The New York edition of the traveling sneaker convention SneakerCon is the show’s flagship. With upwards of 20,000 people expected to pass through the event’s entry lines, it’s now a cultural staple. It’s come a long way from its 2009 launch in a 2,000 square foot Times Square space that only hosted 600 attendees. Now, the convention boasts 13 shows a year in cities like Atlanta, Chicago and Fort Lauderdale domestically. This year’s NYC flagship event was expected to be even bigger than it’s 20,000 turn-out anticipation.
It appeared as such.
I attended this years event with Set Art Director and partner in childish horse shit/my Irish brother Drew McCarver, screenwriter and Wanderset guest latin culture contributor Jonathan “JayLee” Jordan, Armand “the Funeral Director” DeLuca and my old homie Mikey Nicholson, devout Liverpool fan, true hiphop head, man of the people, and the proud belt holder of “Street wear OG of Southern CT”.
We arrived immersed in a sea of hype beasts, drowning in Issy Mikake cologne and vintage Drakkar Noir. OVO Sound Radio played over the loud speaker. No one could tell if it was Roy Woods, or Drake doing one of his famous Roy Wood’s impressions. All the OVO hallmark’s were there, the beat was woozy, melodic, minimalist and had to do with “having every bitch but the one that got away.” I digress.
The Javits Center in Manhattan was flooded with guests, and post-Con stats from it’s PR staff to us at Wanderset put it at about 21,000 tickets sold, a far cry from it’s humble beginnings in 2009. In 09, a little under 1,000 people turned out for the two day Con in NYC alone. Now, the event hits London, Canada and Asia, brining it’s circus on the road for the hungry heads that gobble up this fast growing subculture that will play Master Splinter no more. The secret of the ooze is out.
All this came from the mind of Chinese entrepreneur and culturatti Yu-Ming.
Yu-ming is now the man behind the global exposition Sneaker Con, founder of one of the largest sneaker media outlets, SneakerNews as well as CMO of New York based consignment shop Stadium Goods. Dedicated to all things sneakers, Yu-Ming continues to surpass the boundaries of fashion and business.
But, like every once-an-era-lightning-bolt that goes mainstream, there’s a bit of a compromise of soul and sound. It’s Tabernacle get’s a bit autotuned, so to speak.
That was apparent. Boldly obvious even.
Nothing demonstrates this more than the second wave of the culture actually changing definitions to boldly fucking sell.
The first thing we noticed was how said second wave changed the synonym from “Bootleg” to “Custom”. It’s funny how DIY culture can totally find its very own propagandist way to swap once solidified definitions in and out, the same way they do with joggers and dad hats. It’s almost striking in it’s young, ignorant brashness. No one was sure that that kid selling the fake Supreme snapback, they just read “Penis” in the red box in Futura Italics, was drinking his own Kool-Aide or wanking and flexing in our faces.
Drew asked him “Yo, is this official Supreme?”
He looked at us and replied “Nah, it’s custom Supreme.”
Suprenis – if you will.
Honestly, I can’t say I hated him at all. There’s something charming, in the same way that Billy Madison is charming, in the whole presentation of the Suprenis snapback dealer. It’s a childish middle finger at the same time as it is a flattered embrace. I kinda dig it. I’m always all about childish middle fingers.
On the flip side, we met some rad creators, real creators, not just evolved school book dick doodlers.
Case in point, one, Jason Gomez, founder and design mind behind the underground accessory and small goods capsule house LeBLAM NYC. LeBLAM makes pins and patches, mixing current pop buzz with classic 80’s street steeze from the Boogie Down BX. Gomez, a Latino-American, pays homage to east coast bodega culture with dope patches of the Sazon seasoning box, Café Bustelo cans, and Magnum rubber boxes. They’re wearable memes, right on trend for what culture will become in spades for 2018. LeBLAM is the urban Collette.
Like ComplexCon in November, SneakerCon also fancies itself “The Internet In Real Life”. They’re both right.
We bumped into our homies from Wanderset brand We Are Alumnus, the urban-prep line made in Yonkers that’s a favorite of everyone from Diddy to Jadakiss to Kodak Black. Brian Anthony, founder of the American made line and I chopped it up about both Alumnus and SneakerCon.
“It’s like the loudest flea market ever, and way more expensive” we both joked. The highly coveted Yeezy Boosts started at around $750 USD. Some kids even accepted BitCoin for large scale purchases. Unreal. A sign of the times for sure.
There were USA Olympics sports jersey tables with the Team Supreme logo on the front. There were full boxing robes with Supreme on it. Hell, even “HypeBeast Ave. “ – one of the main streets in the Javits Center grotto was sponsored by Supreme. There was no word on whether it was “custom” or not. I assume streets- especially avenues in Manhattan would be custom. It would be super confusing if there were 6 Broadways or 5th in the city. The city’s map is a grid, and I like it like that. Let’s not turn it into fucking DC. #CustomAvesMatter.
Oh yeah, one custom designer featured a table of Real Madrid kits sponsored by Holy Yeezus himself. I can’t even imagine him and Ronaldo in the same joint. There’s not enough space for both urinals in that bathroom.
It would be more befitting to have a PSG kit sponsored by Neymar after the stupid contract they gave him to pry him from Barcelona last summer. Just “Neymar Jr.” on the front of the jersey, in the same font as “Fly Emirates”.
Mikey ended up dropping over 2 K in kicks alone. He would flip them in 48 hours. The Adidas Solebox Boost, and the Air Max 90 Atmos Duck Camo jawns were fire. Not a chance those don’t soar off, pal. The kid has great taste. Drew copped the Supreme custom World Cup jersey. Jay got a dad hat from super dope emerging Toronto based, ancient ninja inspired streetwear designer Soigne. It makes sense, I guess. He’s got 2 awesome young daughters. Dress for the job you want they say. Dad hat on actual dad. Check.
From the back of the sprawling grotto, we suddenly heard loud cheering and clapping. Either a rapper showed up, or something of note had popped off. Either way, we had to scope it. What we found was a half basketball court, perfectly crafted in NCAA style hardwood and paint, adorned with sponsors just the same, that featured a 3 on 3 tournament that ran thru out the day. Featuring teams with names like Harlem Hypebeasts, and some other shit related to probably Kanye or Jordan or KITH, the competition crossed up and dunked on each other all day. We were ushered in by an actual sports arena looking usher to rising stands to watch a game. Drew and I bet on the wrong squad, a crew of Long Island rich kids who all looked like JJ Redick. Our boys got sonned by the side from Harlem. Shit wasn’t even close.
As we made our way back toward the exit thru the flea market trading post I couldn’t help but wonder – Was SneakerCon 2017 the Arc de Triomphe of kick culture, or was it just the Bladerunner of flea markets and Kasbahs?
The answer was both. In equal pours and measures.
Kick culture is one part fanboy geekdom, one part urban/sport lifestyle, and one part street art fair & flea market where the only difference between the legendary Kasbah at Merrekesh Market, and the internet personification vacuum that this space creates naturally, is it’s product on the tables and in the booths.
I can’t say whether Yu-Ming knew this shit would happen. There’s no way to know. Time to get paid, blow up like the world trade – well, that’s been the NYC embodying quote since BIG spit it in the early 90’s. People in this city dream bigger and go harder. I’ve been bi-costal, and for all the amazing positives in LA, the grind, that P.T Barnum-esque roof raising and hustle, is not a birthright for them. Surfing is. Relaxation is. Both of those things the northeast sucks at. Bad. We can’t have it all, ladies.
Did it lack the over the top “Cool World” set that ComplexCon in Long Beach was? For sure. But attribute that to Verizon money backing the Complex Media Group. It lacked the neon lights and panache and pulsing aggression on the left coast, ironically the one coast you would assume would be more laid back, brah. But ,what it did feature, was heart, DIY attitude, and somehow, even with the high glass ceilings and Gattica reminiscent architecture at the Javits Center, still possessed a dope ass grit.
Again, whether Yu-Ming intended it to grow into the aforementioned, only he knows. We often don’t know what our Frankenstien will be. Hell, Dr. Frankenstien didn’t know. But we thought it was just right for not only the season, but the culture as a whole.
We hope the city that never sleeps did you proud, Yu-Ming.
The reality is, that “(Insert niche focus here) Con’s” in general, are the future of broad stroke culture and physical commerce. The night before Day 1 of the Con, Mikey and I had this talk on the jack. We pondered if, as brick and mortar locations of all kinds close their doors, and the world becomes more automated and digital, if the only wave of commerce in the physical will be conferences and gatherings, traveling road shows that cater ideally to niches that worship niche product.
The answer, we feel, is a resounding yes.
All images provided by SneakerCon.