MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We're going to switch gears now and talk about a subject of utmost importance to some of us. That would be shoes. And sneaker heads already know this - some of the most coveted sneaker releases and collaborations - Jordans, Yeezys, LeBrons, - often do not make it onto someone's feet without passing through a reseller first. These days, a lot of that reselling happens online or through informal social media groups. But for many, an important marketplace is Sneaker Con. This weekend, the convention stopped in the nation's capital on its world tour. And NPR's Mayowa Aina jumped in, feet first.
MAYOWA AINA, BYLINE: A line stretches down the hall, up the stairs and out the door at a convention center in Washington, D.C. The sound of an event organizer echoes throughout the space.
UNIDENTIFIED EVENT ORGANIZER: No fakes. If we catch you selling fakes, you're getting kicked out - embarrassment.
AINA: He's yelling at a bunch of people waiting to get into Sneaker Con, an event that is exactly what it sounds like.
AINA: Everybody's out here buying sneakers, trading sneakers, every sneaker that you can imagine.
TAMIKA JERET: Everything that you can imagine.
AINA: That's Tamika Jeret. She's a stylish Baltimore native wearing a pair of black and white checkered Nike Cortez platform sneakers. Those retail for $390. It's her first time at Sneaker Con, but as a self-proclaimed sneakerhead, she's excited by what she sees.
JERET: Exclusives, some that you haven't seen in years. Everything's here. For a sneaker fan, this is the place to be.
AINA: Organizers were expecting more than 10,000 people from all over the country to come buy, sell and trade at Sneaker Con. Vendors have set up tables and brought hundreds of pairs of shoes to sell. But many just walk around with a couple pairs in hand, looking to trade or sell to a willing buyer. Most of the action - the bargaining and the haggling - is happening in the trading pit. That's where 18-year-old Lateef Ambali is set up.
LATEEF AMBALI: Two eighty, bro. Come on.
AINA: He says he started buying and reselling shoes when he was around 13 years old.
AMBALI: I was asking my mom and dad to buy me sneakers. You know, sometimes they'll say no. So, you know, I had to find a way to get them myself.
AINA: When he figured out that he could resell his shoes for a profit then buy more shoes and resell those, he quickly turned his hobby into a business. One of his most memorable flips were a pair of Jordan 1 UNC Off-Whites, white and powder blue shoes made in collaboration with fashion designer Virgil Abloh. They retail for $190.
AMBALI: Then I sold them on StockX for like 1,500.
AINA: That's not the norm for every flip, but it is possible. And that's part of the reason why people get into it. Even though commerce is essential activity at the event, Yuming Wu, One of the co-founders of Sneaker Con, says they started the event to support sneaker culture.
YUMING WU: There's not a huge difference in terms of, you know, a sneakerhead in Melbourne, Australia. They're as interested in Nikes, Jordans, Yeezys as much as the kid in Phoenix, Ariz.
AINA: Here in Washington, Ambali says his goal is to make a profit, but it's not just about the money.
AMBALI: I definitely have my own sneaker collection, yeah. My 1s collection go crazy - 18 pairs right now. Definitely not just in it for the resell and the money. I love the game.
AINA: For him and Sneaker Con, the game continues year-round. Next stop - Toronto. Mayowa Aina, NPR News, Washington.
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