Sneaker Con Miami Reveals Swaggy Pre-Teen Economy

The BankUnited Center was packed wall-to-wall with devoted sneakerheads on Saturday afternoon. Middle-aged dudes and middle-school hustlers gathered in the University of Miami's basketball stadium to cop swag while munching on $3.75 Skittles (swag) and sipping on $4.50 Cokes (swag swag.)

Living, breathing children walked around, hoisting Dunks in the air that predated their births. They pumped their unmuscular arms to the beat of "Bugatti," a song that glorifies getting black ed out and waking up in a luxury car with no financial or legal consequences. Blatant and unadulterated consumerism was literally in the air, but there were some base-ground ethics that revolved around respect for product, if not people: The common greeting for bargain-finders was "Can I touch them?" Because the music was so loud, the usual departure was signaled with a grunt or a head shake, which meant the asking price for a certain shoe was higher than what was on the sneaker blogs. Parents stood by, non-plussed, as their pre-pubescent spawn wheeled and dealed and often came out ahead.

But how do kids obtain shoes that are worth the median weekly income of a Floridian family?

Owen Lear, a Bieber-gänger who is "almost 14," came packing an inventory and a posse. He was mostly looking to unload a pair of Nike Air Galaxy Foamposites, sized eight-and-a-half, for some $800 cold cash. "I started with nothing, and I just traded up," he said, as friends Alex Mineo and Connor Ally, both 13, trailed behind obsequiously. "Some kid stole gym shoes and gave them to me because he didn't want to get in trouble." Some negotiations later, most recently involving a pair of Louis Vuitton Dons designed by Kanye West, he's sure that he can draw 20 offers as soon as he walks on the trading floor.

Lear, who exudes the kind of gelled-hair confidence of someone who decides where you can sit at lunch, was offering the kicks for a good price -- he says most go for upwards of $1,000. (In fact, the same shoes were on sale at a booth for $1,500.) The goal was to liquidate inventory. "I'm more into fashion now," he said. "I want to sell these shoes and just get cash." He wore a pair of understated Toms that seemed to separate him from the rest of the crowd; everyone at SneakerCon habitually glanced down at each other's shoes as a way of judgment.

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Allie Conti was a fellow at Miami New Times and a staff writer for New Times Broward-Palm Beach, where her writing won awards from the Florida Press Club and the Society of Professional Journalists. She's now the senior staff writer at Vice and a contributor to the New York Times, New York Magazine, and the Atlantic.

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