The World’s Biggest Nation Demands More and Better Sneakers

China is quickly becoming a sneaker-obsessed nation. But Chinese aren’t looking for just any old pair of shoes – they’re specifically looking for American sports brands like Nike, Adidas, and Air Jordan. An example of how ripe the Chinese market is for sneakers came with the release of the SoleFly x Air Jordan 1. Expected to be a small release, on 223 pairs of this high top sneaker were made for sale. However, soon after the drop, the shoe’s value on the Chinese market soared up by an astounding 6,600%. At its peak, this shoe was valued in China for 75,999 yuan, which is about $10, 730!

The demand for American shoes has contributed to a growing market of online sneaker salespeople. The popularity of online marketplaces like TaoBao and JingDong have made in incredibly easy for individual people to make a profit through e-commerce outlets. Since sneakers are such a high-demand item, there are thousands of yuan to be made for those who can get their hands on pairs of American sneakers. Chinese entrepreneurs have begun spending upwards of 200,000 yuan a year in purchases of limited edition American brand sneakers. However, coveted lines like Yeezy or Air Jordan can bring in a return of as much as 100,000 yuan for just one sale.  

This sneaker mania hasn’t escaped the attention of American or Chinese sneaker companies and distributors, who are still working on how best to capitalize on this huge potential marketplace. Most of the shoes in demand from Chinese consumers are basketball shoes, which isn’t surprising, given China’s deep love for the sport. The recent NBA scandal over the Hong Kong protests has done nothing to curb the Chinese appetite for basketball shoes, nor has the current trade war with the United States. The love of sneakers, it seems, is beyond politics or economics, and savvy Chinese entrepreneurs have used technology to make astounding amounts of money off of it. 

Nike, Adidas, and other big-name shoe brands have thousands of outlets in China. So why is the reseller market so popular? There are a few reasons for this, that both Chinese and American businesses have yet to work out. The first is that limited edition shoes are rarely dropped in China. While Chinese outlets carry the major releases, exclusive drops are… well, exclusive, and typically reserved for North American and European markets. So if a Chinese national is able to get their hands on a pair of limited edition Jordans or Yeezys, they can offer something that no one else in China has, and that exponentially drives up the value of the shoes. 

Another problem facing Chinese sneaker consumers is that foreign brand sneakers are rarely available on Chinese ecommerce marketplaces. So while Americans can enjoy browsing Nike sneakers on Amazon, Chinese are rarely able to find the shoes they want on TaoBao. Again, this is where the individual seller finds a valuable niche. Just like Amazon, E-Bay, or other internet marketplaces, Chinese ecommerce apps also allow individuals to sell product. If in an individual can get their hands on a limited edition foreign sneaker, they can advertise it in places they know the average Chinese consumer will be browsing. Once again, this drives up the value of the shoe, because it makes it available to people who might not be able to access it through more official channels.  

Finally, while it’s a stereotype that Chinese men are built small, it’s a stereotype that does carry with it a grain of truth. Limited edition sneaker releases that do make to China are first released in American or European sizes, which are often way too big for the average Chinese. This leaves many Chinese hoping in vain that the shoes will be re-released in China, so that they can buy them in the appropriate sizes. Online entrepreneurs, on the other hand, will make sure to buy limited edition sneakers in sizes that would be considered “small” in America. When the shoes drop in China, they have their hands on the only shoes that will realistically fit the feet of many Chinese men.