Hype or hysteria?
is the internet the only hope to save sneaker releases?
When skateboarder Tyler Caplin developed his love for fashion and sneakers, he could get ahold of Jordan’s without any problem, but now he faces a hit or miss proposition, at best, due to changes in the way sneakers are being marketed and released.
Anthony Lippy also noticed a shift from bad, to worse, in the way sneakers are being released and the way people are behaving to obtain certain shoes, “ I remember when I worked at the York Galleria Footlocker, I heard about someone getting mugged over a pair of ‘Bred’ Jordan 4s,” said Lippy.
He doesn’t stand alone, however. Sneakers have gotten significantly harder to get a hold of over the last decade.
In the new reality, sneaker companies are teaming up with athletes, musicians, and streetwear
companies to release a more exclusive type of sneaker for consumers. As sneaker companies
have become aware of the amount of “hype” their products hold, how will that affect your
chances of getting ahold of an exclusive shoe?
“Just like anything else, this process must always evolve and come better,” said PJ
McClane, sneakerhead and a full-time employee for Nike, “While shoes are not always falling
into the hands of those who truly want them or will wear them, it is the fairest
way to give everyone a chance.”
Where It All Started
Nike has long been at the forefront of the footwear frontier. On February 22, 2005, the world
was made aware of the reselling market, as well as the sneaker culture as a whole.
The Nike SB “Pigeon” is still considered to be one of the most infamous sneaker releases
of all time.
There were only 150 pairs produced, Nike released all of them in five stores in New York,
each store was given 30 pairs to distribute. For a week leading up to the release, people
were lined up outside of the stores in anticipation.
Upon the date of the actual release, crowds were so large and aggressive that police had
to call in S.W.A.T officers. If you were lucky enough to get your hands on a pair, you were
required to be escorted out of the back of the store into a taxi that was waiting to escort
you back home.
Although measures were put in place with safety in mind, that didn’t stop angry mobs from bringing weapons to the storefront to threaten customers who had successfully purchased the shoes. On the market today, that pair of sneakers can be bought for over $20,000 on some sites.
Since 2005, sneaker releases have been evolving constantly in order to provide a safer, more fair way to get sneakers to the public. The multiple different types of releases are as follows: a first-come, first-served basis, raffles, online raffles, and exclusive location drops.
While there may be multiple types of releases, they all come with both pros and cons. In some cases, store managers are taking measures into their own hands in order to ensure the safety of their customers.
“Your Passion Should Outweigh Your Pockets”
When Caplin was hired at sneaker boutique named Social Status, it was his passion for sneakers that helped him get the job. Once he became a manager, he realized exactly how much influence he could have on the store in the community.
“When I came in for my interview, there was never a real interview. I met with the manager and as he was gathering my paperwork from his office, I was on the sales floor talking to customers, giving them knowledge and suggestions about the shoes that were in stock,” said Caplin, “I was hired on the spot. After I worked my way up to manager, I realized how important it is to have a sense of community in a store like this.”
Today, reselling has become such an aggressive market, store managers have to take responsibility in order to maintain fairness. Resellers will arrive at a release and offer to pay store employees for pairs, instead of entering the raffle like everyone else.
“It’s just not appropriate. The money they offer is definitely enticing, but your passion should outweigh your pockets,” said Caplin. “We are the only Social Status store between Philadelphia and Cleveland, it’s not fair when kids stand in line all day just to be cheated by an adult with a wad full of cash.”
Store managers are being put in a position where they must start to take responsibility to make changes to certain policies as they see fit, as long as they are in the interest of the customer and company, mutually.
“I’ve been experimenting with my own ways to distribute the shoes as safely as possible,” said Caplin, “Developing a number system was crucial in making sure customers weren’t jumping the line or causing any damage to any products.”
The number system, as he described, involves assigning each customer a number that represents that person’s spot in line. This helps to eliminate the need for crowding around a store, which usually attracts attention.
Are Employees Being Left Out?
While some companies and their employees may be taking the correct steps to provide a more efficient system for their customers, the employees of those companies may feel left out of these new changes.
“No, I don’t think it’s fair to employees, however, it is a dog-eat-dog world and if you want something bad, you have to go the extra mile for what you want,” said Anthony Lippy, a former employee at Foot Locker, “Good things don't just come to you.”
In the midst of an ever-changing system to release sneakers, the most noticeable change has been the transition to using the internet to host some of the more exclusive releases. This change may be lowering the odds for those who truly appreciate sneakers.
“I do and don’t like it at the same time because true sneakerheads won’t have as good of a chance of winning the shoe because of the number of people who will attempt to be in the raffle,” said Lippy.
While employees may be feeling left out, shifting to a more online heavy system
may be the most beneficial for customers.
“When I was at Foot Locker, I believed the system was somewhat fair. They have now
changed to the FLX app to span across all the company banners,” said McClane.
McClane’s passion for sneakers started when he was a child watching his favorite athletes
on TV. The thrill of deciding which pair of shoes he would get each year was the beginning
of his lifelong passion.
“I have been heavily into sneakers since I was a little kid. I started to get Jordans, Nikes,
and Reeboks (Allen Iverson's) when I was young,” said McClane, “My parents were awesome,
but we could not afford more than one pair of shoes a year and usually, my grandma was the
one who bought them for me.”
After years of selling shoes in the retail industry, McClane has been witness to plenty of
chaotic releases, some involving fights or massive crowds. Moving towards online releases
may be the best way to resolve the problem of violent releases.
“I remember the ‘Space Jam’ Jordan 11 released and there was a fight that broke out right
in front of the Finish Line I worked at. I definitely like the move to raffling through an app,”
said McClane, “Just like anything else, the process must always evolve and become better.
While shoes are not always falling into the hands of those who truly want them or will wear
them, it is the most fair way to give everyone a chance.”
McClane feels as though an online drawing is the most efficient way for sneakers to be released, however.
“I’m not a computer expert, but honestly Nike should just do all exclusive releases as a draw now. This is probably the most fair way,” said McClane.
Suggestions for Future Releases
However, both Michael Dozier and Elijah Fitch, two longtime sneakerheads, agreed that online drawings are too prone to be compromised by bot programs.
“Bots mimic human responses and pass captcha tests to enter the websites,” said Fitch, “The bot will constantly monitor the inventory and add items to the cart, usually faster than the average person can complete the process.”
Dozier’s love for sneakers began in the eighth grade when his older sister purchased him a pair of “Black Cat” Jordan 4s. His passion continued to develop all throughout high school.
“The most memorable release would be Christmas of my sophomore year of high school,” said Dozier, “The “Space Jam” Jordan 11 released but I wasn’t able to make it to the mall until closing time. The last size available was my size, that will forever be one of my favorite sneakers.”
A common experience between sneakerheads has been witnessing a release that has gotten out of hand. Dozier spoke on a chaotic release that took place in the Century III Mall in Pittsburgh, PA.
“During a restock of the “Bred” Jordan 11, when the security opened the door everyone pushed through one door, busting it at the hinges as everyone ran to get in line to have a chance to get the shoe,” said Dozier, “I was lucky enough to get one pair, but there was a definite lack in security precautions.”
A lack of security is something that has become too common when dealing with sought after sneakers. In order to cut back on the need for security moving forward, online raffles have been the most recommended by customers.
“I can say I’m a fan of how most stores are doing online raffles instead of store raffles. I feel that levels the odds for everyone, versus something unfortunate happening during the release,” said Dozier.
In order to release sneakers while providing maximum safety and efficiency, the internet will be a crucial factor. However, with the increasing access to online bots, these companies will have to do better at securing their websites.
“The only thing that could make the process better is to remove online bots,” said Fitch, “It’s very hard to try and compete against a computer program that will automatically add items to the user's cart.”
Keywords: Jordan, Sneakers, Sneaker Releases, Nike, Exclusive, Sneakerhead, Foot Locker, Online, Shoes, Reselling, Jordan 11
Anton D. Johnson II is a Junior Mass Communication student at Point Park University’s School of Communications.
Anton D. Johnson II
Pictured are some (27) of PJ McClane's large sneaker collection, taken by PJ McClane
Sneaker and hat display in Social Status PGH, taken by Anton D. Johnson II
Screenshot taken from StockX.com of Nike SB Pigeon.