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Is Resale Culture Gentrifying The Streetwear And Sneaker Industry?

Youtube: Sean Go

Earlier this month, Ann Herbert, Vice President and General Manager of Nike North America, resigned following a Bloomberg Businessweek report revealing that her son was using her credit card to buy and resell exclusive Nike shoes. Herbert’s 19-year-old son, Joe, was found to have taken advantage of Nike’s family discount to purchase up to $200,000 worth of sneakers – using it to stock his growing business, West Coast Streetwear.

Though she had spent 9 months in her executive role, Herbert worked for Nike for a total of 25 years. She has since been replaced by Sarah Mensah, the previous Vice President and General Manager of Nike in Asia-Pacific/Latin America.

While this news came as a shock to many, the concept of buying and reselling exclusive streetwear and shoes solely for profit has become increasingly popular over the past few years. However, this is nothing new - sneakerheads have been using the web to find and sell shoes as early as the 90s; with forums such as NikeTalk used as a hub for enthusiasts to connect and find exclusive footwear.

Today, sites such as StockX, GOAT, and SNKRS have become secondary markets for buyers and sellers. Such platforms become the middleman, providing a safer way to acquire the brands that seem to be selling out faster than ever. Now, one can easily build a lucrative business simply by flipping shoes. In fact, Cowen Equity Research predicts that the sneaker resale market alone could reach £30bn by 2030.

With that being said, it’s easy to understand why so many young people are turning to the resale industry as a solid way to make quick money; especially students looking for a side hustle. After all, Ann Herbert’s son claimed to generate up to $600,000 from his business in a single month. However, is the rise of resale culture negatively impacting the fashion industry, and more specifically, has it gentrified streetwear culture?

The origins of streetwear are often traced back to California during the late 1970s and early 1980s, with the likes of Shawn Stussy selling t-shirts with his printed logo in Los Angeles. However, its roots also can be found along the East Coast, particularly in the Bronx, as a by-product of the introduction of hip-hop music. Though it has evolved over the decades, a large element of streetwear has always been its integration and representation of subcultures such as skateboarding, hip-hop, and various sports.

Today, streetwear has grown into more than just a niche market. One can attribute the push of streetwear into mainstream culture to the growing hype surrounding brands such as Supreme, Off-White, and Palace during the mid-2010s. Alongside this rise in popularity also came the introduction of streetwear into the center of the high fashion industry. In 2018, Virgil Abloh became the artistic director of Louis Vuitton’s menswear. In 2020, Abloh collaborated with Japanese fashion designer Nigo, founder of BAPE, to create LV² - a luxury streetwear collection for Louis Vuitton.

When supply and demand rises, so does the price of products. Take Nike sneakers, particularly Air Jordans; which have long been branded a streetwear staple. While Jordan 1 Highs retail at around £130, you’d be lucky to bag a pair even at double the price if buying from a secondary market. On StockX, Travis Scott’s Jordan 1 Retro High kicks can be purchased for a minimum of £1,100; despite retailing at £164.

For many, buying at retail is barely an option anymore. With the majority of resellers using bots to essentially cheat the checkout process and get past any quantity restrictions, the most sought-after pieces can sell out in a matter of seconds. This leaves buyers with no other option but to either fork out insane amounts of cash on the clothes and shoes they want, or to miss out on them altogether.

What has become a cash grab for many, has arguably led to the exclusion of those most passionate about streetwear. Streetwear has long been an expression of identity for those that deviated from mainstream society’s standards. It has provided a sense of community and belonging, especially amongst marginalised groups. What’s more, is that streetwear is and has always been rooted in Black culture. While the Black community would face discrimination and systemic oppression, their style and artistic expression was an aspect of their lives in which they had freedom.

And yes, luxury brands have always been an aspect of the cultural phenomenon. There has long been an element of exclusivity, especially with the release of limited collections. However, an important part of streetwear was that it was accessible, particularly for these communities. It was a way for Black people and POC to take these high-end brands that failed to cater towards them, put their own spin on them by integrating elements of their culture and personality, and making it their own.

With the rise of the ‘hypebeast’ phenomenon, many of these brands are no longer available, or only accessible on a very limited front, for the very same people who played a role in shaping it. On a general level, the culture has become less about expression and authenticity, and more about profit. This is also bound to negatively impact lesser-known designers who make less money for their art, while others are able to easily profit off of it. Streetwear seems to now accommodate more to the wealthy and privileged, and the market has become heavily white-dominated – both in front of and behind the scenes.

It is for these reasons that many are frustrated at the rising resale business. While brands like Telfar are actively working to curb this phenomenon and only sell their products to genuine buyers, the resale market only seems to be growing in the streetwear world. Only time will tell whether the rest of the fashion industry will follow suit.

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