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Sneakers are so hot, resellers are making a living off of coveted models

"They exist because they know there are people who will pay top dollar for the sneakers they want," said one shoe collector.
Image: Sneakerhead
A Nike shoe in Earl West's sneaker collection.Matt Odom for NBC News

Read the full story: Sneakers generated $70B last year. Black retailers saw little of that.

Just as brokers snatch up concert tickets and resell them for exorbitant prices, sneaker resellers have created a niche corner of the sneaker industry.  

The U.S. sneaker resale market generated $2 billion in 2019, according to a 2020 Cowan Research Equity study, which also indicated that the sneaker resale business will explode and generate up to $30 billion by 2030.  

“I can’t be mad at them,” said Jennifer Ford, the owner of the sneaker boutique Premium Goods in the Rice Village section of Houston. “A shoe would come out on a Monday and I’d leave my store on Friday and there would already be some guys standing in line for the Monday release. I understand the demand. But I think all owners would like the shoes to go to those who want them for themselves, not to resell.” 

Kobia Redd, 23, from Boston, hopes to open a shoe retail store one day. In the meantime, he has become a sneaker reseller. Before the pandemic, on the first day primo sneakers were released, Redd said he would hire “three or four people” to stand in line at stores for hours to buy the hottest shoes, which usually are produced in small quantities, making them ideal to sell at a higher price.

Kobia ReddJamaree Woods

That can be as much as 200 percent or more above retail cost, he said. For example: A pair of Nike Air Yeezys went for about $200 in stores and are reselling for as much as $5,000. And he never has an issue finding a buyer, Redd said.

“I determine the value based on the hype of the shoe,” Redd said. “It’s almost like stocks, in a way. ”

For a while, Covid-19 protocols prevented consumers from standing in line for new shoes, so many retailers have resorted to a lottery system. The demand has not diminished.  

“I go to maybe 15 stores in a day hoping to win two lotteries,” Redd said. “It’s a job.” 

Earl West, a self-described sneaker head in Atlanta who has more than 900 pairs of shoes, said he has stood in so many lines outside of stores that he knows the resellers as well as he knows the diehards who purchase for their own enjoyment.

“It’s big business,” West said. “And because sometimes, especially with the lottery system, you can’t get the shoes you want, you go to the reseller. You may pay more than you want or more than somebody else would, but the resellers exist because they know there are people who will pay top dollar for the sneakers they want.”

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