Sneakers that are almost too precious to wear

Sneakerhead culture is as diverse as the coveted footwear.

Some of these sneaker collectors own hundreds of pairs simply for the love of the shoe.

And then there are the investors who have made thousands of dollars off the booming sneaker resale market.

The latter group is growing along with every exclusive shoe release. The harder it is to get a sneaker, the more valuable it becomes in the secondhand market.

Forbes estimates the sneaker resale market is worth $1 billion.

"It's like a drug trade, but the thing is it's shoes," said Arnel Jamin De Leon, an Anaheim resident who buys and sells all things footwear.

While shoppers have caught on to the fact that a sneaker's value doesn't diminish once it leaves the store, so have the shoe companies.

Nike and Adidas, for instance, are cashing in on the hype as well by releasing and re-releasing limited-edition sneakers.

It's called the sneaker game, and it's as simple as supply and demand. During virtually every release, hundreds of people line up outside shoe stores for a chance to get their hands on the latest style.

"As long as there's some imbalance, then the shoes will sell out at retail and there will be a secondhand market," said Josh Luber, co-founder of StockX, a resale website for sneakers that allows customers to analyze the value of their sneaker collection like one would a stock portfolio.

In some cases, people don't even wear the sneakers they buy, thus preserving their resale value.

"Nike and Adidas are really good at keeping supply just less than demand," Luber said, explaining that it's a successful marketing strategy because the long lines and social media buzz draw attention to the brands and their products.

Getting these limited-edition shoes has become so competitive that some people have resorted to extreme measures to assure their chances — waiting in lines for hours, creating computer programs that automatically buy the shoes at release and sometimes even turning to violence. That has led companies to create raffles that secure a buyer's place in line at a store. Websites have also been revamped to give buyers random access and prevent disruptions from bots. Additionally, brick and mortar stores like Foot Locker and Champs limit shoppers to one pair.

A recent example of sneakerhead mania is the Yeezy Boost — a collaboration between Adidas and rap artist Kanye West. Only 9,000 pairs of the original Adidas Yeezy Boost 750 were released in New York in 2015, according to CNNMoney. The shoes sold out within minutes at $350 retail; they are currently being resold at upwards of $5,000. The 750 style was followed by the sportier 350 V2 in an array of limited-edition colors. Infant sizes were also available.

Critics of the sneaker game like De Leon, 27, say many people who buy the shoes at retail are only doing so in order to resell.

"Nine out of 10 people in that line are resellers," he said. "Maybe one is buying them for himself or as a gift."

"I'm not gonna lie. At the end of the day, you could work your butt off at a 9-to-5 job, but you're not going to make that same amount of money," said Sabah Fatima, a 23-year-old sneakerhead from Westminster. "If I have the opportunity to do it, then I'm going to do it.… It's not even like I need the money."

Fatima said she once made $1,500 off a pair of the Yeezy Boost 350 V2 in all black that she originally bought for $220.

"I got super lucky," said Fatima. "I had a plan of reselling them because I heard everyone would all have the all black, and I [didn't want to] be wearing the same ones that everyone else already has."

The latest Adidas Yeezy Boost release, the 350 V2 in zebra print, came out Feb. 25. The shoe, only available online and at Adidas stores via raffles, sold out just as quickly as its predecessors.

It was a relatively quiet scene outside the Adidas Original store off Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles on that Saturday. There was no line. Only those who won raffles via the Adidas Confirmed app were able to buy a pair of arguably the most exclusive Yeezys yet. About a dozen people loitered around the store. Some hoped someone would sell his or her pair.

Jackson Maschoff, 25, drove out from Phoenix to buy the shoes.

"They're going to make me a lot of money," said Maschoff, explaining that he hopes to get at least $1,500 by reselling them.

The raffle made the process easy, he said.

"I was getting pretty sketch when I saw [online] that people were getting robbed, but it was pretty smooth," he said. "I'm pretty excited. Not a lot of people got these, and I'm happy I did."

The shoe is currently being resold online for upwards of $2,500.

Some people don't understand what the hype is all about — let alone why the sneaker collaboration between Adidas and West has garnered so much attention and resale value.

"Everyone hates Kanye, but I love Kanye. Only Kanye can sell baby shoes at that price [$130], and they have resale value of more $250," said Israel Guzman about the Yeezy 350 V2. Guzman is a sales associate at Sneakerholics, a new sneaker and clothing consignment store in Anaheim.

Guzman, 23, has been buying and selling sneakers since he was 16. It all started when he went out to get a pair of Air Jordan 11 Bred shoes. He found a seller offering them at a discount — but only if Guzman would agree to buy 19 other pairs. Altogether, Guzman paid $2,000 for the haul.

"My mom was mad," Guzman said with a laugh.

He was stuck with more than a dozen shoes he didn't need or want. So he decided to sell them. They were gone within two hours of posting online, he said.

"Me not knowing what the shoe was worth, I just sold them at retail," Guzman said, explaining that the shoes averaged well over $100 each. "My mom was impressed. She realized there's something to be made."

Still, he looks back on that transaction knowing now that those shoes were worth a lot more than retail.

"I could have earned triple the money," Guzman said.

These days, Guzman is all about the Yeezys — though, he admits, it could just be because of the hype.

"Yeah, I tend to go for the shoe that people want just to say that I have them. It's all about who's better," Guzman said.

It's not clear how many people are taking part in the resale market, let alone how many are in Orange County, but eBay has tens of thousands of listings for sneakers going for more than $100. Kids as young as 13 claim to make $1,500 a month by buying and selling sneakers.

"It's a way to make money," said Brandon Fujii, 34, of Garden Grove.

Fujii, who co-opened Sneakerholics, said the Orange County sneakerhead community is not as pronounced as it is in Los Angeles, Chicago or New York City. Still, he decided to open the sneaker consignment store in the area because he wanted to fill what he saw as a need.

The sneakerhead community is certainly male dominated, but the women in it are as passionate — if not more so — says Tori King, 29, of Compton.

"I'd chase a shoe before I chase a dude," said King, who works as a phlebotomist at a laboratory.

"It's kind of hard because you have to dig deep to find these girls. There's a lot of girls with dope collections in Southern California. You just have to look for them."

Like men, women collect sneakers for different reasons: fame, comfort and style. Women donning sneakers in Instagram photos take on myriad personalities — from sexy vixen to sporty spice.

King, who owns more than 120 pairs of sneakers, has been collecting the footwear since she was in the 10th grade. For King, sneakers are more about fashion than about prestige or money. She says she only sells shoes to downsize and make room for more purchases.

"If it holds a memory or any kind of value to me, then I will not pull it out of my closet," said King. "I did that one time, and I ended up having seller's remorse."

For Bree Tanner of Los Angeles, sneakers also hold a more personal significance. Her mother, who died seven years ago, introduced her to the sneaker world more than 20 years ago.

"As time got on and people started to grow out of sneakers, I was the one who never grew out of it," said Tanner, 40, a special-education teacher. "I'm very attached to them. They're almost like photos. They all have their own little stories."

For some, buying sneakers is just an obsession fueled by the desire to have the latest and greatest models.

"It's vanity with a mixture of insecurity," said Loi Tran, 28, of Cerritos. "The insecurity is you don't feel like you look good enough, and the vanity is you want to be the [best] at the end of the day."

Of course, that profit motive still sneaks into the picture.

Luber, who owns more 350 pairs of sneakers, describes the spectrum of collectors.

"On one side, you have this pure business person who could care less about wearing them or owning them," Luber said. On the other side is "your purist sneakerhead who could care less about what they're worth and just wants to wear them and own them."

In the sneaker world, there's room for everyone.

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Nuran Alteir is a contributor to Times Community News.

Twitter: @whatnuransaid

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