The convenience of purchase and ease in which capitalism can occur could be what this generation is best remembered for when the history books of tomorrow are digitized and catalog our ever-growing reliance on services like Google, Amazon, Spotify, Instacart, Washio, Homejoy and Uber. All of these aforementioned services have made everything from laundry to livery much more quaint and created a concierge-style economy where the banality of life can be pawned off on someone willing to treat them like an actual job.
But the willingness to accept that life isn't always full of shortcuts has also created a thriving after-market for sneakers. Specifically, the YEEZY is viewed as the quintessential example of how supply-and-demand can boost prices and create a secondary economy based solely on rabid desire.
Although some making the biggest noise in the after-market space have employed tools like running bots for online-only releases, or have cultivated relationships with retail spaces so that they can skirt "first come, first serve" policies, the vast majority of people making income off shoes are doing it the old-fashioned way; by waiting. And as William Shakespeare once said, "Better three hours too soon than a minute too late."
This very website owes a lot of its success to evolving as the industry has. Whereas a decade ago the coverage had a lot more to do with identifying polarizing releases, our staff now also places a large importance on passing on information about quantity, price, location and availability for releases. A sneaker used to be something you wanted to get. Now, the space has evolved into a sector where sheer desire will leave you in nothing but socks.
For most living in a First-World country, the resale market evokes thoughts of scouring eBay for new YEEZYs and scampers to Goodwill for rare Jordans which has created annual resale revenue of $16 billion USD in the United States alone. Whether new or old, chances are these items are all creature comforts which don't directly impact daily life like other basic needs like food, water, shelter, sanitation, education and healthcare.
It's a major reason why 16-year-old kids like Ben Kapelushnik are being profiled in New York Magazine for their sneaker exploits which are decidedly more lucrative than picking up a paper route like kids of yesteryear did to make a buck. One could even make the argument that "re-seller" is now a term more synonymous with sneaker culture than anything else.
The same can not be said for the role of the "Bachaquero" in Venezuela. As the liaison between the black market and the consumer, their roles have nothing to do with hype and everything to do with daily survival.
The term "bachaquero" derives from the word "bachaco," a large ant common to the Amazon region of South America, who are defined by their hard work and their willingness to carry loads on their backs day and night in order to build their nests.
In the last year alone, the Venezuelan bolivar (currency) has lost 81 percent of its value. That’s more even than the Azerbaijani Manat, the worst-performing official currency in the world.
While many point to Venezuela's slumping oil production - which made over a trillion dollars in oil revenues over the last 17 years - and which has dropped across all regions in the first quarter for the first time since 2008, even those with nothing to do with the energy sector are seeing their businesses being crippled by their inability to satiate even the most basic needs for workers like toilet paper after the factory union began to insist on enforcing an obscure clause in its collective-bargaining agreement requiring the factory’s restrooms to be stocked with toilet paper at all times.
Essentially, factory workers went on strike for basic needs. When the basic needs were met, workers often smuggled toilet paper back home amidst the financial collapse, and then workers would go back on strike.
It may seem Vaudevillian on the surface, but President Nicolas Maduro's struggling economy was ripe for a bachaquero's desire to both be equal parts humanitarian as they are opportunists.
In 2014, Venezuela’s retail toilet tissue market saw an 11% increase in volume terms - illustrating the rise in bulk purchases for re-sale on the black market.
That same "bulk" strategy is being employed by resellers as well.
“I started buying by the hundreds," said Kapelushnik, as it relates to his burgeoning sneaker empire.
Prior to the economic collapse - and when oil production was running smoothly - Maduro actually encouraged bachaquero behavior.
According to the Wall Street Journal, "Venezuela’s leftist government flooded markets with subsidized goods ranging from cooking oil to diapers. It gave citizens in border towns like La Sibucara not only access to cheap supplies, but also a source of income as many people trafficked products—including nearly free gasoline—to neighboring Colombia, drawing handsome profits."
Venezuela's after-market problem stems from an influx of items hitting the market which are all highly-coveted due to the very nature of the products. Although the YEEZY is viewed as a creature comfort, the same problem occurs for consumers.
“Ordinarily when a shoe is selling for thousands of dollars on the secondary market, it’s because it’s very rare, and in the past year, there were 100 or 200 sold,” reveals Josh Luber, CEO of StockX. “For the YEEZYS, there’s literally thousands of pairs being sold on the secondary market, and they’re still selling for thousands of dollars.”
"What makes this whole thing work is that supply is always below demand, and if we start to see demand meet supply, the system is going to crash," noted Matt Powell, sports industry analyst with The NPD Group.
As of May 2016, 70 percent of the Venezuelan population lived in poverty. But instead of outsourcing goods to neighboring countries, bachaqueros saw how the scarcity of food and personal items - coupled with hours of wait time in lines for even the chance to buy something - could be turned into a thriving black market business in their own country.
“It’s not the greatest business but we don’t have work and we have to find a way to eat," a woman from La Sibucara said.
President Nicolas Maduro's economic philosophies mirrored that of former President Hugo Chavez who both believed that all basic needs like food, medicines, car batteries, essential medical services, deodorant, diapers, and, of course, toilet paper, should be affordable. As The Atlantic noted, "but anyone with a basic grasp of economics could have foreseen the consequences: When prices are set below production costs, sellers can’t afford to keep the shelves stocked. Official prices are low, but it’s a mirage: The products have disappeared."
Since there is so much fluctuation in pricing due to the black market and the idea of supply and demand, Time Magazine has called it the "most expensive and one of the cheapest countries in the world" due to the fact that something like take-out noodles can cost either $30 or $3 USD depending on whether you have access to the local currency or U.S. dollars, and a night at a five-star Marriott hotel costs either $700 or $70 USD.
Bachaqueros also see the value in exporting goods to other countries so that they can exchange items for U.S. dollars and return to their country to live a grander lifestyle than they are accustomed to due to the very nature of the currency in their wallets.
As The Week noted, "The black market inflation raises the price of imports for basic goods, which drives the government to clamp down with rationing and price controls, which causes shortages, which drives more people into the black market."
One female bachaquero, who held a steady 9-5 job and enjoyed peripheral activities like going to the movies and bar-hopping described that her 10-person resale ring netted her ten to fifteen thousand bolivars a month, or two to three times her actual salary.
“We’re opportunists. We’re a bunch of usureros. We prey on the needy. We don’t care,” she said, feeling no glimmer of remorse that her top-sellers were often diapers and baby formula.
In an attempt to curb resale endeavors by the bachaqueros, the government adopted a system that required fingerprints - or captahuellas - to ensure that people were only getting items they would use for personal necessity and slightly reminiscent of how brands like Supreme, Nike and adidas have attempted to rally against the use of bots during online sneaker releases where they know that products are being scooped up for aftermarket sale.
But where there is a will, there is a way. Especially in footwear, where the Pirate Black YEEZY Boost 350 have an average resale price of $946 USD, Triple Black 750s average $1,484 USD, and the Turtledove 350 has been $7,700 USD on the aftermarket.
Maduro has deployed the armed forces to stanch the flow of as much as 15% of heavily subsidized Venezuelan food and fuel products to black markets in Colombia, Brazil and Caribbean countries.
"Everything except weapons and illegal drugs is scarce in my country of origin, wrote Rafael Osío Cabrices in the Huffington Post. "Eight out of 10 pharmaceutical drugs are either difficult or impossible to find. Patients are dying because essential medicine is just not there."
In October of 2014, Ecoanalítica, a Venezuelan consulting firm estimated that two thirds of people waiting in line at a supermarket would re-sell the goods in the black market despite President Maduro's attempts at curtailing the practice with fingerprint scans and ID cards.
Bachaqueros have employed practices which include carrying additional ID cards, as well as employing children to wait in line and paying them a daily wage for their time.
With no changes or economic relief in site, Euro Monitor International has stated, "the bachaquero will continue to be the modus vivendi for many Venezuelan families. The supermarket lines will continue to be long, and the shelves empty."