If you're wondering how much sneaker culture has grown recently, take a look at the trajectory of Sneaker Con over the past eight years: Since its debut in 2009 in a 2,000-square-foot space in New York City's Times Square with about 30 vendors and 600 attendees, the Comic-Con-inspired event — where enthusiasts can buy, sell and trade sneakers, streetwear and everything in between — has snowballed more than twentyfold. That's not to mention its expansion around the world, with stops in London, Berlin, Melbourne, Hong Kong, Atlanta, Chicago, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Washington, D.C. and more. Over the past weekend, its New York City show welcomed 19,000 attendees and 100,000 pairs of sneakers (worth $1 billion total) to the Javits Center.
"It's very much the same people. Some of those kids [from 2009] are now adults, or one of those kids might actually have a vending table out here with us today," says Yu-Ming, founder of Sneaker Con and SneakerNews, as well as the CMO of Stadium Goods. "In terms of the energy, the vibe and what people were into, how they reacted and how they interacted, it's very similar. These people are doing the same exact thing they were doing in 2009. We just multiplied it by a few."
Among the event's 500 vendors, spanning from established retailers to teenage resellers to famous YouTube hypebeasts, it appeared that the Yeezy 350 Boosts nearly outnumbered the attendees in New York. Multiple pairs were up for resale at almost every table, from the very first Kanye West-designed sneaker ("Turtledove" from 2015), to the most-produced release, "Beluga 2.0." Fittingly, "Blue Tint" dropped on Day 1 of Sneaker Con, and inevitably, the recent release was spotted throughout the venue's 160,000-square-foot space by Sunday.
It was total Yeezy overload to witness so many versions of a specific sneaker in one place at the same time and we wondered, had the style reached its ubiquitous peak? Not at all, actually. In fact, resellers are still investing big in the Adidas shoe because they believe it's the easiest sale and profit. (At one point during Sneaker Con, we overheard a teenage reseller gloating to his friends about flipping a pair of Yeezy Boosts for $475.) They're simply supplying enough stock to keep up with the huge demand.
The 18-year-old, Florida-based sneaker dealer Benjamin Kickz, who's risen to social media fame as the plug for the likes of DJ Khaled, Diddy, French Montana and Migos and resells through his online marketplace The Sneaker Don, set up a sprawling, branded display at the center of Sneaker Con that was overflowing with Yeezy Boosts in every colorway. "The reason I have so many is because that's literally the easiest sell," he explains. "Jordan used to be on top, but now Adidas is taking over because of Kanye. He's dropping new ones every week; I don't think it's smart, I think he's flooding the market, but when it comes to sales, I am still buying them for way less than I am selling them."
"In the last three years, Yeezy definitely dominates sneaker culture," says Yu-Ming. "The rest of Adidas have caught up as well. We have Ultra Boost, which I'm wearing, NMDs and the Pharrell line. Even Pusha T and some of the other brand collaborations that Adidas does is definitely dominating sneaker culture."
Alex Boro, an 18-year-old reseller that goes by the alias El Jefe, agrees that the demand from his customers is still the same, but resale market prices continue to get lower because there are so many pairs available. "I still try to buy [as many as I can] because there's money to be made," he says. The team behind The Cellar in Buffalo, New York, had several pairs of Yeezys on offer at Sneaker Con as well, saying: "The price isn't as high because of the quantity that's out there, but it just shows even more just how high the demand is — there are so many more being released and they still sell out instantly and resell for higher amounts." At the peak of their popularity, when they were as elusive as "a mythical creature," The Cellar was able to flip a pair of Yeezy Boosts for $2,500 or $3,000; when the pirate black colorway first came out, customers were willing to pay up to $5,000.
The same could be said for Nike's "The Ten" collaboration with Virgil Abloh — often dubbed Nike x Off-White. The prolific partnership boasts 10 signature or "icon" Nike styles, including the Air Jordan I, Air Max 90, Air Presto and Air VaporMax, completely deconstructed and remixed by Abloh. Could this have been the global sportswear brand's reaction to Yeezy? After all, West cut ties with Nike before linking with Adidas, and in September, NPD Group revealed that Adidas had overtaken the Jordan Brand as the second biggest brand in U.S. sport footwear.
"In the last month or two, Nike completely came back and dominated sneakerheads' wants and needs. You'll see so much Off-White [at Sneaker Con]," says Yu-Ming. "We did a show in London about three weeks ago and I have never seen so many of the same sneakers over and over. So many Off-White Jordan Is. That's incredible."
The hype was so high ahead of this release that Nike's SNKRS app, which was the only way that shoppers could get the collaboration, completely crashed on drop day. The glitch left customers angry and empty-handed, along with media outlets questioning the state of sneaker culture at large. But the resourceful resellers who managed to get their hands on plenty of pairs happily offered their hauls for sale — with a much higher price, of course.
At Sneaker Con, The Cellar had dozens of styles from Nike's "The Ten" displayed across two tables, drawing a nonstop crowd to ogle at the inventory. The clothing and sneaker retailer put "a ton" of money into acquiring Off-White Nikes, and sold off much of its stock over the course of Sneaker Con. (Prices averaged about $750 for the Off-White styles, which retail for between $130 and $250.) The sneakers were acquired mainly through connections the owners have made at conventions over the years and online shopping, and the quantity of sizes and styles — some of which were not officially released in America — The Cellar had on offer brought lots of attention to their table. Kickz echoes this sentiment, saying that behind Yeezys, the Off-White Nikes are his most in-demand sneakers at the moment.
While sneakerheads were quick to call Off-White as their grail for the weekend, there wasn't as much fandom behind other luxury brands with their own sneaker offerings, such as Balenciaga and Vetements, which collaborates regularly with Reebok. On Day 2 of Sneaker Con, spotting a Balenciaga Triple S shoe, which retails for $850 and is regularly stocked at most high-end retailers, was very rare. "Those are an acquired taste," notes Jaysee Lopez, owner of Urban Necessities in Las Vegas. "This market is driven on hype more than anything. But I think it's dope to see that happening with higher-scale brands. It's making this culture even more accepted by the masses."
Designer goods are also much harder to acquire, even for the most well-connected resellers. Kickz, who's been on the hunt for a pair of Balenciaga Speed Knit sock sneakers recently, had to forge fashion-industry relationships in order to secure luxury labels for his clients. "It was [tough] at first, but now I'm plugged in with all the stylists — I can get all of the designer stuff early, which is a lot more difficult than getting Nikes early," he says.
Sneaker Con's weekend in New York City, its last stop for 2017, marked the events biggest turnout yet. For next year, Yu-Ming plans to expand the event to China, specifically his native Guangzhou, along with other Asian countries in the southeast area, such as the Philippines, Indonesia and possibly Singapore. Major sneaker cities, like Paris, Mexico City and São Paulo, are also on Yu-Ming's wish list.
"We can easily say, 'We have the world's biggest sneaker store under one roof.' You have access to the lower-tier of collectible sneakers or the highest tier — the ones that go for $20,000 or $30,000, along with the mid ranges. That's what's offered at Sneaker Con. Everyone wants to be here." And chances are, everyone will be wanting the latest Yeezy Boosts, too.