Collecting trainers might have antique purists running for the hills, but after a pair of sold for more than £360,000 plimsolls are where it’s at, writes Paul Fraser
Trainers are now a luxury good; like classic cars, fine wines and memorabilia. They even have their own stock market. In July, Christie’s sold a pair of Nike’s 1972 “Moon” trainers for £361,500, a world record price for a pair of trainers. These are among the earliest shoes the sportswear behemoth ever released. Company co-founder Bill Bowerman famously used a waffle iron to create the innovative rubber tread.
Buyer Miles Nadal said: “I think sneaker culture and collecting trainers is on the verge of a breakout moment.”
Something has changed in the way we think about trainers. I’d like to examine why.
In demand Trainers
Among the most sought after are the 2014 Nike Air Yeezy 2 “Red October”, which can cost north of £5,000, and the 2017 Chanel x Pharrell x Adidas NMD which go for around £6,000. They originally retailed at £200 and just under £1,000, respectively.
Companies often create shoes in collaboration with artists and designers. Rap superstar Kanye West is the brain behind Yeezy. Another of many examples is the Nike Air Jordan 4 Retro, created in collaboration with street artist Kaws and valued at around £1,000. The demand surrounding these collaborations is so high suppliers often sell them using a lottery system.
Anyone who manages to buy a pair of the most in-demand trainers can expect to sell them for several times the price they paid.
They tend to hold their value well provided they remain in unworn condition. Sites like StockX track individual values for different models. The site itself is now worth £826m.
How did the Market for Trainers Emerge?
In 1985, Nike released the Air Jordan, a signature shoe created for basketball legend Michael Jordan. At the time Jordan was a hot young star in his rookie NBA season. He turned out to be a superb bet for Nike, developing into the greatest basketball player of all time.
Sneaker Status Symbol
The release of the Air Jordan changed the market. The “sneaker” ceased to be a utilitarian product and became an object of desire. A status symbol.
So young is the sneaker market that anything before 2001 is deemed vintage (I know). Original, unworn Air Jordans from the 80s are still the most in-demand vintage trainers on the market. They sell for upwards of £4,000, with certain limited edition models reaching up to £21,000.
Part of the reason for the fetishising of the Air Jordan is the market established itself around hip hop culture. That’s why there’s less of an appetite for historic shoes, like Adidas’ “gebruder dasher schuhfabrik” models from the 1920s.
How the Market for Collecting Trainers Grew
The market wouldn’t have grown so big without the internet.
In the past, there was no infrastructure for resale. Sellers now rely on sites like Kixify, StockX and Klekt, where they trade shoes with savvy buyers. Then there’s the whole ecosystem of blogs and Instagram influencer accounts that alert followers to new products and trends.
This should give you a sense of the demographic. Most of these buyers are in their 30s or younger and grew up with the internet.
Collecting Trainers as Memorabilia
Memorabilia is all about symbols and relics. Nowhere is this more acute than in sport. Millions undergo quasireligious experiences in baseball arenas and football stadiums every Saturday.
If we leave trainers behind for a moment, the last few years have seen some remarkable sales. There’s the £266,500 auction of Roger Bannister’s “one minute mile” running shoes. A pair of Puma boots belonging to Pele sold for £15,360 in 2016. And a set of boxing boots Muhammad Ali wore in his Thrilla in Manila fight with Joe Frazier in 1975 achieved £82,700 in 2015.
Jordan is enormously popular among memorabilia collectors too. The Converse he wore in his 1984 Olympic debut sold for £150,000 in 2017. Then there’s the £86,600 paid in 2013 for the Air Jordans he wore in his 1997 “flu game” – where he destroyed rivals Utah Jazz despite being violently ill.
Trainers in the Movies
The iconic Nike Air Mag, created for the Back to the Future film series is a bestseller. A single shoe from the movie sold for £76,000 in 2018. But in 2016 Nike recreated the model for real. It featured all the bells and whistles you see in the movie, including the ability to “selflace”. One pair sold for £165,300.
Reebok followed suit in 2016, with the release of 426 pairs of the Alien Stomper High, as seen in Ridley Scott’s classic sci-fi Alien. They’re much more affordable. You can expect to pay around £1,000 for an original.
How to Collect Trainers without spending a Fortune
It’s still possible to acquire trainers from a favourite sporting star. In fact, you can get a pair of Jordan’s gameworn Jordans for a few hundred pounds, provided they’re not matched to a particular game.
But one of the biggest drivers in the sneaker market is nostalgia. It’s why buyers place such a premium on shoes from their childhood.
My advice is to embrace this. As most buyers are focused on the 1980s and 1990s, why not go back in time even further. You can pick up pristine boxed Nike, Adidas and Converse trainers from the 1970s for less than £400.
When I was younger, there was little that got the blood pumping quite as much as picking out a new set of trainers. Owning a pair you coveted in your youth could be good for the soul.
Why are Trainers Valuable?
They meet the three tenets the collectables industry runs on
But what really makes the trainer market unique is the fact this rarity is usually artificial. Companies often release their products as limited editions. Bloggers hype them up, creating a frenzy among collectors (or “sneakerheads”).
The industry is truly global. You’ll find buyers in Europe, the US and all across Asia. It’s estimated to be worth £78.6bn by 2025.
Paul Fraser is the founder of Paul Fraser Collectibles, for more details visit www.paulfrasercollectibles.com