Easy Money

How resellers turned Nike’s most humble Air Force 1 shoe into a gold mine

They have created artificial scarcity for a simple, all-white sneaker that should be widely available.

Nike Air Force 1 white
Nike

The most recent video to go viral in the sneaker community shows a massive embankment of shoeboxes lined up in a suburban driveway.

Nearly 1,000 boxes can be seen as the camera pans — an astonishing feat of accumulation on its own. But what was most noteworthy about the clip wasn’t the sheer amount, it was the specific sneaker that had been hoarded.

Boneyard Chicago, a resale and vintage shop responsible for the spectacle, didn’t gobble up pairs of a highly covetable sneaker such as the Nike SB “What the P-Rod” Dunk or even an in-line release from Air Jordan. Instead, the resellers stockpiled the humble all-white Air Force 1 Low, a classic but not a sneaker that should be difficult to acquire.

For any bonafide sneakerhead, the all-white Air Force 1 is a must in their rotation. It’s a staple shoe and is usually widely available for just $90. Keeping them pristine is often seen as essential, and with any sign of scuffs, many will simply switch to a brand new pair. When Nelly rapped “Give me two pairs” on the titular song, he was talking about such a practice, known as buying “One to rock and one to stock.”

Cleaned Out

So, why would resellers bother with a sneaker from neither scarcity nor expense? The answer is to artificially create the latter. By amassing ungodly quantities of the all-white Air Force 1, resellers can make them more difficult to acquire for the layman. If that person then turns to the resale market, they’ll find only a nominal upcharge — maybe $20 or $30 more than the retail price. That’s hardly the profit margin we’re used to seeing resellers fetch, but someone with 1,000 pairs could net a cool $20,000 for their shamelessness.

Why would resellers bother with a sneaker from neither scarcity nor expense?

If you go to Nike’s online store at any given time, there’s no guarantee a pair of all-white Air Force 1s will be available in your size. Sometimes they will, sometimes they won’t — but even that alone is a far cry from the state of affairs just a year ago. And if you decide to go make your purchase in-store instead, your odds are even worse.

Input spoke to a Finish Line employee in New York who sees the white-on-white Air Force 1s sell out each week. The store receives a full-size run, several pairs of each size, every Monday. By Wednesday, they’re typically all gone. Under company policy, customers can only buy one of a given model in one transaction, but that hasn’t fully warded off resellers. If the cashier allows it, a person will just use several credit cards to buy several pairs.

Just Business

Marc Piasecki/GC Images/Getty Images

“Sometimes they [resellers] come back in a new outfit because of the cameras,” the Finish Line employee, who wished to remain anonymous because she isn’t authorized to speak with the media, said. “They just drop off their stuff in the car and come back in a whole new outfit five or ten minutes after.”

Sometimes they [resellers] come back in a new outfit because of the cameras.”

The employee can tell when someone is reselling because if the first size they ask for is sold out, they’ll simply buy whatever is available. And while she’ll refuse to sell to such people, which she’s authorized to do, not everyone may take such a hardline against the profiteers that have come to dominate the culture.

Bots have proven successful for sneakers that are far more difficult to acquire — and, realistically, such nefarious methods are the only explanation for Boneyard Chicago’s four-figure assemblage of Air Force 1s. Selling vast quantities of the sneaker is the only way to make the effort worthwhile, and those who are willing to put in the work will find little standing in their way.

Classic

Nike
Nike
Nike

Joe Hebert, the proprietor of West Coast Streetwear who basically cost his mother her job as a Nike VP for reselling sneakers, outlined this strategy in a YouTube from 2020. While he had stock of some of the most fussed-over sneakers, he also kept around 3,000 pairs of what he called “brick” shoes that would bring in only modest profits individually. Day to day, these are what keeps the business going between more high-profile releases.

It’s also worth noting that the all-white Air Force 1 has taken on a new meaning today. While previously known for the pains that sneakerheads would take to keep them clean — an association that still endures — beat-up pairs worn by e-girl types have also become a meme. These new adopters of the AF1 are less likely to be steeped in sneaker knowledge and more willing to turn to the resale market to acquire a pair. A real sneakerhead knows they can hold out and the shoe will be available at retail soon, but someone who doesn’t is an easy mark.

Sneaker reselling has been compared to the stock market because of the fluctuating value of different models, and artificially creating scarcity for what should be a widely available shoe only reinforces the similarities. Massive profits on sneakers can lead to anyone thinking they can make a quick buck — but those flipping all-white Air Force 1 are applying a basic business principle by finding smaller margins that are repeatable at scale.