The only thing that smells better than a fresh pair of sneakers is a fresh pair of free sneakers. I know. I’ve gotten dozens of them, and you can too with a little bit of work and know-how. You’ll notice from the byline that I’m writing this anonymously. I know that’s supremely lame, but that’s also how you can tell I’m giving you good info. I’m not willing to blow up my own spot and lose my own free pairs in the future. Truth is, most of the people I’m finessing probably realize it, but even if you’re the “victim” of some of these techniques, it’s possible you may not.
The first thing you have to realize before you even try to score some free kicks is that a pair of sneakers is a commodity. Brands and stores usually sell them for cash, so if you expect to get them without cash, you should be able to provide something they can’t pay for. To get a free pair of shoes you must demonstrate that it’s more valuable for you to have these shoes than it is for the company to keep them or sell them. They have to make a return on the investment.
There are two different kinds of value that you can present: Personal and Professional.
Anyone can bring personal value, but it might take some time. Personal value has to do with the relationship. You have to become friends with the people who give away shoes, whether it’s the marketing department at a brand or store, or the designers who do collaborations in the first place. All of these figures are people, and like any other person, they have friends—most of them, anyway. You can be one of those friends.
The problem is that everyone realizes this is a good way to get free sneakers, so these gatekeepers have people trying to be their friends all the time. You have to prove that you’re not just in it for the shoes, even if you are. Do this by going to events that you know others are going to skip. Bring them personal presents. Wear shoes of theirs that didn’t do very well to prove that you “understand them” in a way that others don’t.
Professional value is easier if you work in footwear or another industry that has commodities or valuable skills. But even if you don’t work in a field like that, there is still hope.
Maybe you work in IT and can help develop an app for “free.” Maybe you're a lawyer that can look over brand contracts for “free.” The key here is to create a situation where they owe you. Then, the easiest way for them to pay you back is going to be with sneakers. Since a brand pays 1/4 of retail price, and a retailer pays 1/2 of retail price, it's cheaper for them to give you shoes than give you cash. In these situations you're starting the quid pro quo–which translates from the Latin “this for that.” For those unfamiliar with the concept, a quid pro quo is when a "gift" is given as a favor with the expectation that it will be repaid in kind. When you accept something in business, it comes with a quid pro quo. The person offering the quid pro quo is buying time in the future, gaining a favor, kind of like prepaying credit. They’re giving you a debt. The person you're offering the favor will know this when they accept it, initiating a quid pro quo. If they're young or new they may not understand it, in which case you're screwed. But you decide if that risk is worth it to you.
The easiest way to convince people you’re worth their free shoes is to be an influencer. Here’s the secret that no one wants to get real with: being an influencer isn't a career. It's not even a job. And it's certainly not a title that anyone should want to adopt. No serious person calls themselves an influencer. If they do, they're trying to hide the fact that they work at Modell’s and live in their mom’s basement. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. At best, you can be a consultant. But if you want to make enough money to buy yourself three square meals every day and pay your rent on time, don’t think that getting your Instagram followers up is going to do it for you. There certainly are people that do this for a living and make a lot of money doing it. But they’re the exceptions that prove the rule. For every person that you follow that has over 100,000 followers, only one out of fifty makes a living utilizing that, and only one out of a dozen of those are doing more than living paycheck to paycheck.
Being an “Influencer” usually comes from another job, be it consulting, designing, or management. And those people are have much more influence in their day jobs than they have with their Instagram followers. Social media is a sounding board for most “influencers,” and that’s why you’ll see posts go up on IG and be deleted: they want to see what people think so they know if people are going to buy it. That saves money on investment. Influencers need your follow more than you need their influence.
If none of these plans work for you, here are a few other ideas, in order of decreasing sliminess: