I arrive at Melbourne's Flinders Lane on Wednesday afternoon to find a crowd of half a dozen sitting outside a shoe store in camping chairs. Whether they get a pair of Kanye West Adidas or not, they'll be here for at least 72 hours until the shoes go on sale Saturday. I watch as another huddle arrive from Brisbane and settle in with more chairs, headphones, and fluffy white doonas to keep them warm. This will be unquestionably gruelling, but no one seems to mind.
Slowly their numbers grow, and the line begins to snake towards Elizabeth Street. Passers-by give them looks, and occasionally someone asks what they're waiting for. For this the boys have got some lines. "Spice Girls tickets," says one. "Uber licenses," quips another. "Free vasectomies," was my favourite. But the real answer is as equally perplexing to most people. Why would anyone camp out three days for sneakers?
Firstly, these sneakers are a big deal. They're the Yeezy Boost 350 black, designed by Kanye West for Adidas, getting a worldwide release on August 22. The 350s in grey came out June and sold out in hours, and the blacks are expected to go even faster. Here in Australia they'd only be available at a few select retailers in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth, and in Melbourne all but two stores opted to raffle off their limited supply of the 350s. So, in an attempt to lengthen their odds, these sneaker obsessives are camping on the street.
But what makes these sneakers so special? "It's a good question man. It's really hard to answer with such little sleep," says Alex, who was first in line. He's been a fanatic since he was 15, and owns 70-80 pairs, but he admits that's just a fraction of what some guys in the line own.
"I just love sneakers, man. I just love everything about them. It becomes an obsession after a while. This release for me is a must-have." They won't be his favourite pair, he says, but they'll definitely a "jewel in the crown".
The reason he's camping out, though, is for the experience. "This is my first camp-out," he says. "We all share the same love for shoes, so the experience probably outweighs getting the sneaker in the end. I mean, that's obviously the goal, but the experience, and working out the line, looking after each other."
If you're wondering what kind of people can spend three days waiting in line, and then drop $260 on a pair of sneakers, it turns out they're not too remarkable in anything but their dedication to shoes. They work, they study, or both. Many have reshuffled work (although they probably didn't tell their bosses the reason) or "gotten sick", while others spend sporadic hours out of the line to hit uni.
Several times during our conversation people come up to Alex and ask if they can leave for a bit. By virtue of being first, Alex has become something of a leader. He's gracious about it and explains that the line polices itself really, but it's also clear he commands a lot of respect. At one point I watch him tell a friend that he'd been out of the line too long, and had lost his spot. But then I wasn't surprised to see this information accepted without argument. "One thing I've loved is seeing everyone getting their heads together," he says. "And the main focus of that has been fairness".
The store, Incu, instituted a policy of no more than two hours out of the line to stop people dumping camp chairs and leaving to wait it out somewhere in relative comfort. Here, and elsewhere in the city, retailers only allow one pair per customer, so with limited sizes there'll be some trading in the coming weeks. Reselling, though, is a dirty word. The general consensus is that only a few hours after the launch there'll be black 350s on eBay running up for as much as $1500, but no one in the line admits they'll flip them for a profit.
By Saturday morning the line has grown to over 50 people, despite the campers telling people that there were only 25-30 pairs in stock. Everyone is standing, laughing, looking through the shop windows. Finally a clerk comes out and whispers to the guy on the door, who then lets in Alex, followed by the next three. Then it's one out, one in. There's nervous chatter as the doorman calls out the remaining sizes. "Who's getting a 10?", "Yep", "Yeah, him too". Riyadh comes out of the store beaming.
"Way better than expected," he says, nursing the box. "Pictures look good, but they look way more amazing in real life." He says he has no intention of reselling, and points out a guy who rocked up this morning offering $2000 cash to anyone for a pair. He hasn't had any takers.
"I didn't camp out three days for 2k," says Riyadh. "I don't need that shit right now."
As the line shuffles forwards there are equal numbers of relieved and agonised faces. Mustafa gets to the front of the line just as the clerk steps back onto the street. "I'm sorry, it's time for the words you've all been dreading" he announces. "We have sold out."
Mustafa, who had driven 10 hours from Adelaide and camped out two nights in a deck chair, looks beyond floored. He says nothing for a long moment until his mouth finally forms the words:
"That was fucking bullshit."
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