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$40K shoes, rare finds draws thousands to Vancouver Sneaker Con

There were about 5,000 people — the vast majority of them teenage boys — at the Vancouver convention centre on Saturday for Sneaker Con, a New York-based event that travels the world catering to sneaker enthusiasts.

Researcher says sneaker culture driven by celebrity endorsements, limited edition releases and insider status

DJ Pho Fho, 23, holds up one of the shoes he's selling at Sneaker Con in Vancouver in February 2019. He was hoping to make $1,000 in the trade pit that day. (Maryse Zeidler/CBC)

At the back of a large, crowded room upstairs at the Vancouver Convention Centre, DJ Pho Fho is selling a small selection of brand-name sneakers nestled at his feet. 

Among the 23-year-old's wares are some sought-after sneakers: a pair of Nike Supreme Air Force 2s, Adidas Yeezy 350s and Nike Air Max 98s. He also has a few Palace t-shirts.

He travelled to Vancouver from Kamloops, B.C., and hopes to take home $1,000 by the end of the day.

"I'm here to sell clothes and make all that bank," he said, keeping an eye out for potential customers. 

A row of sellers in the trade pit at Vancouver Sneaker Con. Most of the sellers were young men. (Maryse Zeidler/CBC)

There were about 5,000 people — the vast majority of them teenage boys — at the convention centre on Saturday for Sneaker Con, a New York-based event that travels the world catering to sneaker enthusiasts. There have been other sneaker conferences in Vancouver, but this is Sneaker Con's first time on Canada's West Coast.

The main attraction is the trading pit where DJ Pho Fho is trying to make mad money. There are also vendors, including one featuring a $40,000 pair of rare Nike Air Mags, modelled after the pair actor Michael J. Fox wore in Back to the Future

Michelle La, a masters student at Simon Fraser University who researches the informal economy of sneaker selling, says sneaker culture is driven by celebrity endorsements, limited edition releases and insider status. 

"Once you're invested into a community ... what's perceived as valuable is different than it is as an outsider," she said. 

'It's better than other hobbies'

Sneaker Con draws a larger crowd than other sneaker events, and thus more selection. 

Around DJ Pho Fho, dozens of other teenage boys are also hustling. Some of them just walk around the back of the room holding up one of the shoes they're selling above the crowd. 

A seller holds up a shoe he's selling at Sneaker Con in Vancouver in February 2019. The crowded trade pit prompted many sellers to hold up the goods they were trying to sell. (Maryse Zeidler/CBC)

Bobby Agarwal, 45, sits near the cafe at the back of the trading pit keeping an eye on his 12-year-old son, Loui.

"It's cool because I think these kids are really into it," Agarwal said. "It's a hobby, in the end ... It's better than other hobbies."

Bobby Agarwal was at Sneaker Con in Vancouver to support his son Loui's budding sneaker hobby. (Maryse Zeidler/CBC)

Agarwal says he's invested about $2,000 into his son's collection so far, but he hopes it will start paying for itself as Loui starts to sell and trade up. 

The pair travelled from Seattle for the conference — Loui's first. By mid-afternoon, Loui had already made a profit on one of his six pairs for sale. 

Few women

Like many people, Ilian Urkuidi, 20, is just there to look around. Urkuidi is one of the few women at the event. 

She thinks that's because most sneakers are made in larger men's sizes, which means smaller sizes are rare and thus even more expensive. 

Urkuidi, 20, is ready to spend up to $500 on a pair of sneakers, which she doesn't think would be enough to buy a pair of highly-coveted of Off Whites or Yeezies in her size. But she's happy to be there all the same. 

Ilian Urkuidi, 20, and her friend were at Sneaker Con in Vancouver just to look around. (Maryse Zeidler/CBC)

"It's interesting just to see everyone buy and sell shoes you've only seen online" Urkuidi said.

SFU researcher La agrees that many sneaker heads flock to events like Sneaker Con to see rare pairs of sneakers in person. 

La says events are also an opportunity for people to join their community of like-minded sneaker aficionados in real life and show off what they know, and what they can buy.

"It shows people:  'I have the money, I have the knowledge, I have the connections,'" La said. "And of course, sneakers are comfortable."

You're never too young for your first pair of sneakers. (Maryse Zeidler/CBC)

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