Sneaker resale stores on the rise in Richmond
Richmond’s sneaker resale industry is booming. Across the city, various stores turn a profit from reselling trendy, unique or in-demand shoes.
It wasn’t always like that.
Before shops like Rotate, Kicks Boomin, Elite Kickz, MBM Kicks and Stvrs Kicks opened, Round Two and Sneaker P dominated Richmond’s sneaker resale market.
Round Two was a popular consignment shop that specialized in reselling sneakers, clothing and hats. When it closed in 2020, new retailers moved in to fill the void left in the sneaker community.
Rotate was born when Brian Iwaumadi — along with his brother Derrick — started buying and selling clothes. Eventually, they began holding pop-ups and opened a brick-and-mortar shop near Virginia Commonwealth University’s campus, which later moved to its current location in Jackson Ward.
“Ever since Round Two [closed], there's a lot of people that are doing what we're doing. So, to be able to do it in a different capacity or just do it differently than everybody else, I think that's what separates us,” said co-owner Brian Iwaumadi. “If you go up and down the East Coast right now, I feel like there's no boutique or store like ours that does the amount of work that we do within the community.”
Iwaumadi has incorporated the spirit of giving into his work by hosting donation drives at Rotate. The Spot, a creative space he also runs in Richmond, has partnered with six schools in Henrico County and one in Chesterfield County to provide after-school programing. He said this allows the store to connect with the community beyond just buying and selling.
“As we're helping people within the community, or as we're doing bigger events, [it] just [allows] more and more people to relate to us a little bit more,” Iwaumadi said.
Rotate is also responsible for the Diamond Flea Market that brings more than 100 vendors out to The Diamond six times a year. Many vendors resell sneakers and vintage clothing.
Sneakers give individuals a way to express themselves. Because of that, Iwaumadi said, not only does the industry continue to grow, but the profits do as well.
“I think sneaker culture — I think streetwear culture — I think it all correlates because it's just your perception of yourself. How other people perceive you is just like the outfit, the clothing that you put on that day,” Iwaumadi said.
But the more lucrative the business gets, the harder it can be to express yourself, if you don’t have the means to pay. Shoes often resell for twice their retail price — or more.
Often, people buy popular or rare sneakers with the intention of reselling and not wearing them.
“It takes away from those that are really sneakerheads. Those that genuinely like the silhouettes, like the sneakers for what it is, and they just want to get it,” Iwaumadi said. “It forces them to come down to a store like [Rotate] and then have to pay. You could have got the sneaker for $150. But now you're paying $1,000 for the shoe.”
Iwaumadi said for that reason, buying sneakers can sometimes seem like buying stocks. If you can buy shoes when they first become available and then resell them, you could maximize your return — depending on what the demand is for the specific colorway or collaboration.
“I think sneakers, in general, are definitely becoming more lucrative. But at the same time, it is becoming a little bit oversaturated because of how many [are] dropping. But as more and more people partake in it, I think it becomes more of a mainstream sort of thing,” Iwaumadi said.
Damien Chew, a Richmond blogger and vintage curator, said the resale industry hurts people who want to buy sneakers to wear.
“If I was to have a gripe against sneaker culture, [it] would be the fact that I can't buy sneakers,” Chew told VPM News. “I can't get on SNKRS app. I can't. I can't walk into Footlocker. I can't. I can't go anywhere and get the sneakers that I want because they're all bought by resellers.”
Chew’s love for shoes is intertwined with memories. He still recalls his first sneaker purchase, a pair of Air Jordan 5s that got him excited about shoes.
“I do remember going to the mall, getting sneakers. I do remember my mom saving up money for us to get sneakers during back-to-school,” Chew said. “I have nostalgic memories of sneakers. That's why I buy certain sneakers. Now, it's just really a market. It's like, ‘If I buy this certain model, I can mark it up at this price and I'm going to get this profit.’”
While the process of buying sneakers has changed and prices have skyrocketed, the demand for sneakers hasn’t reached its peak — yet.
For Chew, buying shoes is a way to express himself while also teaching others how to style them during his “Morning Coffee” sessions on Instagram.
“Sneaker culture to me is the people, the actual individuals that are buying the sneakers, the actual individuals that are putting the sneakers on, that are showing you how to style and wear these sneakers,” Chew said. “That's the culture, the people in the culture, the people of the culture.”