On a recent trip to the Nike outlet store in Little Rock, a man and his sons were spotted at the register purchasing more than 20 pairs of shoes. Other customers waiting in line carried only one or two boxes. Although they could have been outfitting a particularly large family, the group was more than likely part of the growing community of online sneaker resellers.
Most people likely are familiar with the process of selling old belongings on websites like Amazon or eBay, but the secondary sneaker market has outgrown virtual marketplaces. Sneaker collectors, known as sneakerheads, have carved out an entire industry in buying limited release shoes in bulk and immediately selling them online for hundreds of dollars in profit. The global athletic shoe industry, consisting of retail giants like Nike and Adidas, was worth more than $100 billion in 2019. The secondary market was estimated to be $2 billion the same year, according to the investment banking firm Cowen. That number could go up to $6 billion by 2025 as more people around the world turn to secondhand sales to buy the best sneakers.
The global phenomenon also has roots in Arkansas. Kian Miller, 41, is a digital marketer from Little Rock who runs the popular Instagram account, LRKicksonDeck, which has more than 21,000 followers. The account is designed to “show love to the little people” by spotlighting little-known sneaker accounts and giving their collections exposure. Miller has featured collectors from across the world including Australia, German and China, and the hashtag #LRKicksonDeck has been used more than 214,000 times. Miller calls himself an “OG” in the sneaker world, and he has been collecting and selling shoes since the mid-1990s.
“I started my collection years ago, before all of the hype,” Miller said. “Early in the sneaker game, from ’95 to 2001, it was based on a bartering system. It was all about ‘I missed the shoe, I want the shoe.’ So you’d trade three shoes for one or two shoes for one.”
The trade-based market was simple, but the internet eventually offered a new and more efficient way to get the latest sneaker. This next phase of sneaker reselling based around eBay was more “economical,” according to Miller. Rather than trading, interested customers could buy the shoes outright or use eBay’s bidding system to purchase shoes. The prices, even for the more high-end sneakers, generally stayed below $300.
The secondary sneaker market now revolves around what are known as “hype shoes.” These sneakers are generally collaborations between the major brands and celebrities that receive limited releases. Generally sold online, these shoes completely sell out within minutes, and as soon as buyers receive their confirmation email, they list the sneakers for sale online for a higher price. Some resellers even program bots to electronically buy dozens of shoes before a person could have typed in their shipping address. This frenzy to buy coveted shoes also forces casual sneakerheads into the reselling game. Buyers have to purchase other sneakers that they do not want and sell them to make back the money to afford the increased prices.
“They’re using other shoes as credit for the shoes that people really want,” Miller said.
Although a reseller might get a few hundred dollars for shoes bought at chain stores like Walmart or a Nike outlet, few retailers around the world carry these hype shoes in-house, and most sneakerheads instead turn to the internet. StockX and GOAT are apps designed specifically for sneaker reselling, and they have become the center of the secondary sneaker market. Sneaker reselling still occurs on eBay, Amazon, or even through Instagram, but StockX and GOAT guarantee that the buyer will receive authentic sneakers and offer the widest selection; other online marketplaces like eBay or Amazon may have lower prices but offer no way to verify the shoes.
Arkansas may not be home to any of the world’s few retailers that sell high-end shoes, but sneaker enthusiasts have found a community around the state. Rock City Kicks is the only locally owned sneaker boutique in Arkansas. It has been supplying the state’s sneakerheads since 2008 and has locations in Little Rock and Fayetteville. Broderick Bozeman, general manager, has worked at the boutique for 13 years. Although they are aware of resellers, the shop generally doesn’t have to worry much about them.
“We’re the first source, so it doesn’t really affect us,” Bozeman said. “We do limit the number of shoes people can purchase, because we want to be for the people who love the shoes.”
These limitations mean Rock City Kicks does not allow any customer to buy multiple pairs of one shoe, a rule enforced both in person and on their website. The shop’s ideal customers are people who love sneakers and who actually want to wear the shoes that they purchase. Bozeman acknowledged that some buyers probably resell after they purchase from Rock City Kicks, but the shop ultimately can’t control what happens to the shoes after they are purchased.
The most desired sneakers are generally from collections associated with celebrities or designers, such as Kanye’s Yeezys and Virgil Abloh’s Off-White collection. Nike’s Air Jordan line, associated with Michael Jordan, perhaps is the most famous line of sneakers and includes both general and limited releases. According to Bozeman, Rock City Kicks has been unable to keep even the cheapest pair of Jordans on the shelf this year, which he attributed in part to The Last Dance, an ESPN documentary series about Jordan’s final season with the Chicago Bulls that aired in the spring.
Miller has been tracking a pair of limited release Jordans since 2019. The Jordan 5 Retro Trophy Room sneakers were released in two styles that year, Ice Blue and University Red, and each initially priced at $200. Trophy Room released 7,000 pairs of the Ice Blue color, instantly selling out, and their resale price is around $1,100 on both StockX and GOAT. Only 223 pairs of the University Red were made, and listed as a “friends- and family-only” release. For those lucky enough to find these shoes, the cost is anywhere between $5,000 and $10,000. Miller now has added both to his collection of 348 pairs of shoes.