Some 500 people were lined up Tuesday morning in front of Need Supply Co. to buy the limited release Nike Air Max 97/1 hybrid sneaker designed by Richmond native Sean Wotherspoon, who won the contract in a contest earlier this year. Some attendees were fans of Nike, others of the designer; still, others were there to make some money but with less than 250 pairs planned to sell on Tuesday morning there was a real sense that if you were not in front of the line when the doors opened at 10 am, you would be left out in the cold, literally. For people that had come in from out of state, in some cases internationally, and been in line for days that was not an option.
Each person was limited to one pair, which retails at $160, with the online hype putting the resell between $800 to $2000 a pair. With a profit margin at 10 times over costs, its important to understand the different facets of the “sneaker game” and how the hype drives that with carefully marketing, limiting product and brand association with the right people. Wotherspoon has done that and driven his name recognition to untold heights in the fashion world and (along with his streetwear consignment/resell business Round Two) taking Richmond, VA status as a growing market for fashion with it.
So they waited in line, some for days and we were there Monday night to look into why the hype was real.
It’s 9:24 pm and the first people in a line that went 400 deep outside of the store, Conrad came down from New York with a group of 24+ and a game plan. All of his people were there to make sure they were in front of the line and had the muscle to stay there as the line gets reset by the police every few hours or when people need to eat or go to the bathroom — its been a long wait.
So you are the first in line?
New York #1 Technically its my man right here. We just all together. So we don’t really care. Its all family.
Are you from Richmond?
Conrad Hell no, and it’s cold as hell. (laughs) I thought it would be a little warmer down here. We are from New York. We had to, its the only way we are going to get this sneaker. We got about 25 with us. I might be the only vegan in this line though. Are you down here trying to figure what this is about?
I knew. The people around here knew but then the shoe listing on eBay for 90K was everywhere and the hype just blew up.
Conrad Don’t believe that. Nobody have it now but once everybody have it, the price will drop. It’s the shoe. If it’s 3 pair I respect that — if it’s 3000 pair, I never respect that. (laughs)
It has to be limited, hard to find?
Conrad Oh yeah. Its always hype. It’s a nice shoe and it’s a vegan person’s shoe.
New York #2 People would kill over that sneaker. They really would.
Is this part of your normal routine in New York? These kinds of releases happen a lot up there.
New York #2 Its a hobby. The clothes, sneakers, the accessories — anything.
Is this your hustle?
Conrad It’s a hustle, better than a negative hustle, but it gives you the same effect. That type of rush that you need, yeah, you need that. It’s keeps you stable — but it’s like you know I’m a business man, I’m not a h-u-s-t-l-e-r. This really separates the difference now cause they ain’t nothing illegal happening.
A hustler is doing something illegal?
Conrad More or less — if they say “hustler”, “hustle” — you doing something fast, something you not supposed to be doing, something quick, shortcut. That’s hustle. As a business man, you do it as a profession, a hobby.
Do you keep a pair for yourself?
Conrad Of course, you must, you must.
New York #2 But this is not a game, we been out here how long? Four, five days prior? This is not a game.
Was Richmond slow to get out here?
New York #2 Oh, most definitely — they thought they were gonna pull up tonight because they from here. Naw, not at all.
New York #3 Now they out here crying cause them New Yorkers first. (laughs)
So you think a lot of people in line are not from Richmond?
Conrad There’s a lot of people that wasn’t here to come get, what they supposed to get.
New York #2 I ain’t gonna hold you but half of these people are New Yorkers. Its crucial out here — these New Yorkers are savages.
As a TV crew comes by with the cameras and start interviewing people, the group of New Yorkers get distracted and so we walk across the street to a couple of guys standing next to their lawn chairs and watching the line intently. We find out later they are VCU students and fans of Round Two on Broad Street waiting for their opportunity to get in the line.
So how did you hear about this?
Ty We in Richmond, we from Richmond.
Jerm I am from Norfolk but we go to school in Richmond. So we follow the store and the instagram.
So this is a shoe you have been wanting…?
Ty For a minute…
Jerm I didn’t even know I wanted them that bad until about a week ago, until I thought I could get them. Then I was like ok — I definitely want these.
Because you live in Richmond, did you think you could come out here at 8 tonight?
Ty Naw. First time, I came around was 11 am, walked around, saw a bunch of people but they weren’t lined up tho — I came back around at 3 pm and they were still not lined up and then I was at Round Two and somebody said it they already lined up, so I just left and came but most of these people are not from here.
We talked to the first guy in line and he said most of the line is all New York.
Ty Sean should make it where VA get theirs — the first 20 minutes of something. Just make it fair. That would be fair — 80% of people in line aren’t even from here.
The New York guys told me they were going to be in front because Richmond just don’t know.
Ty No, we did. This ain’t fair tho. Sean is a genuine dude, always been genuine but in my opinion he should show love to Richmond first and then the rest of them. Most of them are from New York or Jersey.
Is something like this is good for Richmond?
Jerm It will put us more on the map.
Ty But I like the low key. I don’t want to be like New York, I don’t want to be LA or none of those. I like how Richmond is — even Broad Street is like genuine.
Jerm Naw, but that’s where it is headed tho.
Ty I like the old town feel, all that. Even Norfolk is trying to move towards what Richmond is doing with the art vibe and all that. It is a better look.
We will come back to this interview but to understand the hype and why there is a line — let’s jump back. The hype has been building ever since Wortherspoon won the Nike “Vote Forward” competition earlier this year, but ramped up a few weeks ago with an eBay listing with bids pushing the price to over 90K. With the worldwide release set for this week, the need for these sneakers has never been higher.
Followed by the constant stream of hype on instagram with cultural influencers across the spectrum supporting and wanting the shoe, the right business partnerships and items like this Winnebago to reflect the sneaker — Wotherspoon & Company has crafted an image of demand.
That demand creates the buzz leading to Tuesday and that builds value for the sneaker on the resell market, which happens to be a market that Wotherspoon and crew at Round Two have cornered in Richmond — along with their shops in New York and LA, which are growing quickly. Perfect timing, careful branding and the hype machine is in full effect wth plans to capitalize.
Earlier in the night, we stumble into Treasure Boutique, The Hidden Gem of Carytown as co-owner Derek described it to us, a sneaker/ streetwear shop that is right across from Need Supply Co. and opened a few months prior. Derek is a veteran of the sneaker game having been part of the team at Monument on Broad Street among others and had a few thoughts on the scene unfolding outside, the gaming of the line, and insight into the reseller’s sneaker market.
Why did you get into sneakers? What pair did you first have to have?
First sneaker I had to get was… The (Air Jordan) Cool Grey 11s in 2001. That’s when I just seen them and had to have them, then after that growing up north, it was just, we was into everything — Jordans, Pippens, Pennies. It wasn’t just one set either. Now it’s straight the Yeezy or whatever the hype is.
Back then, you bought what you liked. Now, that’s dead. You don’t buy what you like no more. You buy what’s trending. You buy what’s popping. You buy what you can make money on.
Do you ever flip sneakers?
It was a headache for me.
So you buy for yourself then. Do you think this is a bad thing…
As far as …
… to have 300-400 people lined up trying to get sneakers?
No, its a good thing because of what the shoe is. But as far as… I don’t like it cause the companies have the power make more shoes. I don’t care how many shoes they are going to make, they are going to sell. It’s getting so bad now — there are replicas that can beat the real thing.
That market is bigger than the real thing.
So the product itself creates a secondary game of copying and reselling. Do people even know what they are getting?
Think it matters? They just want to have it.
At this point, they just want to walk around with them on. It don’t matter no more and the fact if they are real or not — it don’t matter no more. You gotta think about it. I can only imagine how many fake shoes are out there but they don’t know.
But the market drives people out there to get the shoes, so they can flip them.
You can also flip it if its fake. Its like every holiday they come out with the 11s.
Is Nike putting that out every year?
They put it out but everyone is a reseller now. If everyone wasn’t a reseller, how does a dude on the street got 50 pairs of the 11s? The flood came thru! (laughs)
They got a Chinese connection?
Yeah, and they go. You can sell that shoe for $350 easy because people want it for Christmas. The kids want it for Christmas and the parents are not doing the research. So if they come across it and don’t have to wait in line, it’s $350 all day. (laughs)
There have been people there (across the street) since Saturday.
How can they have been there since Saturday? They camp out?
Yes, they sit — BUT it doesn’t matter, those people just sitting there are now in back of the line.
Why is that?
Because there is different schemes to it. You cause chaos, you get the cops pissed off, everyone gotta move —
Everyone has to move?
— and now its free game, its free game again.
If everyone has to get out of line, that creates an opportunity to get ahead in the line.
There is a whole scheme. You have to think about it — someone gets 25 pairs of those shoes in the morning, the shoe is $160 retail, low end you can sell them for $800 — fresh out of the door — that’s a hella-fide margin. That’s how he feeds his kids.
How can you scheme to get ahead in line when the person next to you is thinking about his kids?
That’s when the fights happen. That’s when the major chaos happens. This is calm — it’s gonna get real.
That’s why people do raffles and don’t do first come, first serve anymore. Sean requested first come, first serve for his but other than that they raffle. You enter the raffle, you win — we will call you. If you don’t pick it up in time, someone else will come get them real fast.
Does first come first serve create more hype?
If it doesn’t have this hype behind it — it sits on the shelf.
Coming out of Treasure, we run across Richmond hip hop legend Noah-O and had words on what this means for the city.
What do you think of all this?
It means a lot. Sean got his start in Richmond and this is a big thing, like Sean is right up there with any of the top designers when it comes to streetwear right now — respect wise. You know what I mean? And to be from Richmond, I didn’t even know the full impact until talking to these dudes in line, a guy came from near Buffalo, other dude came from Charlotte — these’s a dude in line from England that flew over here.
I got a text from my dude in Dubai. His son lives here and flew in for it.
It’s for real. I didn’t think it would be like this. These dude over here are from New York.
Is it the resale on it?
It’s both. Its extremely rare. Think about it, Nike doesn’t just let anybody make a sneaker for them. This dude came up from Richmond — Sean is respected. He did things with GUESS. Some of things we as Richmonders are accomplishing — people have no comprehension of scale until you are outside of here. You know what I am saying, there are people like Nick F, even like me doing that rap shit, people don’t know.
So you feel like its coming here?
Yeah, but that is what it is about and then this is a dream come true. It’s like Lebron you make the NBA and play for your home team. This dude conquered the sneaker streetwear thing, getting his foot in the door and he’s like naw I’m gonna drop this shoe in Richmond. Bro, this isn’t New York or LA — yeah he’s been out in LA…
But he brought it back here.
That’s what its about. You got a bunch of dudes that would never come to a “Richmond, Virginia” that are here. Damn, I would have come out here sooner if I would’ve known. This is the biggest thing I’ve ever seen here. Everyone knows Sean.
Jumping back to our conversation with Ty & Jerm. They are focused on the line Monday night and how it all plays out.
Things are changing around Richmond.
Jerm I like it tho. Its exciting. I just wish I was in front of the line.
That’s a long time to wait in line like 12 hours and it’s cold out.
Ty Yeah, and they all standing — going to have to use the bathroom. When was the last time they ate?
Jerm That’s what I am saying. I want to come back on a cycle at like 3am or maybe 4am.
When people start to weaken?
Jerm Then you see who is real. That’s when I make MY move. I am gonna to come back and hopefully get some type of spot in the front.
Ty I am going to leave at 11pm and come back at 3am. Hope they reschedule it.
That might start a problem.
Just bring more police out here. That’s all you gotta do. Bring them and get them out of here. These people are not from here. Let it be genuine, Richmond first.
We were not there at 6 am Tuesday morning but apparently the line wouldn’t budge as the people in line were unwilling to give up their spot and the police did have to intervene — and the release was called off.
Less than 50 lucky people got wristbands that allowed them to purchase a pair and the rest had to go home empty handed but with the full blown media coverage that followed across all sneaker forums, sites and the local news — that just added to the hype didn’t it?