The High Stakes Business of Sneaker Collecting

Michael Jordan designed sneakers on display in a glass case at The Jordan Store at 166 Flatbush Avenue, Brooklyn

The Jordan Pop-Up Store at 166 Flatbush Avenue, Brooklyn. Photo: Maxim Pierre | FlickrCC.

Are you obsessed with sneakers? Frank the Butcher, a sneaker designer interviewed in the documentary Sneakerheadz, explains that you’ll know you’ve got a problem when your wife comes home from grocery shopping and there’s no room on the kitchen floor for the bags of groceries because it is covered with shoes.

Diagnosing your own problem with sneakers is really a numbers game. If you own fewer than 100 sneakers, according to observers of sneaker culture, you don’t have a problem. Musician DJ Khaled told Billboard magazine that he had 10,000 sneakers and turned a guest room in his Florida home into a display room for his collection.

You can self-identify as a sneakerhead if your collection ranges from 200 to 5,000 pairs. Collectors often purchase multiple pairs of the same style, following the adage, “One to rock. One to stock.” The stock pair represents a valuable investment and the possibility of resale—for high profit. Sneaker resale is a practice scorned by many in the sneaker community.

Sneakers are a commodity designed for function initially and now, with the rising cultural influence of sports stars, sneakers have eclipsed their primary function and become an economic force representing status and power.

“Jordan brand shoe sales at retail last year in the US were about $2.5 billion. Sneakerheads disdain, for the most part, non-retro Jordan’s. About half of the Jordan sales last year were retro, or about $1.2 billion,” reports Matt Power in Fortune. He goes on to say that “sneakerhead sales were $1.1 billion last year.”

Sneakers are masculine totems. Collecting sneakers is a safe practice for some men who might see a passion for fashion as something less than masculine. Sneakers are safe. Sneakers are objects of beauty. You’re never going to wear the sneakers you collect.

Sneakers have become “objet de vertu.” They’re legitimate items for cultural veneration and are currently being celebrated, and validated, in “The Rise of Sneaker Culture,” a traveling exhibit curated by the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto. A previous generation obsessively collected Fabergé eggs. Today’s sneakerheads are part of that longstanding tradition—connoisseurs of kicks.

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