Another week, another L on the Nike SNKRS app.
During the brand’s latest Air Jordan 1 limited release, memes of failed attempts to cop the University Blues color way popped up on the internet. Per usual, hypebeasts and regular folks alike were disappointed after walking away empty-handed on the hyped release. The pair was one of the most exciting releases of 2021, directly paying homage to Michael Jordan’s time as a college athlete at University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.
Twitter was caught in a fire storm, making fun of their own loses while poking fact at the sad reality that the sneaker game has become rigged. And it was all apparent with a 19-year-old kid, standing in a warehouse full of Yeezys.
This month, Nike‘s former North America vice resident Ann Hebert stepped down after ties to a sneaker reselling business. Her son, a 19-year-old reseller, boasted about his business online, claiming profits of over 0,000 in one month alone. The athletic company’s employee guidelines strictly prohibit “flipping”, a term used for reselling among the sneaker community. While Hebert didn’t make the purchases herself, her son did, charging nearly 0,000 in Nike stock to her credit card.
Nike execs defended Hebert at first, stating the involvement was not a violation of company policy at the time.
Even though it’s unclear if Joe Hebert scored a pair of the University Blues through SNKRS, the scandal points to a larger problem in sneaker culture– gentrification. Angel Diaz, editorial producer at Complex, a website devoted to all things hypebeasts, penned an essay in 2018 about the current state of streetwear affairs. Diaz wrote that streetwear was being infiltrated by people who didn’t respect the hustle, only showing up to buy out stock and turn profits rather than appreciate the culture. “Like the mom and pop eateries that have been replaced by some shitty cafe, mom and pop sneaker stores and independent boutiques have either been replaced by consignment stores or have disappeared altogether.”
“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,” Diaz continues on to write. “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.”
The criticism isn’t limited to coming just from Complex. Across the internet, the two generations of sneakerheads– older and younger– are fighting for a piece of the pie in today’s retail landscape. For the ’90s kids, getting your hands on a pair of holy grails was as simple as waiting in line. If it was a limited release, sneakerheads would line up in front of stores for hours, if not days in the early 2000s. However, with the rise of the brand-propelled digital buying platforms and second hand e-commerce sellers, younger generations began to fall in love with the same sneaker silhouettes they saw their older brothers wearing.
The newer generation of customers, like scandal-plagued West Coast Joe, often turn to bots to obtain much-hyped releases. Bots, coded software that allow customers to instantaneously perform tasks like wait in virtual queues and enter payment details, are the name of the game in 2021. With thousands of people competing for 200 pairs of shoes, pro-bot forums say, using bots are simply the only way to get your hands on a limited-run. If everyone is using bots, why shouldn’t you? The game waits for no one.
With bots, customers are able to add sneakers to their cart, checkout, and process payment within a matter of seconds– a crucial matter between in stock and sold out. The coding doesn’t come cheap though, often starting at ,000 for a beginner-level bot. For those with a love of sneakers, the purchase may be worth it. But for those looking to resell, bots are a crucial first step in profitable success.
With advanced bots, resellers are able to purchase dozens, if not hundreds of pairs. With fake credit card numbers, addresses and names, retail systems don’t flag their mass purchases for suspicion, allowing for greater stock quality to sell on secondhand websites like StockX and Grailed. It’s a lucrative business– sneakers can often sell on the market for four or five times their original retail price. Hype breeds demand, leading profits to soar.
Bot-owners, typically in online communities called cook groups, often come together to buy up complete stock on a SNKRS release or Supreme box logo drop. The group’s winnings, often blasted across social media as a rallying cry for success, serve almost as a marketing tactic. For young, impressionable teens looking to make some money, cook groups foster a family-esque bond bent on taking Ws. They aren’t going away anytime soon.
While resellers have always exist and will continue to, it’s important to note the privilege that comes with reselling. Long gone are the days someone can wait overnight in line at a shoe store to snag a coveted release. Today’s technology-driven resale market relies on bots and coding– superior software often costing upwards of ,000. For those with access to capital, the quest to catch your favorite pair is easy. But for those unable to shell out thousands for computer programs that may not work, finally scoring that holy grail release is far from realistic.
Not many designers can say they’ve cracked down on the secondhand market like Telfar Clemens. Last summer, the New York-based designer temporarily halted his online store to circumvent the use of bots with little success. As a result, the label opened up a historic Bag Security Program, allowing customers to placed unlimited orders on the store’s iconic shopping totes to be delivered at a later date. In posts explaining the new buy-now-get-later approach, the label wrote that “[it is] not about hype and scarcity. We didn’t set out to make an impossible to get product.”
By allowing his customers the freedom to buy products without the pressure to beat the bots, Clemens began a movement many thought would slowly begin to catch fire among fashion’s largest players– one driven by artistic integrity rather than profits. However, in the case of massive brands that rely on hype like Supreme, Nike, and Yeezy, is it even worth it to shut down bot operations?
For streetwear’s top designers, shutting out reseller tech doesn’t truly benefit them. At the end of the day, the companies turn profits with stock selling out and increased demand leads to more hype– crucial in the success for other releases. The cycle repeats itself: a limited edition shoe drops, bots eat up product in seconds and even more demand soars for the brand.
Although Nike has implemented random, raffle-style programs on their latest releases to curb the impossibly fast times bots are able to checkout, the problem still persists. Raffle bots exist too– creating thousands of entries for a single user to increase their chances of winning. The brand recently announced they have working on “anti-bot,” technology for the last several years– a step in the right direction. However, tech wizards are often faster. Within months, new programs may emerge to beat the system once again.
“There’s no value more core to who we are than the trust our consumers put into us and our brand and our products,” Nike’s Chief Executive John Donahoe said while addressing the Hebert scandal. “And the fact of the matter is, this incident has sparked questions in some of our consumers about whether they can trust us, particularly around launch product.”
Until then, here’s to another L on the SNKRS app.END
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