NEW YORK, United States — Hot toys are a holiday tradition; every year, at least one doll or gadget sells out by Black Friday, sparking a month-long frenzy by parents who are increasingly desperate not to disappoint their kids on Christmas morning.
But in the age of the drop, when streetwear grails are popping up on holiday wish lists, the days of shivering outside a Toys ‘R’ Us for a Cabbage Patch can seem downright merry. Instead, parents of hypebeasts-in-training must take a crash course in outwitting bots and not getting duped in the resale market to snag that Palace GORE-TEX jacket or “Cactus Jack” Air Jordan 6.
“I took a picture of his Christmas list. The first thing: ‘Jordan 1 Retro High ‘First Class Flight’ size 9.5. And then at the bottom, it says ‘please buy on StockX,’” said Shane Rotkis, whose three teenage sons’ wish lists included plenty of other esoteric product descriptions and instructions to buy used. “I had no idea what they were talking about.”
‘Grail Culture’ Shock
For the apparel industry, the last two months of the year no longer mean guaranteed crowds of holiday shoppers in stores. The rise of e-commerce has hollowed out mall traffic; Americans plan to conduct 59 percent of their holiday spending online this year, compared with 50 percent in 2016, according to Deloitte.
But in one segment of the market — limited-edition streetwear and sneakers — the holidays are still as hot as the Heat Miser, both in stores and online. These customers tend to be young — a survey of Hypebeast readers found 36 percent were age 20 or younger — and more comfortable receiving a pre-owned item as a gift.
“There are fans of these products who really love them, and beg their parents to pay for them,” said Matt Powell, an analyst with the market research firm NPD Group. “Resale sites have made it easier and safer, even in terms of establishing a price.”
Brands and retailers are overhauling their old holiday playbook for this new group of customers.
Hype streetwear is chipping away at gender lines. While girls have traditionally asked for — and received — clothes around the holidays, teen boys are now putting clothes like Patagonia’s Synchilla fleece in line with standbys like gaming consoles. More girls are asking for sneakers as well; over 75 percent of female teens named an athletic shoe brand as their favourite in the footwear category in a survey by Piper Jaffray earlier this year, nearly double the share five years ago.
Streetwear’s year-round release schedule has also changed how the holiday shopping season plays out. With some exceptions —like last December’s Yeezy drops — holidays in the age of hype are more about tracking down what turned heads months earlier, not what hit shelves last week. Rotkis’ sons asked for shoes and a shirt that dropped in September. Ethan Furner, a 17-year-old from Newtown, Pennsylvania, said he asked his mother, Sarah, for Revenge X Storm sneakers that came out in 2017.
“We go to New York every year around Christmas. I’ve stood in line at BAPE, and I’m trying to have a good attitude because my sons look so excited,” said Sarah Furner, who takes her sons Ethan and Nico, 13, by train to see the lights and hit the stores each year. “But I get in there, and it’s like, ‘what are these shirts?’ Why did we need to line up?”
Ethan had an answer ready:
“After Christmas, I see a lot more hyped clothing in school,” he said. “People have more to spend, so that first day, they wear the new thing they got. All of a sudden, they start wearing a crazy new Supreme hoodie all the time and just overdo it.”
Social media has played a big role in turning the walk to class into a #outfitoftheday showcase.
“Gen-Z is a big proponent of Instagram culture,” said Cassandra Napoli, Associate Editor at WGSN. “It allows them to find community, and clothing and sneakers provide that.”
And when the present in the box is meant to leave home and build social networks, authenticity is irreplaceable.
“Gabe got the Dusty Purple Supreme Internationale t-shirt from StockX, and it came with the plastic ‘authentic’ tag,” Rotkis said. “He asked not to take it off until he wore it school because ‘his friends are gonna ask if it’s authentic’ and he needs to be able to show it to them.’”
The Flight Club Before Christmas
Chances are when the Furners were waiting outside BAPE, some of their companions in line were motivated more by the idea of a quick buck than a Merry Christmas. Small-batch drops have fuelled the rapid growth of the streetwear resale market, where sneaker sales alone are projected to grow to $6 billion by 2025, according to Cowen, an investment bank.
Sites like Stadium Goods, StockX and GOAT, rather than Macy’s or big-box stores, are where parents of teenage hypebeasts are learning to find the perfect gift. The resale sites are also adopting Black Friday sales tactics and promotions their brick-and-mortar predecessors.
For the run-up to this year’s Black Friday, GOAT put on a daily trivia game, which included an appearance by legendary Nike designer Tinker Hatfield. Participants could play to earn tickets for a rare sneaker raffle or even win up to $10,000 in store credit. StockX halved seller fees for Cyber Monday while Stadium Goods offered buyers a flat 10 percent off.
“Black Friday has always been a sneaker community event,” said Matt Cohen, vice president of business development and strategy at GOAT Group, parent of GOAT and Flight Club.
The Year Without A Box Logo
The age of hype streetwear has also reshaped one of the season’s more indecorous traditions: the post-holiday rush. Most retailers dread the wave of returns that start pouring in on Christmas Day. For resale sites, it’s like a second holiday, as disappointed teens put their unwanted holiday gifts up for sale.
“We see an increase in traffic on the site,” said Lawrence Schlossman, brand director at Grailed. “We see people re-listing stuff they don’t want from the holidays. Like, ‘thanks, Grandma – now I’m gonna go buy what I really want.”
The rise of resale has also affected another time-tested ritual, the older sibling assist.
“He was really coy about it. It was like, ‘hey, do you know where to get Yeezys?’” said Drew Cardelia, a digital marketing specialist whose younger brother, Patrick, asked for a pair a few years ago.
Its most profound impact may be on the Christmas morning surprise; teen streetwear enthusiasts aren't about to let their parents choose in the moment which items to buy from a drop.
Furner has the Supreme app on her iPhone. On any given Thursday, one of her sons might ask her to try for a specific item with the understanding that if she gets it, they won’t have their gear until Christmas morning.
“I’m sitting there refreshing at 10:59. It’s stressful!” she said. “I don’t understand why he really needs it, but at the same time, my mom didn’t understand why I really needed things. I can embrace that this is how it is today. It matters to me because it matters to him.”