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Sneaker Con: Thousands gather in Santa Clara to buy, sell and trade valuable footwear

Thousands of people are converging on Santa Clara this weekend to buy shoes.

It’s no mall sales event, though. The shoe spending is happening at the Santa Clara Convention Center, where sneakers — many costing hundreds and sometimes even thousands of dollars — are the coveted item.

This is Sneaker Con, a regular gathering of footwear fanatics that its founders have dubbed “the greatest sneaker show on earth.”

While the two-day event was expected to draw plenty of sneaker lovers who simply wanted to admire, Sneaker Con is more than a meeting spot for fans — it’s an economy of its own. The heart of the event was the trading pit, a bustling arena where people set up to trade, sell, browse and buy rare and valuable sneakers.

For Alex Wong, 31, of Sacramento, it’s a chance to make some money off valuable sneakers he’s acquired over the years. But he also has an eye on some shoes he would like to buy: The Nike Air VaporMax is a hot commodity right now.

“It’s sort of like the stock market,” Cole Allen, 16, of Salt Lake City, said of the practice of making money off valuable shoes. He started a business buying and selling sneakers, from which he is saving money for college.

Through social media mostly, “sneakerheads,” as these sneaker fanatics call themselves, figure out what is new, what is in demand and thus, what is valuable.

Allen got into sneakers through his dad, a longtime fan of what arguably was the start of collective sneaker envy — Air Jordans, the shoe that was created for basketball star Michael Jordan and later released to the public.

The on-trend shoe always changes — the hot ones these days are Yeezy, the sneakerheads say — but sneaker culture seems here to stay.

While vendors as large as eBay were at the convention, individuals, including young teens, can make a lot of money at this event.

Nate Camacho, 15, of Vacaville, came to Sneaker Con’s trading pit with friends who all pooled their shoes together to sell. He had a pair of “Royal One” Jordans for which he was hoping to get $350.

Allen, the young businessman, had shoes for sale ranging from $50 to about $1,000, he said.

With stakes that high, counterfeit experts were on hand to verify the authenticity of some shoes.

”People like to feel safe,” said Bryan Mora, 21, the footwear authenticator for Sneaker Avon. After awhile, he said, you know what to look for: A leather that isn’t quite right, a box that looks different, or even a story about the purchase that seems too good to be true.

He is not the enforcer, though. He informs the buyers if he thinks a shoe is fake, and they often handle it directly with the sellers — it helps to use payment systems like PayPal that can provide some purchase security, he said.

Sneaker Con has come along way since Yu-Ming Wu launched the first event in New York City in 2009. In the last decade, he’s grown the event, bringing it worldwide. Wu said he was expecting about 10,000 people at Santa Clara, but the New York event draws nearly 20,000.

The idea for Sneaker Con stemmed from Wu’s own love for sneakers, which started first when he was a kid needing sneakers for gym class and was further stoked in his early teens after watching Michael Jordan play basketball. It was in college that Wu started learning more about the world of limited-edition sneakers, and in the early 2000s, sneaker culture was growing.

Social media was a big part of the growth of that culture, opening up people’s options for discovering the shoes beyond what they saw in magazines and shoe stores, Wu said. With the internet and the rise of visual social media platforms like YouTube and Instagram, exposure to sneakers has dramatically increased.

“Many (collectors) become celebrities in their own right. They have millions of followers on Instagram and YouTube,” Wu said.

Sneaker culture is not as niche as it once was. Workplaces are more casual today, prompting more people to embrace casual fashion trends. Athletes, musicians and movie stars have helped drive the popularity of sneakers with their own designs and clothing lines.

Wu, who also runs sneaker marketplace Stadium Goods, wears sneakers all the time, he said, even to weddings and fancy events paired with nice suits. He estimates that at one point he had about 1,500 pairs of sneakers at once, though he’s been trying to sell off pairs as he runs out of room to store them all in the two rooms in his house he has dedicated to his shoes. He figures he has between 700 and 900 pairs currently.

It may seem like Wu and the rest of the sneakerheads are overly serious about their footwear, but Wu said that a big part of the fun of Sneaker Con is seeing a diverse group of people at the event.

“From teenagers to moms and granddads, there are people of all ages,” he said, noting that he loves seeing a kid and his granddad, for example, wearing the “same cool-looking shoes.”

Indeed, the crowds that packed the convention center Saturday were diverse — people of all ages and occupations and with varying styles roamed the floor.

The one thing they all had in common? A really cool pair of shoes.

Source: East Bay Sneaker Con: Thousands gather in Santa Clara to buy, sell and trade valuable footwear

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