It’s December 21st, 2012 in northeast Houston, Texas. The body of Joshua Woods slumps awkwardly over the steering wheel of a car wedged between two houses. The trunk is full of Air Jordan Retro 11 sneakers.
The attackers were supposedly after Woods’ stockpile of sneakers. Apparently, Woods intended to sell the shoes at a marked up price to people who, due to high demand, were unable to buy them for their retail price. Unfortunately, the criminals did not have the same patience to wait outside a local footlocker at six in the morning.
The violence, the madness, and, above all, the money is the product of massive demand and purposefully limited supply. All fueled by the dichotomy of fitting in and standing out commonly referred to as “hype.” Hype is the driving force for what is “hot” and what isn’t. It is influenced by group mentalities and trends created, perpetuated by advertisements and celebrity endorsements.
“Kanye is the biggest one,” said freshman Kieran Taylor. Taylor, a casual follower of sneaker culture, explains that he observes sneaker culture from afar, but understands the trends. “Whatever he wears, people want.”
Taylor’s perspective comes from the internet and his hometown of Albany, New York where there are local sneaker groups that allow people to buy, sell, and trade. Taylor explains that people arrange these deals and meet up in person, but sometimes the meetings are dangerous. According to him, people will use these meet ups as opportunities to rob people with sneakers and flip their shoes for money.
Zian Jiang, a freshman from Beijing, China, offers his own explanation as to the madness behind sneakers. Jiang explains that sneakers became a symbol of status in China after basketball and the NBA were popularized. Sneaker companies started releasing older versions of popular shoes with new materials which attracted a large market of basketball fans. He explains that people can make a living off of selling shoes and that it all comes from an arbitrary value determined by what is and what isn’t hyped.
Three years later, after the Joshua Woods incident, Benjamin Kapelushnik, a sixteen-year-old from Miami claimed to have made over a million dollars reselling sneakers. Kapelushnik’s success has led him to celebrity contacts and a large, million-dollar business. As his business grows, so do his profits. The same system that leaves an innocent man dead in Houston can leave a sixteen-year-old draped in designer clothing. It’s not easy to find who is responsible. Should we blame the companies for withholding stock? The resellers for trying to take advantage of limited supply? Or is it the culture of “hype” that leads to the violence and chaos over shoes that are nothing more than fake leather, plastic, and glue?