Is The Sneaker Queue Back?
Standing in a queue outside a store at all hours of the day and night just for the possibility of buying shoes is a bizarre concept to most ordinary folk. But back in the golden age of limited editions, numbered shoeboxes and premium colabs, unless you had an influential contact on the inside or were willing to put in the hours overnight, it usually meant your only option was to pay big bucks to someone who had done just that. Of course we’ve covered the queuing phenomenon in Sneaker Freaker many times before, but it’s interesting to see the cyclical nature of trends applying itself in 2011. Are we witnessing the first glimpses of a revival of the lost art of queuing?
Rewind the memory tape a few years and the sheer frequency of overnight buying missions seems almost unbelievable now. Highlights include the camp outside Foot Patrol in London on New Year’s Eve to pick up the Superstar 35ths. Nike Skateboarding was easily the chief protagonist, with Rayguns, Supreme Dunks, Heinekens and dozens of other SB releases inspiring kids to temporary moments of retail insanity. The riot outside Reed Space in New York in honour of the Pigeon Dunks was the ultimate moment in badboy queueing etiquette. And although it’s tempting to shake your head and laugh at those memories, as we all know, the anticipation, hype and fear of failure can suck anyone in.
Aside from building personal collections, there was of course another motivation to join the queue. During the 2004-08 period, the $$$ returns on reselling more than compensated for a few hours of street camping. Top money could be made, especially if one-pair bag limits did not apply. Cop a pair for yourself, cop one or two more and sell them on for double or triple the retail price. Beats working in Foot Locker.
Queueing could be good fun. Once an established group formed, you’d have hours to get to know new friends. An extra set of eyes keeping lookout whilst you took a shifty doorway piss always came in useful and taking advantage of group buying runs to McDonalds meant you wouldn’t lose your place. Tales abound of people paying homeless guys to wait in line at some of the bigger releases! Hell, it wasn’t unheard of for people to swap sizes if it meant both parties got what they’d stayed awake for.
As long as the releases were consistent and your access to tip-offs was watertight, it was a good way to augment your weekly paycheck. Hustling sneakers became the new black. In short, it made sense for all parties concerned and everyone was happy, more or less. From a store’s point of view, an orderly queue was also the fairest and simplest way to settle the dilemma of who gets what.
But there was a downside. Planning an all-nighter got old quickly when you started turning up the night before, only to find ten newbies in line already. Realising that you were number 31 in the line for a 30-pair release made blood boil. Going home empty-handed after a night on the urine-scented streets was a sure way to ruin your weekend, not to mention the damaging effect it had on relationships (‘Baby, how about a naughty weekend?’ ‘Ummm... I’d rather sleep on the streets to get a pair of Dunks, if that’s OK?’).
At some point, things also reached saturation point. The frequency of the releases heated nerves to an unsustainable temperature. It seemed like every month, then every week, yet another urban sleepover was scheduled. And so, as naturally could be expected, things slowly cooled off. Kids realised that if they spent a little bit more cash, they could pick up the shoes online and still have an old lady to go home to. The single guy with 300 unworn pairs of Nikes, an empty bank account and a mouldy pavement-soiled sleeping bag became something of a laughing stock.
The downshift accelerated in 2009 and 2010. Nike’s policy on creating colabs flipped to virtually zero and only a very select number of releases such as the Patta Air Max, Kanye’s Yeezy and Sneaker Freaker’s own Alvin Purple Gel Lytes were deemed worthy of a stakeout (there are others but forgive me for not listing them all). Streetwear and skate boutiques struggled, tumbleweeds taking the place of camping chairs. Stores like Melbourne’s Provider, Foot Patrol in London (since reopened) and Huf were hit hard and closed up, turning once-popular shopping destinations into a barren landscape for streetwear.
However, in the past year or so, I’ve noticed a few signs that might just indicate we’re at the dawn of a new era of queueing. Whether there’s a new generation of collectors out there or kids realised it could be fun camping out once again, I’m not sure. In my mind there’s no doubt there’s a brigade of kids in every city who are begging for a return to the ‘good old days’, the only obstacle is whether brands have the resources and willpower to produce products worthy of urban campouts on a regular basis.
Ronnie Fieg’s run of ASICS Gel Lytes certainly built some serious momentum, with the Mint Leaf, Cove, Salmon Toes and Ultra Marines generating both heat and orderly queues in New York. The Banned Jordans and the South Beach Le Brons also sent Blackberrys into overdrive. Out in Jersey, Mike Packer also did his bit, colabing with Stash on the Reebok Graphlite runner and producing a series of campout-inducing Pumps.
Over at adidas, the ‘Made For’ pack with a ZX900 and matching Colorado windbreaker celebrating the 10th anniversary of the adidas Originals store in Berlin was a verifiable home run. Jeremy Scott’s Teddy Bears caused a plushy ruckus and the recent adidas x Bape ‘B-Sides’ Superstar was another release that had kids patiently sitting in gutters waiting for doors to open all over Europe.
However, the lightbulb moment where I started to think things might once again be escalating was a Nike retro reissue that took me totally by surprise. Sure there was the requisite blog-hype, but nothing out of the ordinary to suggest the frenzy that occurred when the Nike Air Flow was released. Queues were absolutely mental on a global scale. On top of that, many heads I spoke to slept on this release, confident they’d pick them up on the sale rack weeks later. Not this time. All this for a shoe that was an obscurist vintage delight? Something’s in the Air! The TZ ‘Tonal’ Air Flow release a little later at Selfridges was another example of demand well and truly exceeded by supply. Bodega Woven Footscapes? Same again. These were quickstrikes too, with allocations spread across the world.
Online however, relatively little has changed. The queuing equivalent is to hit F5 or cmd-R repeatedly if you’re sat at a Mac, praying to the Server Gods that the website server doesn’t crash. Or, even worse, finding someone has sniped your shopping basket contents just as you enter the last digits of your VISA card. You can follow the trails of jealousy, disappointment and hastily concocted eBay links from the moment your wallet snaps shut.
The upcoming Gel Sagas by Patta is one release I’ll be watching with close interest. Their immortal take on the Gel Lyte III from a few years ago is still worth megabucks. Can the Dutch crew repeat their breakout colab success, or has time and their recent colabs with ROOS diminished their instant sell-out appeal? We shall see...
As I finish typing these last few lines, I’m feeling inspired once again to head out on an all-night shopping mission. I could try and style it out and pretend I’m going clubbing or at a bar with some hot ladies, but the reality is, I’ll be sat on cold concrete, drinking a gallon of Red Bull and sobbing quietly into my 5-panel Supreme hat, begging for the opportunity to spend £100 on a pair of sneakers that I’ll never wear. To queue or not to queue, that is the question!
As seen in Sneaker Freaker Issue 23