Meet the man who has made swapping sneakers a big event

Story highlights

  • Sneaker Exchange is an event for buying and selling sneakers
  • Th event offers South African brands and artists the chance to reach a wider audience

(CNN)For the past three years, a one day event in South Africa has drawn in thousands of shoe lovers in pursuit of one thing: the perfect sneakers.

The Sneaker Exchange, the creation of 23-year-old Zaid Osman where people buy and sell their own footwear, was initially started to help Osman fund his start up. "I started the event to get rid of my personal sneakers and to inject money into my sneaker store 'Lost Property'," he says.

    yeezy kinda day

    A photo posted by Zaid Osman (@zaid_osman) on

    The young entrepreneur's business came about after living abroad while growing up. Born in South Africa, he moved to Richmond, Virginia, at four, before moving back to South Africa at 15. "When I moved back, there were a lot of sneakers that would sell out instantly in the U.S., and were simply sitting on shelves here.
    "So I started to buy them and sell them back to my friends in the U.S.. Sneakers like the Nike Air Yeezy 1, Air Jordan CDP and so many other rare sneakers would not sell in South Africa."

    From hobby to business

    The Sneaker Exchange events, which also feature live music, have grown from Osman's hobby into a viable business. Vendors pay to be part of the event, and guests are charged an entrance fee of about $5 (R60).

    s/o jhb! #sxcjhb

    A photo posted by Zaid Osman (@zaid_osman) on

    The first event started at a coffee shop in Woodstock, Cape Town, with about 80 people. The event now draws in over 2,000.
    Working with his business partner Tebogo Mogola, Osman says he's created an event where people meet like-minded revellers. "It's very energetic. There's really not any other event like it in the country," says Osman. "You have kids, families, young and old, of all races and social standings coming to the event for the love of sneakers.
    "No one has egos, everyone is at the event to enjoy themselves and to interact first hand with the sneaker culture."

    What exactly is sneaker culture?

    The High Museum of Art told the story of the rise of sneaker culture at an exhibition earlier this year, tracing the running shoe back to its mid-19th century origins.
    But today, sneaker culture is more about fashion than sport, with Adidas announcing its biggest ever partnership with a non-athlete, recording artist turned fashion designer Kanye West, earlier this year.
    "[Sneaker culture is] everywhere, and everywhere is different. Sneakers know no color, race or creed -- all individuals from different walks of life can come together for their mutual love of sneakers."
    Osman sees Sneaker Exchange as more than just a place to buy shoes, he sees it as a platform for budding talent.
    "It's the only event which serves as a stepping stone for young and upcoming brands and artists to showcase their potential."

    for the culture. #sxcjhb 📸 : @iampaulward

    A photo posted by Zaid Osman (@zaid_osman) on

    South Africa's sneaker scene

    Sneaker culture in South Africa is different to other parts of the world, but it's gaining its own identity, says Osman.
    "Some of the brands just went to London with Merge ZA (a traveling group of South African designers), this is exactly what we need to get sneaker culture in South Africa to the next level. It's all about showcasing ourselves, and collaborating with the international culture."
    Osman tries to support South African sneaker culture through his store Lost Property. Started in his parent's house in 2010, he now sells international and local brands via a physical store in Cape Town and online.
    Lost Property was founded before Sneaker Exchange, and started as the hub for sourcing limited edition products for customers in South Africa.
    "Eventually, I needed to move the operation out from my parents' house and find a physical space. Brands then started to realize what we were doing and offered us premium products to sell," he said.
    The next Sneaker Exchange event is on October 29 in Cape Town, South Africa.