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Sole Culture


Sneaker convention brings youth fashion, collectibles to Philadelphia

(Photo Left) The Sole Exchange sneaker show at First District Plaza. Photo by Sarah J. Glover.

On this Saturday afternoon, in late January, the expansive third floor of First District Plaza in West Philadelphia is arrayed with sneakers as far as the eye can see.

 

Some are newly wrapped in plastic, some are slightly used and displayed under bold graphic banners and others are being individually peddled by their young owners. All are hoping to find interested buyers amid the crowd of thousands in attendance at Sole Exchange, a traveling sneaker convention and trade show that stopped in Philadelphia on Jan. 21.

 

“Forty dollars,” asks 12-year-old Ben, as he proffers his pair of Kobe Bryant 3D Nike sneakers to vendor Simon Car. “I gotta get rid of them,” the boy adds, additionally offering to exchange the sneakers for one of the Supreme brand baseball caps displayed.

 

“Nah,” responds South Philadelphian Carr, who also sells sneakers and branded apparel at a site in Franklin Mills Mall. “I ain’t buying today.”

 

Sole Exchange is just one of several conventions — others being New York City-based Sneaker Con and the nationally traveling Sneaker Games — that targets “sneaker heads,” young enthusiasts, often between the ages of 12 and 18, who may or may not have big cash.

 

Small vendor Jay Johnson is particularly proud of his work today. He sold a 2015 pair of Air Jordan 8 Retros for $80, a nice profit over the $50 he paid for them.

 

The popular sellers here are Yeezy’s, a knitted, muted-color sneaker by Kanye West, which carry a retail price tag of $400 or more.

New Jersey artist Christian Alexander has customized one pair of Yeezy’s, hand-painting different hues of red dyes onto the shoes and then applying 200 Swarovski crystals, bringing a new price of $3,000.

 

“The crystals cost a lot of money,” he assures a reporter. “And placed on one by one.”

 

Sole Exchange operates under the motto of “Saving one sole at a time.” It charges individual attendees $30, and vendor rates start at $250. Meanwhile, organizers promise access to 10,000 pairs of sneakers for sale or exchange, more than 70 vendors, a deejay spinning the latest hip-hop sounds and raffles every hour.

 

Such events capitalize on the fact that sneakers aren’t just for athletics anymore, they’re fashion, collectibles, personal statements.

 

In a March 2016 New York Times article, fashion writer Bill Cunningham wrote that he, “can’t help but think that the young men’s sneakers are what the elaborate handbags were to women this century, when the all-important handbag was the statement.”

 

SportsOneSource, in 2015, placed the international market for sneakers at an estimated $55 billion, up by more than 40 percent since 2004.

 

“This is the culture,” Carr explains of the convention’s growing popularity. “This is for the young culture, to stay updated, where they can upgrade.”

 

For him and his wares, their time at the Sole Exchange was, “Not a bad day.”

 

 

 

Sole Culture
Sheila Simmons - Contributor

Sheila Simmons brings many years of writing and communications experience to her work for Liberty City Press. She began her professional writing career at the Philadelphia Daily News, where she covered Business, City Hall and Education.

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