Moneybox

The Absurd Nike Scandal That Has Sneakerheads Losing Their Minds

Stacks of Nike sneaker boxes
The author’s closet, for full disclosure. Derreck Johnson

According to reports by Cowen Research, the sneaker resale market could reach $30 billion by 2030. “Flipping” sneakers—buying them at retail prices, or below retail prices in some cases, and reselling them at a higher price—has been big business for years. Those willing to put in the time, research, and legwork can see large profits quickly thanks to social media and growing digital marketplaces like StockX and GOAT, which are tailored specifically to the trade.

These schemes naturally attract many young hopefuls. Consider, for instance, 19-year-old entrepreneur Joe Hebert, or “West Coast Joe,” as his sneakerhead buddies almost certainly do not really call him. On Feb. 25, Bloomberg Businessweek published a lush profile on him and his budding sneaker-resale business, West Coast Streetwear. “Anything that’s releasing that I know I can make a guaranteed buck on, I’m gonna go full into,” he told writer Joshua Hunt. “That’s just my style.”

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Hebert’s “style,” it seems, is also talking a lot. Most sneaker flippers do not draw undue attention to their methods, competitive as the market has become. But Hebert’s Instagram flaunts his incredible deadstock hauls, or large quantities of brand-new, unworn footwear. There are piles of Air Jordans, the most popular sneaker to resell—they fetch $50 to $100 each in profit on the low end. There are walls of Adidas Yeezy Boosts, the signature model of soon-to-be-divorced Wyoming resident Kanye West. Hebert poses in many of these shots with his face obscured, suggesting he knew at least a little that this wasn’t the smartest idea.

Nevertheless, Hebert had no problem showing off his craft for Hunt, the reporter. The Bloomberg piece features a lively GIF of Hebert and a crony sloppily loading boxes upon boxes of sneakers and apparel into the back of a U-Haul truck as part of a multistate tour of Nike outlets last year, before he returned to his home state of Oregon, where he rents a warehouse to store his score. He lives in Portland, where Nike and Adidas run their U.S. businesses. “If you know the right people here, this is the city to sell shoes,” he told Bloomberg. “Plugs,” or connections who can assist you in obtaining hard-to-find inventory, are key when it comes to this game. And most savvy, seasoned resellers don’t reveal those sources—ever.

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Hebert, it will soon be clear, is not one of the most savvy, seasoned resellers. You see, at one point, he called Hunt from a phone number “identified as belonging to” Ann Hebert. Hunt looked up the name. It turned out there was an Ann Hebert who had worked for 25 years at Nike, most recently as its vice president and general manager for North America. In showing off, Joe Hebert had also shared his American Express corporate card statement with the reporter; that, too, was in Ann Hebert’s name. As the Bloomberg piece went on:

When I asked Hebert about the connection later that year, he acknowledged that Ann was his mother and said that, while she’d inspired him as a businessperson, she was so high up at Nike as to be removed from what he does, and that he’d never received inside information such as discount codes from her. He insisted, though, that she not be mentioned in the article and cut off contact not long after our conversation.

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The “right people,” huh, Joe?

Sneakerheads did not much notice this incredible self-own at first, but others did. On Monday, Nike announced that Ann Hebert, a 25-year veteran employee, would be “stepping down” from the senior leadership role she held for less than a year. Might that have to do with the fact that West Coast Streetwear’s corporate credit card is in Ann’s name? Or maybe it was Joe Hebert’s Discord group, in which he charged $250 a month for information on “what sneakers would be discounted, when and where the sale would begin, and how many the retailer would have”? It’s unclear to what extent Ann Hebert was directly involved in her son’s lucrative endeavors, but it appears to have been enough to end her Nike career.

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The fallout for Joe has been even more humiliating. Ann’s firing, paired with Bloomberg’s previous reporting, has led all of sneaker culture—from the most casual enthusiasts to diehard sneakerheads—to lose their minds. Joe’s Instagram, with all those cool-kid warehouse shots, has become a site for ritualized dunking on him. “Yo mama should trade u for a pair of Js,” one comment reads. “Goofy got caught up,” another says, appending several cry-laughing emoji. The joy and pain is currently spread across several platforms.

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For its part, Nike has probably grown tired of the drama it has endured in this relatively young year. It was already, for example, dealing with allegations from mid-February that the popular Orlando, Florida–based sneaker boutique Trophy Room was “backdooring”—or secretly selling sneakers above retail price before the official release date—large quantities of very limited-edition Air Jordan 1s. The shoes could only be purchased at that particular boutique.

Trophy Room was founded in 2016 by one Marcus Jordan. He is the second-oldest child of the shoe’s namesake, Michael Jordan.

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