The sneaker aftermarket is an interesting place. Each year, billions of dollars worth of aftermarket shoes shoes exchange hands in a frenzy of bidding, bribing, backdooring, and botting. Said market, which many attempt to streamline and de-stigmatize, remains a black box. Individuals spend hundreds of dollars to reach into said black box and pull out a desirable pair of shoes at the hands of a sneaker reseller. More often than is acceptable the customer pulls out a pair of shoes that doesn’t meet expectations. Generally the shoes are inauthentic, backdoored, botted, or not as described.

Lack of Trust in the Sneaker Aftermarket

The market is polarized. There are two parties. Sneaker landlords, and those who line their pockets paying excessive amounts for shoes. Sneaker resellers and everyone else. The brittle thread holding this one-sided relationship together is a simple concept – trust. How is one sure that their local sneaker consignment shop is selling authentic shoes? Can one trust that their shoes were originally purchased by a sneaker reseller using bots? How is one sure that the insane aftermarket prices aren’t under the control of backdoor buyers who need to sell their pairs at such a premium to justify their investment? The answer to all of these questions is the same – trust.

Recently, a notable sneaker reseller, Zadeh Kicks, snapped that brittle thread of trust. The result of that breach exposed details of an unfortunate reality – just how much sneaker resellers profiteer from our genuine passion for sneakers. 

How Zadeh Kicks Lured People In

Zadeh Kicks, the company owned by Michael Malekzadeh, supplied aftermarket sneakers which worked on the model of pre-orders. The concept of attracting business was simple. First, create a pre-order purchase opportunity for an upcoming desirable sneaker priced under the anticipated resale price. Next, draw a large sum of pre-orders from this attractive pricing. Finally, ship the shoes. Dunks, Yeezys, Jordans, and more could be guaranteed to you without having to stress on release day. This model works under the condition that Zadeh Kicks is able to secure large quantities of very desirable releases. No one fully knew the means by which Michael Malekzadeh did this. In the Wild West that is the sneaker aftermarket, sometimes it’s best not to ask questions.

Zadeh Kicks grew into somewhat of a household name in the sneaker community. He even gained a six-figure follower count on Instagram. Many would wonder, however, what happens if Zadeh Kicks takes more pre-orders than they could secure pairs for?

Hints of Trouble

On some instances, customers would complain of long waits to receive shoes that had pre-ordered from Zadeh Kicks. Some alleged on social media that Zadeh Kicks would offer them refunds, gift cards, or other incentives as a means of apology for a shoe he wasn’t able to secure. Most of these promises, however, reportedly fell flat. Through the scattered negative feedback, Malekzadeh’s company withheld followers and maintained a generally good public perception. More importantly, he made money. In an American Express credit card application filed in 2021, Malekzadeh claimed that Zadeh Kicks’ profits eclipsed $17 million from sales greater than $340 million. The Jenga tower of Zadeh Kicks managed to stay in-tact.

Zadeh Kicks Abusing Our Trust

Dodging large-scale negative feedback for the better part of its lifetime, Zadeh Kicks lost control of its unstable business model in Fall of 2021.Jordan Brand announced a highly anticipated re-release of the Air Jordan 11 “Cool Grey” for December 2021. Beforehand, many turned to the seemingly trustworthy sneaker reseller to secure their pair through a pre-order. Zadeh Kicks offered a fantastic price for a pre-order of the shoes, $115-200 a pair. Many understandably saw this price as too good to be true considering the retail price of the Cool Grey 11s is $225. Zadeh Kicks received orders for over 600,000 pairs totaling over $70 million. The release date of the shoes came and went, and thousands were yet to see their pairs arrive at their doorsteps. Come spring of 2022, with pairs still not mailed out, consumers took to the government for answers launching a federal investigation to find them. 

The Investigation

The results of the federal investigation were astounding. In regards to the Cool Grey 11 release, reports found that Zadeh Kicks only secured about 6,000 pairs, a mere one percent of the accepted pre-orders. In cooperation with the FBI, Malekzadeh relinquished control of his company to them. Amidst their searches they found over 60,000 pairs of sneakers across his properties and $6.1 million in a bank account. Also, throughout his decade of business, Malekzadeh allegedly spent earnings from his pre-orders – many, we can assume, went unfulfilled – on high end cars and other luxury goods. His garage allegedly housed cars made by Bentley, Ferrari, and Lamborghini. Additionally, he spent over $3 million just with Louis Vuitton. 

Now, Malekzadeh and his fiancé, Bethany Mockerman, are facing charges of wire fraud, conspiracy to commit bank fraud, and money laundering. 

How Much More Corruption Is Out There?

This is just one example of the dark underbelly of the sneaker resale market. While many casually resell a sneaker or two for quick profit, there is a large aspect of this market that isn’t so pure of intent. What shady dealings are done to funnel shoes out of your hands and into theirs? How many are working with counterfeiters to make a dishonest profit at your expense? How do famous sneaker resellers sit in rooms full of hundreds of pairs of the most desirable sneakers while you inevitably are unable to buy just one? As made evident by the Zadeh Kicks proceedings, the answers to these questions have the potential to be quite lamentable. For now, all we can do is wonder.

Cover photo by Mick Haupt on Unsplash