A Sneak Glimpse of the Future
Sneaker reselling is probably a good indication of the way luxury goods will be distributed in the future. Luxury goods such as gaming consoles are starting to receive the sneaker-bot treatment. The initial runs of PlayStation 5s and Xbox Series Xs consoles were snapped up largely by bots, and are now selling for jacked-up prices on sites like StockX.
Although they can’t fall back on fake consoles (yet), consumers left wanting can always turn to fake sneakers, a key element of the $451 billion global counterfeit market. Most “good” fakes are barely distinguishable from real sneakers, and often made with materials from the same factory — which doesn’t stop other sneakerheads from disparaging those who wear them.
Authenticators make good money examining sneakers, and Instagram accounts that expose people who wear fakes garner hundreds of thousands of followers. It’s not uncommon for fake-wearing sneakerheads to experience feelings of deep distress, knowing that their outward expression of worth through conspicuous consumption is based on a lie. In a world where younger people increasingly own nothing and make nothing, there is a premium on authenticity.
Capitalism relies on the idea of competition as a prerequisite to success, which, in turn, rests on the assumption — or lie — that resources are limited. Writers like Aaron Bastani have described the ways in which technology could rapidly move us to a post-scarcity world. For now, however, such technology is increasing competition for people at ground level. The tech deployed within sneaker markets conforms to their logic: it is designed to facilitate the snapping up, reselling, and purchasing of goods, while those at the very top, unsurprisingly, profit the most.
It’s not just Nike and Adidas who are making money: StockX charges seller fees totaling 12.5 percent. But even if tech allows small and midsize operators to take small bites from the pie, it also exposes them to the hazards of capitalism. Facebook marketplaces for sneakers are full of people who have gone broke due to the pandemic, who are now selling their coveted shoes at rock-bottom prices. Stores like PLUS buy low and sell high, taking advantage of credulity and fear to make the kind of sales that individuals who lack the cache or resources can’t manage.
The idea that platform sellers capitalizing on scarcity can serve as a viable alternative to exploitative gig work is becoming increasingly prevalent. If the pursuit of fleeting, high-risk profit becomes more common, it would be disastrous — not only because it offers a false panacea for wannabe hustlers and the tenuously employed, but also because it is an inefficient form of supply. Those who actually want sneakers to wear, but are unwilling to go through the hassle of using bots or paying hundreds more on the resale market, are now the least likely people to get them.
Boiler-plate critiques of consumerism are beside the point when it comes to sneaker culture. Scarcity creates desirability. Without artificial scarcity and the potential economic windfall it brings, fewer people would have such a keen interest in sneakers, or luxury goods in general.
The answer is not to deny ourselves such goods — goods that improve our lives, make us feel better about ourselves, or simply give us enjoyment — but to reduce or eliminate the barriers to access, all the way down the chain from production to distribution. Sneakerheads of the world, unite — you have nothing to lose but your bots.