Sales feat: Sneakerheads fuel second-hand 'kicks' boom

By Helen Soteriou
Business reporter

Image caption,
Sneakerheads came to Truman Brewery wearing their finest kicks and in search of more

On a cold Saturday morning in the East End of London, the queue for crepes is getting longer and longer, but these people are not waiting for breakfast.

"Crepes" is another word for trainers, and Truman Brewery is hosting Crepe City 9, a secondary market event.

Let's be clear, shoes on the secondary market aren't really second-hand in the sense that they're someone's smelly old, worn trainers.

The event is aimed at sneakerheads - people who collect or trade trainers (also known as sneakers or "kicks") as a hobby. They come here to buy, sell and swap.

"Second-hand kicks are popular for a variety of reasons," says Simon "Woody" Wood, the editor and founder of Sneaker Freaker magazine.

Image caption,
Gerard Starkey is a huge fan of Michael Jordan, who was central to the sneakerhead culture

"Sometimes they're cheap and sometimes they're simply super rare, or maybe they're just not available anywhere and you're happy to finally land a holy grail. Prices range from $50 [£30] to $5,000, so it's a pretty broad market."

Five-figure shoes

Crepe City has seen its numbers swell over the years, with more than 2,500 people passing through its doors on this particular Saturday.

Gerard Starkey is selling a few trainers at the event, but he is mainly exhibiting his Air Jordan VI collection.

He says his love of basketball got him interested in the shoes. Like many, he was influenced by former Chicago Bulls NBA star Michael Jordan, whose Air Jordan line of shoes was released in 1985.

"Michael Jordan is probably one of the world's greatest athletes and that, along with the fact the shoe design was so cutting-edge and progressive, got me into Jordans."

The 32-year-old finance professional has amassed his collection from all over the place, "from old grannies selling their husbands' collections to some of the most powerful men in NBA basketball. I had a lot from my teenage years and the rest I have hunted down all over the world."

He wears a lot of his rare recent releases, but his original releases are generally for display purposes.

The most expensive shoes in his collection are his MJ True Blue practice-worn, dual-signed IIIs or his game-worn, triple-signed Carmine VIs. He says they are very hard to value exactly, but "they are both five-figure shoes".

Image caption,
The True Blue III is one of the rarest Michael Jordan shoes in the world

Despite his own expensive collection, he has mixed feelings about the resale market: "I do feel that they are ruining the joy of wearing iconic shoes for the younger guys, since some of the pricing is just a little crazy."

But one young guy who did manage to get his hands on a pair of Gerard's trainers was 26-year-old Didier, who bought the Jordan IV Fire Red for £175.

These trainers were on his wish list, and he knew that they would be for sale at the event.

He plans on wearing them, but not just yet. "I will be wearing my kicks in the summer. They are too special to be worn in winter."

Image caption,
Trainers in all colours and sizes were on display

Conspicuous consumption

The secondary sneaker market seems to be benefiting from a knock-on effect from growth in the primary market.

"The US market was $21bn at retail last year. The international market was about the same size," says Matt Powell, a "sneakerologist" at SportsOneSource.

"Over the last decade, sneaker sales in the US have averaged [growth of] 5% per year. Internationally it has grown faster, as emerging markets and China grow very fast."

According to Mr Powell, it is the premium end that has seen the biggest growth in the US and to a lesser extent internationally.

"There has always been an element of conspicuous consumption in sneaker purchasing. 'I have $160 to spend on sneakers and you don't.' "

Image caption,
Some trainers have a high price tag attached

At Crepe City, trader Ben Adu-Yeboah says he sees two main types of buyer.

"Some are OG [Original sneakerheads] coming through the era of the 80s, looking to cop a pair of trainers that they had way back when.

"The other segment are the new wave of sneakerheads who are the future of the scene. At the [last] Crepe City event I witnessed people as young as 13 spending big money on sneakers."

Game changer

Mr Wood says the digital age and the advent of social media have really "blown up" the sneakerhead market.

"Kids have been digging sneakers since the 1970s and probably even before that, so nothing has really changed, but it's the global connectivity that has transformed the game.

"I would say that since we started [the magazine] back in 2002, the size of our potential audience has grown to encompass millions, rather than tens of thousands of kids."

Image caption,
More than 2,500 people attended Crepe City's latest event in London

Mr Adu-Yeboah also realises the power of the internet, but says it too can have its downside for sellers.

"With eBay, it's the fees. However, you can reach a worldwide audience at a click of a button.

"With the Crepe City event you pay a one-off fee as a vendor and any profit goes directly into your coffers. However, the audience is localised and the event is only held once a quarter."

And as for the people who have queued up in the freezing cold, they proudly display their crepes online, on shelves and on their feet.

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