Sneaker Con Brings Streetwear Fashion Worldwide

Photo courtesy of Sneaker Con website.
Photo courtesy of Sneaker Con website.

Will Debord, a founding member and the current Managing Director of Sneaker Con has played a pivotal role in the convention’s development since its 2009 New York inception. His college summer internship, where he worked on Sneaker Con’s website, was a significant stepping stone.

Debord’s subsequent collaborations with sneaker resellers and the involvement of Sneakernews.com were instrumental in laying the foundation for the Sneaker Con event.

Debord’s passion for sneakers began in childhood when he yearned for more stylish shoes beyond the annual pair of Air Force Ones or Reebok classics. 

“I would drool window shopping, wishing I could afford to buy more,” he reminisced. 

His first impactful shoe, a pair of Air Jordan 13 his dad bought him for his birthday — marked the beginning of his lifelong love for sneakers. 

“I never looked back,” Debord said. “I did any job to make money and buy kicks. I’ve been fortunate to do something I love and want to share my passion with the next generation.” Since then, he’s proudly considered himself a sneakerhead.

photo courtesy of Sneaker Con’s Instagram

Debord’s definition of a “Sneakerhead” is all-encompassing, welcoming anyone who “talks sneakers” at any time other than needing a new pair of running shoes. This inclusivity is a fundamental aspect of sneakerhead culture, where everyone, regardless of background, is embraced in this vibrant community. 

Unlike average sneaker consumers who buy shoes for functional purposes, a sneakerhead might buy a shoe for fashion, business, trade, or simple nostalgia. Debord emphasized that while more prominent collectors influence trends or are ahead of the game, the beauty of sneakerhead culture lies in its inclusivity.

Debord said sneakerheads come from every walk of life and span across most demographics. 

“The demographic is sneaker lovers, fashionistas, collectors, and content creators,” he said.

Once he got involved in the culture, Debord explained how he and his friends would line up, talk, and trade sneakers, creating a sense of camaraderie. 

“Shoe lineups were more than just a culture—they were a community,” he said. 

Sneaker Con Beginning Years

The community aspect makes sneaker culture unique and appealing. However, once the retailers started changing from the first-in-line to the online reservation processes, it took away from the culture of meeting people in real life — a loss felt by the entire community.

The industry moving digital meant sneakerheads everywhere needed a place to meet, trade, buy, and sell trusted sources under the same roof, sharing their passion for sneakers. After finding success within their New York show, Debord and the other founders knew they needed to test the event elsewhere. 

The team analyzed cities where the culture was vibrant and people were hungry for sneaker culture, eventually narrowing in on Washington, D.C. Their second city debut produced an even larger turnout than New York, quickly highlighting a demand for sneakers in towns without exclusive releases. From a retail, collector, and reseller standpoint, Sneaker Con could help the industry grow. 

Sneaker Con’s influence continued expanding and their next show in Miami pointed to a possible connection between sneaker and skater culture. Around the same time, Nike dropped a release in Miami and, shortly after that, in L.A. The mix of the skater community and an absent trading culture developed even more market demands. 

photo courtesy of Sneaker Con Instagram
photo courtesy of Sneaker Con’s Instagram

Across the nation, Sneaker Con continued adding new cities, bringing people together and exposing them to shoes that drove their passions.

Since sneaker culture is a dynamic representative of sneakers and collectors, the convention naturally progressed into including other vintage items like clothing and accessories, such as the recently released Sneaker Con x Shawn Kemp Tee. All of these factors accumulated into “products of the culture.” Debord said he’s loved seeing streetwear designers complement each other over the years by sharing their history and style knowledge. 

READ: DFW Celebrates Streetwear and Sneakers

According to Debord, part of their secret to success in different cities is keeping an open mind and always keeping rolling admissions open. Once they decide on a venue and lock in dates, the community spreads word quickly. Information in the sneaker culture spreads by word of mouth, even in the age of social media. 

Debord said they’ve been fortunate to build trust with the resellers and pop-up brands community. 

Sneaker Con Goes International

After a few years and many more cities, the team noticed global markets were starting to mirror how U.S. cities’ demands changed after the 2008 recession. The market was hungry for more sneakers, but logistics kept intercontinental sneakerheads a beat behind. For example, Canada’s high tariffs meant that a large brand, like Nike, would often underorder to minimize costs. Moreover, Canada didn’t have Nike Outlets to move dead stock around.

For 30 years, most sneakerheads’ first pairs of shoes were Nikes, typically Jordans or Air Maxes, often only varying in colorways. Over the years, sneakerheads became accustomed to spending much money chasing remarkably similar limited shoes.

In 2016 during their collaboration with Kanye, Adidas was very strategic about international product drops, starting in places like Egypt, South America, Asia, and other areas without exclusive Nike drops. These influential celebrity collaborations created another lane and an even larger audience for fan collectors.

This international growth was complemented by the Sneaker Con team’s strategic study of international distributions, leading to their successful 2017 global launch in London. 

The founders knew the U.K. was leading in the Euro sneaker market, but Debord said they were still surprised by the large turnout. They hosted their first events in Toronto, Berlin, and Hong Kong in the same year. The global launch in London was a significant milestone for Sneaker Con, marking its successful expansion beyond the U.S. borders. 

It not only showcased the international appeal of sneaker culture but also highlighted the strategic planning and execution of the Sneaker Con team. 

In Asia, collectors’ culture and basketball spearheaded sneaker resale and trade. Japan’s streetwear influenced consumers, who, in turn, were influenced by recycled vintage trends. The mix of their accumulated vintage knowledge and collecting sneakers gives each purchase a nostalgic sentiment. Japanese fandoms also created subcultures in anime, fashion, and art.

  • photo courtesy of Converse's website

Sneaker culture also felt the effects of solid fan hoods worldwide as industry influences evolved beyond basketball shoes to hip-hop influences. Collaborations like Travis Scott x Nike, Big Sean x Puma, Tyler the Creator x Converse, and Cardi B x Reebok proved the culture is ever-evolving. 

While Sneaker Con was a craze in the U.S., Debord said seeing passionate, knowledgeable collectors worldwide was incredibly unique, and each new city has taught the team something new.

Sneaker Con Connections

Debord beamed with pride as he described the success his friends have gained over the years by tapping into their direct audiences. He said watching celebrities, who people already know and love, engage in this passion has positively influenced the transition over the last decade.

He described how JaeTips, a rapper and renowned sneakerhead from the Bronx, grew within the community to become a full-fledged designer. Debord recalled meeting the then Foot Locker employee and connecting over exclusive drops and limited resells. Since then, JaeTips has partnered with Saucony to deliver brightly colored shoes and showed at Paris Fashion Week this past month. 

While in Paris, the rapper teased upcoming designs featuring coral and burgundy color palettes, chrome line-work on the toe box, and a wavy sole unit. The model is expected to succeed instantly, following other market disruptors like the Nike Zoom Vomero 5 or New Balance 1906R.

photo courtesy of JaeTips’ Instagram

One of the other long-term connections that Sneaker Con fostered is with Fat Joe, another rap superstar and sneaker fanatic, who’s developed an iconic collection through a Las Vegas consignment shop called Urban Necessities. The Grammy-nominated musician has created a vigilant eye for sneaker collecting and shares Debord’s passion for sharing stories through sneakers.  

“Our aim has always been to connect the dots between influencers and people, creating a vibrant and inclusive community,” Debord said. “I remember the sneakers I wore to my high school basketball game and my first date with my now-wife; it’s the memories tied to sneakers that keep people coming back to Sneaker Con.”

Over the years, Sneaker Con has hosted guests like Basketball Hall of Famer Dwyane Wade and Phoenix Suns player Kevin Durant.

“Legends are coming out to engage in this culture and create new memories,” Debord said. Sneaker Con welcomed record producer Quavo and former athlete Dennis Rodman this past year.

Debord also explained how Sneaker Con has amplified sneaker culture and encouraged the industry to grow. Athletes now garner recognition not just for their athletic ability but also for attending Sneaker Con shows.

Changes in the Sneaker Industry

Around 2016 and 2017, Nike released too many of the same basketball shoes with endless colorways. Debord explained when brands release too much too fast, collectors can’t keep up, and if brands lose sneakerheads, they lose profit.

photo courtesy of Sneaker Con’s Instagram

Debord said consumers would now rather have clean, vintage-looking New Balances than buy another pair of Jordans. They might also invest in brands like Allbirds, Hoka, Asics, or Salomon, which use better suede-quality materials than Nike or Adidas. Secondary brands were less popular 10 years ago, but people crave new brands now due to prolific design habits in stale conditions.

New designers began pushing widespread aesthetic variances beyond colorways. Layering materials, juxtaposed mesh and contrasting-colored pebbled leather all became popularized. 

“Innovative materials give a shoe new life,” Debord said. 

He also pointed out how young sneaker designers are innovating streetwear and vintage fashion by taking old templates and making new designs. Debord said Nike is starting to follow suit and dropping shoes with unreleased materials such as suede mesh and various neoprene overlaid over each other. 

He explained that combining layers, details, screen printing, puff print, and colors is back. Rather than the dull grays, tans, browns, and other monotones, pops of color reminiscent of vintage music and recycled styles breathe new life into an idle market. 

The YouTube era has also broadened the audience and provided a platform for individual collectors to share their passion and knowledge, further enriching the sneaker culture. The rise of the YouTube era has significantly expanded the sneaker culture to younger fans. Parasocial relationships with creators led younger audiences into the world of sneaker collecting.

People now buy shoes, if not purely for fashion, due to the collaborations between streetwear brands, sneaker brands, musicians, and random creators. Additionally, streetwear fashion has now crossed into luxury territory, reaching brands such as Louis Vuitton x St Virgil Abloh or Pharrell Williams x Adidas. 

Authentication Processes & The Start of eBay’s Authentication Process

In 2013, the market began seeing a record increase in fake sneakers. 

“It was plaguing our events,” Debord said. 

Arguments within the community over fakes or replicas heated up and few people knew about verification processes. As Sneaker Con’s popularity grew, so did the likelihood of scams. In this massive flea market environment, efficiently verifying every authentic shoe has become impossible. 

To protect attendees and ensure genuine goods are sold and traded at events, Sneaker Con adopted a strategy providing free authentication services, using gold tags bound to authentic shoes with a wire.

The authentic service brought a sense of trust to Sneaker Con’s events, protecting the consumer community. Other marketplaces began following in Sneaker Con’s footsteps, but a broader market meant consumers needed more accreditations. 

Debord described his frustration as a collector buying shoes online, “Sites would say they certified products, but never clarify who “they” were. Is it a tech company that works with Nike? Who’s knowledgeable enough to say this sneaker is real? Who’s fair enough to tell the truth and be unbiased?” 

Asking these questions led the Sneaker Con team to find another market gap and determine that transparent information was the solution. The team began teaching people and the public how to authenticate using community and brand knowledge. As Sneaker Con was growing, thousands of people started needing authentication. The team turned to educating people on social media and has started creating content and teaching people to authenticate online. 

photo courtesy of eBay's website
photo courtesy of eBay’s website

When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down in-person events, Sneaker Con entered an 18-month hiatus without shows and their only active income was in the online marketplace. Authentication services kept digital e-commerce businesses safe during the pandemic boom. Even with the lull, the convention’s popularity grew within the community, and giant resell company, eBay reached out to partner. 

When the events officially came back, eBay became the Official Authentication Provider of Sneaker Con — providing free enhanced authentication services at all events.

Sneaker Con 2024 and Beyond

Sneaker Con is celebrating 15 years, and Debord says the team continues to push new limits and add new cities. Sneaker Con hosted its first event in Denver in 2019, and this past March, it greeted over 10,000 sneakerheads at the Colorado Convention Center. 

Now, Sneakercon attracts people of various races, ethnicities, and ages worldwide. Additionally, the convention is seeing growth in female attendance and Debord predicts that roughly 30-40% of resellers at recent conventions are women. 

“It’s beautiful to see all different types of people come together at our events,” he said.

Debord said the team also focuses on providing entrepreneurial spaces where kids can learn about business from a young age and use their platforms to launch careers. Debord explained that part of the team’s drive to create multiple avenues of success for upcoming generations stems from experiencing the 2008 recession and the ever-changing competitive market. 

“Most (kids) lives nowadays are digital from the start,” Debord said. “We want to show (kids) how fulfilling success derived through design, art, reselling, collecting, and connecting in person can be.” 

photo courtesy of Sneaker Con’s Instagram

This year alone, Sneaker Con will host four events spread out over many islands in Japan. The team wanted to reach long-time collectors in more rural places that need environments to connect. 

In Japan, Fukuoka was a big community for Sneaker Con to tap into. Many people from Tokyo traveled to Fukuoka for the first time for Sneaker Con, causing a big jump in tourism. Choosing to do an event in Fukuoka forced people out of their “big city shells,” as Debord put it. 

Since the pandemic, Sneaker Con recently returned to Sydney, Australia, and will host their first event in Mexico City at the end of the year. Debord says there is still much-uncharted territory regarding locations that need in-person events to liven up and unite the community. 

“Many cities need the push to realize this passion is continuously growing,” Debord said. “Keeping consumers’ minds open gives a purpose to loving and building sneaker culture.”

All photos courtesy of Sneaker Con

Editors note: Updated eBay partnership information

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