2022 Contest

Making Work Visible

City University of New York / Labor Arts

Non-Fiction  Second PlaceRyan Liu General Marketing, Baruch College
Garment worker Sau Kuen Wong, photograph by Bob Gumpertz, 1980s

To Not Ask My Parents

I wanted to purchase what I desired with my own money without seeking my parent’s financial aid. Growing up in a Chinese-immigrant household, my mom always taught me to be frugal and not overspend on unnecessary things. It was difficult to do because all I wanted was to fit in with those around me. In order to do that, I thought I needed materialistic things to create this fake persona of myself. So when I’d go out with friends, I’d always congregate the cluster of red envelopes I’d received from past Chinese-cultural celebrations such as Chinese new year, mid-autumn festival, etc. All that pocket change together would total an absurd amount of money that a twelve-year-old shouldn’t be in possession of. My mom would always be sure to exclaim how I didn’t appreciate the value, the aspect of money, and how I’d realize later on that making money was a difficult process. Though I heard her words and took them to heart, my immature – goofy mind wouldn’t take her words and embrace them. I was stuck in this illusion that my family had enough money to sustain a “rich” life. Partly, due to the fact of how well my parents hid our financial struggles under their sunshine smiles and inspiring moral sit-down talks with me and my sister. It wasn’t until I graduated middle school that my mindset started to shift and realize things for how they were. I took a look around me and noticed the actual life I had been living. I realized my dream. The passionate lifestyle I wanted to live – and explore what it meant to be financially free. I woke up. I started to mature. I understood that the “tomorrow” mindset we often have growing up as kids, thinking we have all the time in the world was outdated – outgrown. I began to view the concept of time as something precious. The content I decided to consume was more filtered and narrow. In other words, whether it came down to social media, disciplinary practices, where I lived, or actual food I consumed. I wanted change in my day-to-day diet.

It all began, my fall semester of high school – a new chapter. The period in my life where my whole world was struck with the vast decision of a career path. I knew going into my freshman year I wanted to leave a legacy for myself. I needed to do something unique that set me apart from the billions of other high schoolers. Since I was always interested in fashion; I heard of the brand ‘Supreme’. I started to learn about secondary markets, resale communities, terminology, etc. Moreover, this aspect of communication building through buyer and seller relations allowed me to break out of my comfort zone. Personally, throughout my life, I was seen as a self-enclosed person who struggled to create social bonds. But regardless, through this new experience of resale I wanted to break this habit of mine.

Originally, the only thing I pursued reselling was Supreme branded products. This was partly due to the fact that I had established a connection with a local shop owner who would always send me drop lists of items she was seeking. While this was a sustained relationship that benefited both parties it was only just the beginning for me. I wanted more. For the next four months of my freshman year, all I did was lock-in and study guides to familiarize myself with the multiple aspects of reselling. This enabled me to develop communication skills and I soon learned about repurposing the social platform known as ‘Discord’, to evolve my knowledge and business within the resale industry.

After joining a paid-premium “reseller’s discord server”, I started to network with those alike who shared the same interests as me within this new discourse community. This server supplied those who were paying members with early-access information, discounts, and special services all related to the collective interest of resale in consumer products. In addition, it was a community where all those with like-minded thoughts could help each other thrive and ultimately build a bond. I was able to meet complete strangers that I now call ‘friends’ through the community we are all a part of. Not only did I create new friendships but it allowed me to find my people. On this vast-open planet, we call ‘Earth’, I learned that there are those who have a similar niche as mine and I was glad I discovered my new home. I soon realized that discourse communities can be embedded into all parts of our lives. For example, within the resale industry, there are multiple “flows” of income sourcing. Whether it’s through sneakers, art, cards, NFTs, branding, etc. what I learned was that even within a discourse community there can be even more specific targeted niches internally.

Subsequently, I discovered that these “resale discords” were also all unique in their own respectable aspects. Since these discord servers varied in terms of pricing and payment the overall quality of these servers were impacted greatly. Common things such as information were seen as “gold”. In other words, the release information of a product– even just a couple of milliseconds earlier than another “premium-paid group” could determine your success factor in making a successful purchase. Which ultimately, dictates whether or not you make/lose money.

Throughout my continuous stay in new and old premium-paid groups; I learned that some people are looked down upon within this community as well. Those who steal and leak information from other groups/servers, flakers, scammers, and those who hold no moral boundaries. What I mean by my last point is that everyone in this discourse community of resale is obviously seeking to make extra income on the side; they’re an entrepreneur generating their own income by establishing LLCs or registering as sole proprietors. Whatever may be the case these are the kind of people who are actively seeking opportunities to make multiple sources of revenue. But in light of that, they let that dictate their moral judgments at times. A prime example of this was when the NBA legend Kobe Bryant was identified to have been in a terrible accident that cost him and his daughter their lives. When the news was spread amongst the sneaker community all the prices on Kobe products shot up. People manipulated the emotional uproar of Kobe’s passing to “beef up” their financial earnings when it came to profiting off his brand. It sparked controversy within the community on social media where one side paid respects to the legend and his family. While the others used it as a business opportunity. Regardless, both sides had their own reasoning behind the meaning of Kobe’s passing. But what this helped me realize is that a lot of people – not just in this community – are just in it for the money. There was no passion or ethic behind their actions. Overall, it led me to recognize what kind of discourse community I associated myself with.

To further discuss my “negative experiences” I’d like to bring you back in time to late February in the year 2020. Rumors have been spreading like wildfire not only in the sneaker community but the whole fashion industry itself. The luxury brand known as “Dior” was collaborating with Nike and Jordan brand to create a “grail” known as the “Dior x Jordan 1 High OG sneakers”. To make things more clear, a grail or “holy grail” in the sneaker community is seen as a pair of shoes that are almost impossible to attain or a pair that holds the utmost significance to you sentimentally. As I mentioned earlier, everyone in this resale community are like-minded people always looking to profit big off the next big dollar opportunity which arises. At the time, the secondary market had sale listings ‘pre-release’ set at $20,000. So the $2,000 retail price of these shoes did not phase any one of us because, in the end, we knew it’d be worth the profit margins.

This brings me to my point on “backdooring”. Essentially, this was a method of attaining sneakers via connection-based relations. In other words, you were able to get your hands on limited sneakers for a “special price” due to knowing someone who works in the backend of inventory within the company. This price would either be below or greater than retail by a small margin. Obviously, just this aspect alone enticed many resellers in the sneaker community because you were ultimately guaranteed a pair of sneakers that would sell for more than what you paid for. It was seen as another method of investing. So when my “premium sneaker discord” was offering a backdoor service on the Air Jordan 1 ‘Diors’, you best believe that I was fighting for an opportunity to attain a backorder. The chance to backorder a pair at the price of $1.5k was such a ‘steal’; a steal is basically an item that’s valued at a higher rate but priced at such a good price point it’s dumb not to buy it. I was ecstatic when I was chosen via raffle draw to gain access to the backorder form – meaning I would soon be in possession of a $2k shoe valued at $20k for the price of only $1.8k after taxes and fees that were paid via money transfers. I remember clearly just how proud and lucky I felt. I thought that this would be “the dawn of a new era”. Once I attain these shoes in hand I’ll sell them and make a small fortune. If you think about it, there aren’t many high school sophomores making five figures so easily. All these thoughts were going through my head; I could finally help my parents or maybe even treat them to dinner, I could cover my own college tuition costs, I could buy all the things I’ve ever wanted, etc. I couldn’t wait for these shoes to arrive and to sell them.

Several weeks go by and these rumors soon become verified and a confirmed drop date of sometime in April would soon ensue. But what was unknown at the time was the mass news outlets announcing another huge COVID-19 case surge. This would prove to delay freight and shipping worldwide ultimately delaying the set release of these grails. Dior came out with a statement announcing that the new release date would be pushed back to June 25th later that year. Communication with the supplier was going smoothly as they mentioned that due to all the complications the world was going through the promised service fulfillment date would also be delayed. Fast-forward to the official release of the shoe, the secondary market starts to shift and balance out to realize the actual price of the shoe which is normal since pre-sales are always inflated. The value of these grail’s concrete around $10-15k. I wasn’t stressed because that was still an insane sum of money for buying and selling a pair of sneakers.

Another couple of weeks passed and the promised service fulfillment date was nearing. Everyone was excited and ready to receive their pairs – already reaching out to potential buyers trying to find the highest bidder. The provider of the backdoor service starts to make announcements stating more delays and issues with his source and all these excuses. Essentially, things started to go south as the fulfillment date was now past due. Everyone began to DM the service provider in hopes of receiving a clear answer on where their shoes were but they just kept receiving vague responses. Four months go by back-and-forth with the provider constantly relaying the same thing – excuse after excuse. We were all fed up and demanded our money back. This was where everything took a turn for the worst. The provider was bombarded with DM’s regarding refunds and some people started to file cases through their banks in hopes of receiving their money back that way. Soon the provider goes ghost. Meaning they completely deleted their online presence. That’s when we knew – we just got scammed.

Around this time was when the older individuals that were members who fell victim to this scheme created a separate discord server; it was dedicated to locating this person we knew as “CoreyJay” online. Mind you, I was around 15 years old when I was a victim of this scam. So I wasn’t really sure what I was doing in regards to legal terms and how to deal with such a situation. But as I mentioned, the “adults” ranging from ages 20-40 created a separate discord server that consisted of not all – but around 50 members that were affected by this scam. Within the server, we essentially tracked down Corey and traced his addresses, phone numbers, family members, and all their sensitive information as well. With respect to keeping his privacy – while he did commit a horrible act, I’ll refrain from using his actual name. After a month of tracking this guy down, we located where he was currently staying by coordinating with family members of his who had no knowledge of the criminal acts Corey was committing. We ended up discovering that Corey was “laying low” by staying at a friend’s house in hopes to dodge any potential threats both legal and physical. One of the older guys in the server realized he actually lives just a couple of minutes away from the address we had on file for Corey’s current residency. So he drove over to confront Corey and demand our money back. After the whole situation went down, the “friend” kept insisting that he wasn’t staying with them and without an official warrant we couldn’t just waltz into the house. Due to the limitations that we had as civilians to deal with this whole situation, we decided it was finally time to bring in authority.

The scam has now been in occurrence for over five months. One night, in November, as we were all discussing how to deal with this situation it dawned upon us that we should consider hiring a PI (Private Investigator) in hopes of finally putting this case to an end. But what we failed to consider was the costly fees in order to hire one. In the end, we compromised that it wasn’t reasonable to invest even more money and resources into a PI after everything we already dug up on the guy. Instead, we decided to file an FBI fraudulent claim case in hopes of taking this situation to the federal level. As I stated earlier I was only fifteen years old at the time so I was a little stressed about this whole situation. What I set out to do in hopes of making a significant financial decision was beginning to bite me in my ass. Regardless, I was ready to do anything to get my money back so I filed an official federal complaint that encompassed the whole situation in a detailed description. A couple of months go by and nothing. There was no response from the local authority or the federal agency. Some of us started to give up and just move on since these unfortunate events just come with working in the industry. In the end, I started to give up and lose hope as well. The bank wouldn’t dispute and reimburse my money even though I paid for the service via credit card and at the time I was overwhelmed with school, my track team, starting a new job, and continuing resale alongside all of that. It was over.

Though this was a woeful experience I wouldn’t change a thing if I were allowed to go back in time. It was these complications and struggles of persistence that shaped me as an individual. I realize that I am more responsible with my spending now and I have achieved the set-out goal of mine; to not ask my parents for financial assistance. I once heard a quote, “There is no mistake in this world. Everything that happens in your life serves a purpose. Whether they’re positive or negative experiences, these all add together to prepare you for YOUR bigger purpose.” Thus, no matter what obstacles may arise or challenges I undergo; at the end of the day, it’s just another stepping stone that’ll contribute to my overall goals and dreams. I would say that by joining this new community of entrepreneurs; I have gone through so much strain both physically and emotionally in regards to scaling a business and practicing self-health. I can confidently state that I see myself as a changed person spiritually due to the process I endured and strived through. I look back nowadays and I am just in awe of what I have accomplished thus far in my life. I can’t wait to do more. The future is unknown and uncertain but that’s what makes it fun.