HERE’S HOW TO MAKE SURE YOUR NEXT PAIR OF KICKS IS A SLAM DUNK
By Barbara Tunick
Once relegated to the gym and your favorite sports teams, sneakers have long since transcended their original purpose and have found an essential place in the diverse worlds of fashion, music, urban art and the consumer market. And now they are also taking their place as the coolest member of the lucrative resale market. The growing number of sneaker enthusiasts – or sneakerheads – who collect and trade them, combined with numerous social media accounts specifically designed to analyze sneakers as investment opportunities, have helped secure skyrocketing prices and investment status. Indeed, a recent study found that the U.S. sneaker resale market generated $2 billion in 2019 and is expected to top $30 billion by 2030.
“The really cool thing about sneakers is they cross over into so many different areas of interest,” says Arman Salemi, Consignment Director for Heritage Auctions’ new Sneakers division. “Collectible sneakers cross paths with so much of today’s pop culture. The market has exploded, and I expect it to just keep growing. People are beginning to value sneakers as an alternative investment. It’s not uncommon for sneakers to resell for five and close to six figures.”
Exclusivity Is King
There are multiple factors that make sneakers collectible, but perhaps the most important is their exclusivity. When you’re considering bidding on or buying a pair of sneakers, Salemi suggests trying to determine how many pairs were originally made. “Look for unreleased colorways and promotional releases where only a limited number of pairs were manufactured. The fewer pairs for a really popular model drive up the demand and the value,” he says.
For instance, the Nike SB Dunk Low Paris offered in Heritage’s December 13 Sneakers auction is one of the rarest, most desirable and valuable pairs of sneakers ever created. With only about 200 pairs exclusively released in Paris as part of Nike’s traveling White Dunk Exhibition in 2003, they feature the artwork of French painter Bernard Buffet. Since the upper part is created by using different sections of the artwork-inspired canvas, no two pair of sneakers are alike.
Collaboration Is Essential
When it comes to determining the value and desirability of a pair of sneakers, collaboration is another key factor. The popularity of the collaborator – whether artist, musician or sports personality – helps drive up the demand and value. “Since sneakers cut through so many different avenues of sports and entertainment, plus the fact that everything is posted on social media, certain collaborations are much more sought after than others. Right now, rappers such as Travis Scott’s and Drake’s Nike collaborations are all trending,” Salemi says. The popularity of such diverse collaborations also helps explain why the lines are blurred when trying to pinpoint potential collectors. “Practically anyone can become a sneaker collector,” Salemi says. “If you already love sports or music or art, then there’s a place for you when it comes to collecting sneakers.”
A Matter of Condition
Unlike the world of sports memorabilia, where game-worn sneakers are a hot commodity, the value of collectible sneakers is determined by the condition of the shoes. “In order for sneakers to hold and increase their value, they have to be in new or almost new condition, showing very few flaws,” Salemi explains. In July 2022, Heritage Auctions sold a pair of Original Unused Nike Air Jordan “Breds” for $16,250. The sneakers came with the original Jumpman string tag, in the original Nike box with a clearance tag of $34.90 (marked down from $49.90) from Foot Locker. When the original Air Jordans were released in 1985, no one realized it was the beginning of the most significant sneaker collaboration of all time. Ironically, while many pairs ended up on clearance racks, those same sneakers today are valued between $14,000 and $20,000.
And it doesn’t matter if you can’t find your size, because according to Salemi, most collectors have no intention of wearing their investments on their feet. “Size doesn’t matter because if they’re going to collect them as an investment, they’re either stored away, displayed or will be flipped later on,” he says. Accordingly, if you’re buying sneakers as an investment and are tempted to wear them, Salemi says just don’t do it.
“I once had a client who bought an older pair of patent leather Bathing Ape or Bapesta sneakers that were very fragile,” he says. “Even though I told him not to wear them, he did, and they fell apart. That’s because some vintage sneakers, especially the ones made from patent leather, will crack and peel if you wear them. And not all sneaker soles were made of rubber. Fifteen years out, they can shatter.”
Love ’em or Leave ’em
The popularity of sneakers has grown in large part, Salemi says, because in recent years, the market for collectible sneakers has changed, as has manufacturers’ marketing campaigns on social media. “While Nike, Adidas and others seem to drop new releases almost weekly, the exclusivity of some of the sneakers – the limited quantity produced, especially with certain colorways or collaborations – creates a frenzy,” he says.
In the past, these releases were not widely known or talked about, but today, since everything is online, there’s a cultivated demand for sneakers, especially the rare ones. “While people have been buying and wearing sneakers as a form of personal expression for decades, they’ve finally realized that sneakers aren’t only cool,” he says. “They’re not only another form of art, but they have genuine value.”
Nonetheless, Salemi says the most important rule when collecting sneakers is to buy what you love: “Yes, do the research. Check out the past released colorways for the particular sneaker that you’re interested in. But, mostly, I hope when people collect sneakers, they appreciate the shoes for what they are and buy the ones that genuinely appeal to them.”
BARBARA TUNICK is a contributor to Intelligent Collector.