adidas x arizona showed dark side sneaker resale main01 AriZona Iced Tea GOAT Staple Pigeon

The views and opinions expressed in this piece are those solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Highsnobiety as a whole.

Last Thursday, the ugly side of the sneaker world spilled some tea. You know the story by now: sportswear titan adidas and beverage brand-turned-Rihanna influence AriZona linked up for a sneaker collab, and the well-intentioned but gimmicky drop seemed to have all the right ingredients.

Cool shoes? Check. SoHo launch activation? Check. A literal riot that gets shut down by the NYPD? “Pigeon” Dunks but with Three Stripes rather than a check. Mix it all together and you have something that will likely go down in sneaker folklore. But that’s not the full story here.

That crowd of hundreds had gathered for a prospective come-up. The adidas x AriZona sneakers were to be sold for just $0.99, the same price as a can of AriZona iced tea. While most of the world saw a harmless branded tie-in, sneaker culture heard the whistle — and that’s where things got bad.

Resale is a serious, almost professional business. A lot of people do it full-time, paying their bills by flipping sneakers, and brands don’t seem to completely realize this yet. Dealing through channels such as GOAT and StockX has made the entire process transactional and impersonal. You forget you’re dealing with other people until you’re in the streets of SoHo in a dangerous crush of people.

“Hey,” said anyone who’s ever participated in the billion-dollar resale sneaker market, “scoring a pair of these would be essentially pure profit. I should get in line.” Some went as far as “I should wait overnight in a rainstorm to secure a spot in the line.”

Finally, a few decided, “When it becomes clear I won’t score a pair, despite my efforts, I should assault my fellow human.” A 15-year-old boy and a 17-year-old girl were sent to hospital with injuries from assaults that took place in-line. To quote a witness, as reported by Business Insider’s Shoshy Ciment, “This is too much. I can’t be out here, risking my life for a pair of 99-cent sneakers.”

Not some cool adidas x AriZona heaters, just $0.99 sneakers. While most saw a harmless branded tie-in, and AriZona saw its first exciting foray into the world of limited product, sneaker resellers saw an opportunity, and the result was anything but harmless.

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Highsnobiety / Bryan Luna

Following the event, adidas and AriZona offered the following statement: “Both adidas and AriZona are grateful for those who came out and apologize for any inconvenience caused as a result of the shutdown. In an effort to prioritize the safety of fans and consumers, all parties made the decision to close the event with the support of local authorities.”

If you score rare sneakers, you can throw them online and get paid within a day. Brands benefit from sellout hype and others make money from it. For many young people, flipping a pair of sneakers can provide lifestyle-changing cash. Which is why it’s time for brands to start respecting that dynamic and treating customers with greater respect than mere marketing fodder.

adidas x arizona showed dark side sneaker resale AriZona Iced Tea GOAT Staple Pigeon

The dark side of modern sneaker resale is that it’s not really about the shoes anymore. It’s pure, manage-the-margins free-market capitalism. Call it a “hustle” or call it a side gig. It’s about buying low — 99-cent low — and selling high. An AriZona x adidas Yung-1 recently went for $600 on StockX.

With this in mind, if brands want to pull the “get resellers excited” levers through low supply, high demand, first-come, first-serve release methods, they need to respect how big and serious resale is. Hire adequate security. Manage the line with sign-ups. At the very least, maybe show up with some coffee (or iced tea) for the 1 a.m. crew whose dedication you’ll later put in a case study. Creating a situation in which buyers are unsafe is reckless and unprofessional.

Alex Rakestraw is a writer, strategist, and creative based in New York. He covers fashion, footwear, sustainability, and tech.