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Why sneakerheads are obsessed with the quest for a rarer pair

At "Sneakerhead" conventions around the country, anyone can buy, sell or trade a pair, and much-hyped limited releases demand premium prices. Economics correspondent Paul Solman reports on what drives this specialty sneaker culture.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Now to a surprising way to make money- the sneaker resale market, where used Nikes and Adidas can sell for hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars.

    Our economics correspondent, Paul Solman, has the story. It's part of our series Making Sense, which airs every Thursday.

  • Paul Solman:

    In the back of New York's Javits Convention Center, buyers and sellers, teenage boys mostly, haggled in the trading pit. Here's one of the hottest markets in America I knew almost nothing about, sneakers.

  • Yu-Ming Wu:

    This weekend, we're going to have 20,000 people.

  • Paul Solman:

    When Yu-Ming Wu founded Sneaker Con nine years ago, just 800 people showed up. This year, eight conventions of so-called sneakerheads are planned around the country. New York's is the biggest.

  • Yu-Ming Wu:

    We created this space for anyone to come in to buy a pair of sneakers, to sell a pair of sneakers, or trade a pair of sneakers.

  • Paul Solman:

    So, in a sense, this is a physical eBay?

  • Yu-Ming Wu:

    It is a physical eBay, yes, correct, for sneakers.

  • Paul Solman:

    Much-hyped limited releases of Nike Air Jordans, as in Michael, and Adidas Yeezys, the brand of Kanye West, have spurred a billion-dollar resale market. When they appear, they bring chaos, sometimes even violence, to the few stores that have them, and then bring premium prices on the secondary market, like here.

    Sneaker-monger Matt Bogy.

  • Matt Bogy:

    So these are the Red Octobers.

    They're worth about five to $6,000 on average per pair.

  • Paul Solman:

    That's what you're selling him for or…

  • Matt Bogy:

    Yes. That's what I'm selling them for. And I also have a pair signed by Kim Kardashian, which is Kanye West's wife. Those are — I price those at about $7,000, $8,000.

  • Paul Solman:

    Wait a minute, thousands of dollars for a pair of sneakers?

    As a mom here put it-

  • Woman:

    It is insane. And we're having a ton of fun, but it's incredible to see how much sneakers cost.

  • Paul Solman:

    But there were some bargains. Sneakerhead Tyre Coles was hocking used kicks from his own ever-burgeoning collection.

  • Tyre Coles:

    I love Nikes to the bottom of my heart. I buy any pair.

  • Paul Solman:

    Nickson Descas was selling a pair of Nike Air Max trophies he'd bought for $300.

  • Nickson Descas:

    I have been wearing them a lot. They're a little beat. So, I will try to sell them around $150, maybe $200.

  • Paul Solman:

    For used sneakers? What's going on here?

    Well, one thing, says, Nickson Descas-

  • Nickson Descas:

    We just love the hustle. We just love the game.

  • Paul Solman:

    Ah, the hustle and bustle of the marketplace.

  • Giovanni Torquato:

    I like buying the shoes, selling the shoes, trading the shoes.

  • Cindy Shore:

    It's a great way for young kids to learn about business and how to make money and sometimes lose money, and based upon the decisions that they make. Why not learn early?

  • Paul Solman:

    And not just sneakers. Brandon Shore dealt in leather.

  • Brandon Shore:

    I bought this. And then I was able to sell it for more, and then buy a second one.

  • Paul Solman:

    But sneakerhead culture drives the market. And it is, above all, about identity, by proxy, for example, through the Michael Jordans and Kanye Wests.

  • Kice Omar:

    Wow. Smells like a brand-new pair of denim.

  • Paul Solman:

    Or a new breed of celebs, like Kice Omar, who vlog, video blog, that is, about sneakers on YouTube.

    Mainly, though, the identity comes through peer-to-peer connection and competition.

  • Giovanni Torquato:

    There's a term, it's called a hypebeast, where someone just gets an item just to like brag about everyone that they have the newest, coolest item, even if they don't like it.

  • Paul Solman:

    Again, convention founder Yu-Ming Wu-

  • Yu-Ming Wu:

    I always say they want to look fresher than the next. They want to look cooler than their peers, their friends, their classmates, and also have some level of status. I have something cooler. I have this rarer pair. I have something that you weren't — not that you couldn't afford, but that you couldn't get.

  • Steven Quartz:

    Cool began in the 1950s as rebel cool.

  • Paul Solman:

    Steven Quartz has studied cool as a Caltech neuro-economist. His theory-

  • Steven Quartz:

    What happened in the 1950s was that, as we began to increase our standard of living, in a hierarchical society, it really created what we can think of as a status dilemma. There just wasn't enough status to go around. And what people began to do, especially kids began to do, was create alternative status systems.

  • Paul Solman:

    At his Nashville showroom, sneaker reseller Yuanrun "Z" Zheng also drew a connection to the increased inequality of recent decades.

    Sure, the sneaker market is status-driven, he says, but it's affordable status.

  • Yuanrun “Z” Zheng:

    The retail of any sneakers, I will say, have never eclipsed over $350, until that Nike came with the crazy self-lacing shoe that cost $800.

    But that's an outlier in itself. So people with no money or some people with no financial means can also get the limited edition sneaker, just like a person with a lot of money.

  • Paul Solman:

    Back at Sneaker Con, it was clear that sneaker culture has taken on a commercial life of its own, with prize pairs so sought-after, counterfeits now abound, hence the long lines at the convention's legit check table, where Bryan Mora, among others, ferreted out fakes.

  • Bryan Mora:

    It'll be the glue smell. It will be the way the shoe is shaped.

  • Paul Solman:

    How many fakes have you guys caught today? How many fakes?

  • Bryan Mora:

    We caught about like 30 pairs.

  • Paul Solman:

    There's even a lone ranger of kicks, who calls himself Yeezy Busta, and he's built a brand around busting knock-offs.

  • Yeezy Busta:

    The reason why I wear my mask is because what I do is, I call out celebrities who wear fake Yeezys. And some of them wanted to come after me and sue me, so I decided I wouldn't reveal my face.

  • Paul Solman:

    Now, fans or family members of the Busta fam can get their own branded masks for only $20.

    I would imagine this is also fairly healthy, right?

  • Yeezy Busta:

    Yes, I mean, if anybody's sick and somebody tries to cough on you, you don't get it in your mouth. You know?

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Paul Solman:

    OK, so sneakers are fun and instructive to trade, a mark of status, comfortable of course, and finally, argues, Yu-Ming Wu, works of art.

  • Yu-Ming Wu:

    I believe that sneakers are mass-produced sculptures. We have incredible artists, incredible designers who design and create these incredible shoes

  • Paul Solman:

    Most famously, Tinker Hatfield, the Nike designer behind the most iconic Air Jordans.

  • Tinker Hatfield:

    It's not just scribbling on a piece of paper and coming up with a design. It's a lot of effort that goes into trying to be meaningful.

  • Paul Solman:

    A legend in the sneaker world, he got mainstream attention via a Netflix documentary.

  • Yu-Ming Wu:

    He saw architecture as inspiration for sneakers, and I believe he is a Leonardo da Vinci of the sneaker world.

  • Paul Solman:

    So when you say Tinker Hatfield is the Leonardo of sneakers, are you equating the achievements of Leonardo, say?

  • Yu-Ming Wu:

    Centuries from today, we will look back at Tinker Hatfield and consider him to be one of the most incredible artists.

  • Paul Solman:

    And centuries from now, maybe a pair of Air Jordans will sell for $450 million, as da Vinci's Salvator Mundi recently did. Who knows?

    As concert promoter Darryll Brooks put it-

  • Darryll Brooks:

    Value is in the eye of the beholder. Some people collect things. I'm a collector, but not of sneakers. When you were a kid, when they were collecting G.I. Joes, you had a set of G.I. Joes. Don't tell me you didn't.

  • Paul Solman:

    I didn't. I never had a G.I. Joe in my life. But I did collect a variety of things, minerals, baseball cards.

  • Darryll Brooks:

    Same thing, different generation.

    I got old cars. But these kids wouldn't look at my cars. They would say, ah. What would they do with a 1976 Eldorado convertible? They probably wouldn't know what the heck that was. It would look like a big boat to them. But it isn't a big boat to me. I love it.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Paul Solman:

    As the 20,000 people in New York for the convention, and millions more around the country, love their sneakers, so long as they're the real thing.

    For the PBS NewsHour, this is economics correspondent Paul Solman, the real Paul Solman.

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