About a week ago in my urban crisis class with Brian Purnell, Associate Professor of Africana Studies, we had a lively discussion about “hustling” in “The Wire” a popular TV show based in Baltimore revolving around the narcotics world. Central to this world is “the hustle”—drug users hustling drug sellers by using fake money, drug sellers selling a diluted brand to maximize profit and sellers secretly accumulating their own stash from the supplier’s pot. We came to an understanding that “hustling” is an exploitative practice with the intent to maximize profit, usually with a manipulative undertone. One party discreetly benefits more from an unequal exchange. It was at this time that I thought about a hustle that I was once a part of, one that got people camping out on streets for the supply to be distributed, one that preyed on an almost unwarranted obsession and has a huge return—the fashion hustle. And yes, it was perfectly legal. 

The hustle is founded in the resale market of the fashion industry through big brands with high exclusivity. For example, Supreme, founded in 1994, went from being a skateboard company with a relatively small following to outfitting the biggest stars, from A$AP Rocky to Neil Young. Now that celebrities are wearing it, being “cool” had a marked-up price tag bigger than ever. To have a Supreme hoodie in 2017 means being seen in the same clothes or with the same sense of style as these celebrities, and it is not easy dressing like these celebrities. Supreme’s online store opens occasionally with outfits exclusive to that season, and their stores do not allow cameras. Even if you have the means to afford a piece of cloth with the Supreme logo on it, you need an “in,” either having the time and knowledge to camp out during their exclusive drops at selected stores, knowing someone who has a connection to Supreme or knowing someone that had a lot of Supreme clothing before its popularity. Exclusivity drives this market, and from this comes a new group that flourished: the middleman in the resale market, where the majority of the hustling in the fashion world occurs.

The resale market occurs mostly online, through easily recognizable names like eBay and Craigslist. Other means include social media platforms, like Facebook, Instagram or various blogs online like WordPress. People post a picture of the product, list the selling price and communicate with each other about the exchange online.

Hugh Mo is a prominent fashion icon on campus who runs @_mostyle_, a fashion blog on Instagram with over 11,000 followers. Although Mo wouldn’t call himself a hustler, he does understand the resale market in the fashion industry very well and once profited from it. This past summer, he camped out for a pair of Fear of God jeans, which he purchased for $1,800. Two days later, he resold the jeans for $3,500. 

“Good money is involved, and some items crescendo in value. It’s about predicting the market, like stocks. For example, the first Yeezy 350 low tops, when it first came out, people were not sure if it was worth $400-500 resale price from a $200 retail price. Now they are worth $1,700-$1,800 brand new. If you were smart then, you bought as many pairs then as possible,” explained Mo.

This practice seems simple, enticing and extremely profitable, but there are many barriers to entering this market.

Moe said that to join the market, you either have to have a lot of capital to begin with or you can start by hustling anything you see, starting with socks, newspapers, anything—and build up to sneakers. 

In addition to having the means to join this market, one must have the smarts and knowledge of the market prices in order to avoid being hustled. Not knowing the market price could lead you to overpay for a product. Lack of experience could lead to a faulty purchase, where the product could end up being fake or not showing up in the mail. Sometimes, even some of the more seasoned fashion bloggers get hustled.

Mo has been hustled before, which he said is a necessary learning curve for people starting out in the business. People are intent on making money, and such practice opens doors for the inexperienced to be hustled. Mo said his reputation is worth more than a couple of scams.

Simon Chow is a member of the Class of 2019