Pasar Malam For Sneakers

Sneaker Con SEA debuted on our island this past weekend. Exciting, experiential shopping was not the lure

By Shu Xie

They’re here. Finally, we get to see what many consider the OG sneaker fair is about. Sneaker Con is, as one attendee, who was there on both days, told me, “a sneakerhead’s wet dream”. And, as I learned, a messy one. It also drew those not necessarily that rabid about over-priced and over-hyped kicks, but willing to own a pair that would be the envy of the company they keep. This iteration of the acclaimed born-in-the-US event was marketed here as Sneaker Con SEA (SCSEA), and its access to the region was through its debut here on our island. This was a belated affair. It was announced back in 2020 that Sneaker Con was to launch their inaugural show here in June that year, but, due to you-know-what, had to be brought forward to last weekend. When I asked a very young chap wearing a grey Adidas Yeezy Boost 350 V2 if it was worth the wait, he said with smug satisfaction, “better late than never.”

SCSEA was held at Singapore Expo. I did not attend the preview event, nor did I show up on the opening day, or bought VIP tickets (that meant a dedicated “VIP Event Access Lane”). But, I was told later by more than one early visitor that the response was “very good”. I made my appearance rather late—on Sunday afternoon. The attendance was, by then, not as manic as I thought it would be. It was not cheap to visit SCSEA. I paid an incomprehensible S$42 for single-day entry (excluding chargeable fees that I now can’t remember added how much more to the total). If you had wanted to attend both days of the event (why that was necessary, I do not know), the entry price was $75. Tickets were not sold at the venue (that was a bummer). Attendees had to purchase theirs online. A standee with a massive QR code greeted visitors at the entrance should they need quick digital access to a ticket. Despite a steep asking price for the entry ticket, SCSEA did not welcome me like a premium event might have. To me, it was the venue. Singapore Expo is not exactly a posh pit of exhibition space. This had the same atmospheric charm as the once-popular Metro Sale, once also situated in this very hall, if I am not mistaken. And this is surprising when back in 2020, The Business Times reported that Sean Wotherspoon, celebrated as “one of the most famous sneakerheads on the planet”, was to design SCSEA.

A bored boy taking a rest while his companions shopped

The utterly popular Trading Pit area of Sneaker Con

It is large enough a space, for sure, but this exhibition hall (and the others in this massive complex) is just a cavernous, pillar-less selling spot, in which SCSEA had basically plonked itself there. Except for some branding boards, it was essentially an open space for whatever needed to happen, to just happen. This was executed on the cheap. Some participants such as our nation’s pride SBTG had their own reasonably handsome set-up, but for most, it was just lelong wherever you were assigned a zone. Mind you, many of the kicks were not exactly bargains. I reminded myself that they were sneakers on sale, not bespoke leather shoes with lasting stacked heels. Yet, as widely reported, some kicks cost a scary five-figure sum. I couldn’t tell where those were, but I did see a few pairs totally encased and presumed that they were the prohibitively-priced ones. Those that I was willing to pay for (nothing that rare about them) were frustratingly not available in my size. Was I eyeing sneakers that were too common? The situation was more daunting when around me kids—many were really young, including some sellers at the Trading Pit—were shod in expensive collabs that were hard to score, even there at the event. What I was told not to miss was the customised Air Jordan 1 by Jeff Staple (he was there) and Mark Ong (aka Mr Sabotage, who was present too), but I have never loved them Air Jordans.

SCSEA was touted as “The Greatest Sneaker Show on Earth”. I didn’t get the feeling that it was that great. The immensity could be because it looked like the pinnacle of sneaker consumption, rather than mere retail. Sneaker Con, wherever they might be, is essentially a gathering of third-party retailers, indie-vendors, and serious collectors-turn-sellers, all within a setting that is not necessarily experiential retailing. The SEA imprint is similar, but with more of a pasar malam (night market) energy and optics to it. According to their publicity material, SCSEA brought together “150 traders and sneaker collectors from the world over” to this corner of our island. While there were single-brand stands, such as Puma and Crocs (yes, EVA foam footwear, and a non-athletic brand with their boutique-like space for their collab with the American label Salehe Bembury), or indie stockists such as Limited EDT and “Japan’s No. 1 marketplace for limited edition sneakers” SNKR DUNK (they also provided on-site authentication service near the Trading Pit), rather many of the vendors appeared to hawk sneakers part-time. I was drawn to two walls, one featuring Anrealage and the other Facetasm, both from Tokyo. As they flanked the SNKR DUNK booth, I suspected that the latter had brought them in, but with regrettably just T-shirts in limited styles, the offerings were not especially enticing.

One of the most in-demand offerings, the YZY Slide, restocked at Sneaker Con SEA

And, curiously, many non-sneaker brands were conspicuously situated. There was Carlsberg in a massive, eye-catching set-up and just as noticeable, the whiskey brand Monkey Shoulder, even when many attendees appeared to be below 18 years old. Perhaps that was why oat milk brand Oatbedient was there, and Fiji Water too, in case thirsty were those unable to guzzle a lager or a Scotch without staying out of the reach of the law. Early publicity for the event painted the event to be drenched with fun. Ticket seller Sistic described SCSEA as brimming with “hype activities”. I did not spend enough time there to be caught up with what action there was, hyped or not. Frankly, I did not want to stay. Nothing was a pull for me. And the market atmosphere and what seemed like repetitive merchandise, after a while, exhausted the initial interest I had in the event. I had expected more, but, perhaps I had been swayed by the local ‘cons’ here, mainly Street Superior and Culture Cartel—the latter’s last, a well-thought-out event at Scape last December was both a journey of discovery and an enjoyable acquaintance with the burgeoning streetwear community here.

Sneaker Con began life in 2009 in New York City under the stewardship of three sneakerheads Alan and Barris Vinogradov (they’re brothers), and Wu Yu Ming. It is still considered “the largest sneaker event in North America”. And often described as “a gathering of so-called ‘sneakerheads’ hoping to browse, buy and sell pairs of collector shoes”, as Newsweek put it. Alan Vinogradov told The Business Times in 2020 that “the sneaker craze is only just beginning.” Perhaps, for those below 15. I have been wearing sneakers for a good part of my adult life. While I have many—too many—pairs, I do not consider myself a sneakerhead, least of all one who collects or who only goes for the “grails”. As I looked around me in Hall 5 of the Singapore Expo, I noticed that most feet were shod in new shoes, expensive-looking ones, and many that were also sold on the pile-high tables of the Market Place, one of the several zones of Sneaker Con SEA. Nikes dominated, which had a homogenising effect on the event that, by the organiser’s own telling, had “more than 200 international and local renowned brands”. I did notice that Adidas Yeezys, now no longer produced but massively stocked in Adidas warehouses, were not much worn. One stall did have stocks of Yeezys. I asked a chap contemplating a pair if they were still popular. He said, “of course, because now even harder to find.” When I left, I spotted a trio with stacks of boxes of Yeezy Slides. Stupidly, I asked: “Are these legit?” One of them, with a look of disbelief, replied, “For sure. These were bought before the partnership ended.” When I walked away, a kid shyly asked me if they were selling those slides. I told him they were, and his eyes lit. “How much, ah?”

Photos: Zhao Xiangji