as well. We’ll post links to sneakers we get for free with a total disregard about whether our audience will be able to cop. Most of us don’t have to deal with broken links due to traffic, or raffles. Shit is crazy. These sneaker companies and shops give you a raffle ticket to maybe spend your money with them. Imagine waiting in line for the opportunity to give a company your hard-earned cash? It’s a joke. Bots are another hurdle you have to clear when buying limited sneaker online. Copping sneakers shouldn’t feel like a GTA mission. And while you’re losing raffles and putting shit in your cart only to receive an “sold out” email instead of confirmation, there’s some snot-nosed kid with a bot in the suburbs copping 10 pair with his parent’s money so he could flip them.
People put a lot of blame on the retailers. But many fail to realize that the people at the shops are just as, or more, passionate as the people buying the sneakers. And they recognize that rich kids getting into sneakers is a new trend, too. “Like anything, once something hits the mainstream the rich come in and want to flex and have the best of the best, hence why reselling is high on money makers’ lists,” says Mubi Ali, who works at global retailer Sneakersnstuff in marketing and buying. “Resellers do the all the hard work, camping, signing up for raffles and leg work and then the rich scoop up the latest hype release without batting an eyelid. They were previously wearing Balenciaga, Gucci, etc. Now the money is moving to the latest Yeezy or Nike Off-White collab.”
But it doesn’t mean that retailers aren’t thinking about what’s going in the sneaker game right now, either. “Will the brands realize the market for hype product has exploded and gone mainstream so the opportunity to sell more and more is very real and will not ruin/saturate/kill the product?” Ali asks, before proposing that things might stay the same, saying, “If things stay as they are then there’s money to be made for a lucky few. Meaning being able to get what you when you want at MSRP is a myth and every release is a lottery.”
I wish brands would release more product, so I don’t have to spend Saturday morning getting pissed off, because I spent it hungover standing in a virtual line in an app that keeps crashing—because the entire world is trying to cop, too. Then I go on IG and see some cornball dressed like a struggle Soundcloud rapper with 50 boxes looking to flip them. I’m tired of having to either pay $100 over retail or not get anything at all. The people that really influence this sneaker shit are getting phased out, and that’s what the brands don’t get. The skaters, the hustler, the street kids that know how to put an outfit together are the true influencers and will always be, not that rich kid on Instagram. They’re still out there trying to navigate this new landscape, some have been forced into retirement, some simply don’t care anymore. Instead of making 500 different colorways of Jordans or Air Forces no one is going to buy, why not make limited releases a little less limited? I think you’d sell more sneakers that way.