Sneaker reseller Thabo Meko on sneaker resale culture in South Africa
Written by HYPE Staff
Photography by Joyce Meko
You hate to love them – sneaker resellers and their high prices. But whatever your feelings about them, you also know they are not going anywhere; rare and sold-out jawns will always be in demand. So, let’s take a moment to examine how they operate.
28-year-old Thabo Meko, from Sebokeng in the Vaal, is relatively new to the sneaker resale scene. He has been doing it since May 2021.
In this interview, he tells us about the ins and outs of sneaker reselling in South Africa, and shares his future plans.
How did you get into the sneaker reselling business?
I used to skate – I skated for like seven years – and the skateboarding culture is all about skate shoes. So, I used to love shoes, but back then I couldn’t afford them. There was a skateboarding magazine that was sold in local shops, and there was a page in there that would show all the different sneaker brands, so I started learning about them. There are certain shoes for which there is no market – they are called “bricks”, because they just stay on the shelf and no one buys them. So, I studied this for like a year before I jumped into it.
You can start by buying one pair, and keep going. When I started, it wasn’t for reselling but rather collecting the shoes with a plan to open a sneaker shop in future. Most of the time, exclusive shoes drop only in Joburg, Cape Town or Durban. So, the local places, the townships, don’t have access to the exclusive shoes.
Where do you buy your shoes? Retailers like Sportscene, Archive and Shelf Life?
Yes, and sometimes I buy internationally online. You need to check customer reviews because shipping can be expensive. If they have bad customer service or bad shipping, it’s a risk and you can lose money. The [challenge with buying online is that] shipping is expensive, which leads to the price shooting up. The shoe may be R2,000, but the shipping could be R1,000. So, when you create your market to sell the shoes, you find that your price becomes high. People should understand, that is why the prices are high.
You can check Court Order, the way they price their stuff. Most of the shoes on Court Order are not owned by Court Order – people take them there for consignment. So, you don’t have to sell directly to people, you can just take them to Court Order for consignment, and then they will sell them for you and give you a certain percentage and keep theirs.
What are some things you didn’t know about reselling before you started? What is crucial to know?
The most crucial thing is the sizes. You must know the sizes and you must know the market. There are specific sizes that people wear – in South Africa, it’s size 8 and upwards. Size 8 sells fast because a lot of people wear size 8, so a shoe that costs you R2,000, you can sell for like R7,000. So, the more perfect the size, the higher the price. And the more exclusive the pair is, the higher the price.
There are pairs that have been out for months that you still have. Can you please explain that?
So, sometimes people buy shoes and then sell them straight after buying, so they do a quick sell because they are scared that the market could go down and the price of the shoe drops and then they’ll lose money. They call it “quick flips” – after buying from the retailer, you quick flip it and make a quick R500 or R1,000 or whatever. And then, there are people like me. I hold it, because often the more you hold it, the more profit you are gonna make.
Do you enter raffles? How are you always able to get hold of drops?
I never win anything on raffles. For the first sneakers I started with, I went to Sandton, to my cousin’s house. We went to Archive in Sandton City at around 2am. They open at around 8am. We went at 2am because you wanna be the first in line and get the right shoes and the right sizes. It was during the hard lockdown when, if police were to find you on the streets at that time, they were gonna fine you or arrest you. When we got there, there were already people there at the mall. They hadn’t gone home from the day before. In sneaker culture, there’s white people and there’s black people. Most resellers are white people. So, when I got there at 2am, I was number 49 in the queue. The security guards know why you are there. Archive and Sportscene were both dropping pairs. The first person in the queue was a white homie with many behind him. So, as a reseller, you usually take a group of friends who will all be buying for you. There may be people who are unemployed and then you employ them, so you help them while you’re making some money also. The news came up fast that Sportscene was dropping too, so I left the line and went to Sportscene. I put my cousin in front of me, so he got the pair that he got, and I also did. I got the Laser Orange Dunks and he got the Panda. That day, I did a quick flip. I sold them because some people came to the mall late – like 6am – and they wouldn’t get shoes at all. So, I did a quick flip on the Nike Panda High. I bought it for R2,000, and sold it for R2,900, so I made R900 profit. Today, they are selling for R4,500. But sometimes, you do a quick flip for cash flow, so you can move to other things.
What “bricks” have you bought?
I have one that I bought online that I haven’t sold to this day. But it’s a dope shoe. It’s a Nike Dunk Low Next Nature and it’s green and orange. It’s a brick for me, but it may not be for somebody else. I think it was the material. It’s a winter shoe and it was summer. You can’t wear it when it’s hot. When it’s cooler, someone will buy it.
So, what are the buying trends like? Which sneakers are in demand?
Dunks, and then Jordans. I had two pairs of the Jordan Low Starfish only. Jordan Ones are also selling. And the wave of the Dunks is not over yet. They keep dropping fire pairs from time to time. When it comes to selling, you can’t just jump on everything, you must know which shoes are the right ones to jump on.
Have you ever been to Sneaker Exchange?
Ja, I started with Sneaker Exchange in 2015. I was checking out shoes, but not really buying them. For me, it was a dope experience because you get to see what’s happening; what the culture is. Most of the shoes that dropped back then, the prices were high. Nike has this thing of dropping a small amount of shoes just to create hype, so the customers keep coming. But, Sneaker Exchange hasn’t happened in a while.
You always talk about your dream of opening a sneaker shop in the Vaal. How far are you with that?
This year, we are going to have a store inside Vaal Mall. It’s something I have been gathering information about to check out the rent and stuff. The information I am getting from the mall is that there are a lot of stores selling shoes, but not the specific shoes that I am selling. But there are shoe stores. So, you have to mix it up with something – maybe you can sell shoes and T-shirts, and some accessories, so you don’t just focus on your shoes. There are things you can also resell, like basketball cards and stickers.
What do you think people don’t understand about sneaker reselling?
The reselling culture isn’t bad. People don’t resell just to make others feel like they can’t afford anything. Most times, if you want to be able to afford something, you can just save for it so that you’ll be able to buy it. So, you don’t have to complain about resellers, because resellers are creating job opportunities for others, and they also have families to feed and lives that they have to maintain.
Thabo Meko is also a mean photographer, follow him on Instagram: @thabo_meko16.
This interview appears in issue 20 of our monthly ezine available for purchase here.