Metro Vancouver Sneakerheads and Their Trading Practices

My MA Master's ethnographic research through Simon Fraser University's Department of Sociology & Anthropology seeks to understand how sneaker enthusiasts (also known as “sneakerheads”) and sneaker resellers participate in an informal economy revolved around limited-edition sneakers. In Metro Vancouver, these sneakerheads are mostly young men aged 15 – 25 years old. As Metro Vancouver as my research site, through this research, I ask how a presumably mundane item becomes the object of fantasy and enchantment among an active community of consumers, and the influence of corporations such as Nike and Adidas have in this informal marketplace.

I do this by following trends in streetwear and in sneaker culture through multiple online platforms to contextualize ethnographic data gathered on consumption habits and taste of Metro Vancouver sneaker enthusiasts. I observed and engaged with members of the Metro Vancouver sneaker reselling community through virtual and in-person participant-observation, such as buy and sell Facebook groups and sneaker conventions. I have established myself presence as a researcher in the community, and fostered strong connections with numerous influential sneaker resellers, retailers, and collectors in the Metro Vancouver.

My research reimagines anthropology by looking at how online and informal marketplaces can be spaces of community creation and the ways local youth engage in economic practices of speculation and risk in this global billion-dollar aftermarket. My research methods in-person and online are also innovative, for instance, I personally engaged in sneaker reselling – yes, made a profit.

I believe my research reimagines the boundaries of ethnographic work as it intersects various field such as behavioural economics; material culture; youth culture; financialization; economic geography; and marketing. My research follows the tradition of innovative anthropologists such as Laura Nader who have advocated for more anthropologists to ‘study up’ and ‘sideways,' in other words, in our ‘own backyards’

Sneaker consumption and trade is an ideal site to examine the relationship between affect and value. My research will be guided by the following questions:

  1. Which people are attracted to sneaker consumption in Metro Vancouver?

  2. What are the practices of sneaker consumption in Metro Vancouver?

  3. How do sneakers become coveted objects for sneakerheads?

  4. Why are certain are sneakers highly valued as desirable objects?

  5. What processes are involved and who are the agents that determine the resale value of a pair of sneakers?

  6. Where are the virtual and physical places where sneaker reselling happen? What are the place specific practices?

Through this research, I have presented at an international economic geography conference. I was a university-wide finalist at Simon Fraser University’s last year’s Three-Minute Thesis competition, and this month I have been featured by The CBC on my insights about Vancouver's largest biggest sneaker convention. No matter what venue I am in or whom I have shared my research with I often receive the comment, “I didn’t know you could do that with anthropology!”

Check out my interview in the CBC about Sneakercon and sneaker reselling:

$40K shoes, rare finds draws thousands to Vancouver Sneaker Con, The CBC, February 10. 2019

Check out a Q & A on my research:

What grads do: The fascinating culture and economy of sneakers, The Peak, October 20, 2018

Through my thesis research I…

  • Independently designed a thesis project using the most appropriate theoretical and methodological tools, and qualitative research methods.

  • Conducted over a dozen semi-structured interviews ranging from 15 minutes to 3 hours with key research informants and sneaker retailers from the Metro Vancouver sneaker reselling community.

  • Presented on research as an invited guest lecturer in undergraduate sociology classes and as a finalist competitor in Simon Fraser University's 2018 Three Minute Thesis (3MT) Competition.

  • Conference paper on research findings was presented at the 5th Global Conference on Economic Geography in Cologne, Germany in July 2018.

I was a finalist competitor in Simon Fraser University's Three Minute thesis (3MT) Competition. This is my presentation on "Sneakerheads and Their Practices of Trading" at The Presentation Studio at SFU's Big Data Hub | March, 2018.