Crazy for sneakers? Tatler explores how collecting sneakers has grown from a niche hobby to a billion dollar industry where it is not uncommon for the world of high-end fashion and streetwear to collide. Plus, the five most expensive sneakers ever.

In just one decade there has been a massive shift in the manner sneakers have been perceived and worn. They are no longer frowned upon when donned in the workplace or even during formal occasions and are worn by the likes Serena Williams, Kylie Jenner, Missy Elliott, Eminem and Justin Timberlake.

“Many people have the perception that the sneaker industry is a niche one. While that used to be true, it is clear to see it is now considered mainstream,” says Richard Xia, founder and CEO of Novelship, an online marketplace for sneakers and streetwear apparel. “We have seen the casualisation of corporate outfits and sneakers have become an ideal choice for footwear in offices.”

“Beyond their practical nature, sneakers have been a status symbol with people willing to shell out thousands of dollars whenever new models are released,” says Jong Wei Wei, brand director of Duke Dinings and ardent sneaker collector.

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Indeed, it is not uncommon to see collaborations between high-fashion brands and sneaker brands. Limited edition sneakers have become highly sought-after fashion objects. High-fashion brands like Balenciaga, Dior, Alexander McQueen and Gucci are releasing their own take on sneakers. Even sportswear brands like Nike and Adidas are creating their own luxury lines of sneakers. To put that into perspective, the global sneaker market was valued at US$79 billion in 2020, and it is projected to grow to US$120 billion by 2026.

Furthermore, the market is growing rapidly in the Asia Pacific region which is witnessing a 10 per cent to 15 per cent Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR). Xia attributes this massive growth trend to the generational shift in the market where young adults, who could not afford luxury items like limited edition sneakers in the past, are now able to due to their higher purchasing power.

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The passion for sneakers in Malaysia is incredibly vibrant and it is home to one of the largest sneaker events in the region, SneakerLAH. In 2019, the event drew more than 33,000 fans over two days. Bryan Chin, the founder of SneakerLAH explains how the initial concept for the event back in 2015 was supposed to be a small community event for fans to buy, sell and trade their sneakers.

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“The huge turnout at the previous SneakerLAH shows how passionate the Malaysian community is. We even managed to attract visitors and sellers from across the region including Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines,” he explains. “There’s no doubt sneakers are trendy, and I believe they are here to stay. If everyone is used to wearing nice, stylish, comfortable sneakers, it is hard to imagine they would go back to a time when formal leather shoes were the norm,” he says.

Though there has never been a better time to be a sneakerhead, the pandemic has changed the way people shop for sneakers. Many have gotten used to buying online through different apps and websites. Novelship, the company founded by Xia and his longtime friend Chris Xue in 2018, grew from a bootstrapped startup to a regional marketplace for all things sneakers with a presence in six markets: Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand and Taiwan. Despite the pandemic, Novelship says it has enjoyed healthy sales for its sneakers and streetwear products.

Another new entrant to the sneaker scene in Malaysia is Urban Wallstreet, an iOS and Android app that functions as a marketplace where buyers and sellers can trade or sell. The app is a collaboration between Bryan Loo, the founder and chief executive officer of Tealive, and Malaysia’s world No 8 badminton shuttler, Lee Zii Jia. Loo explains Urban Wallstreet aims to be a safe middle ground where products being sold can be inspected and authenticated by experts before they are listed, ensuring their authenticity. Even conventions like SneakerLAH are also moving online, building their online platforms and marketplaces for their community to trade and sell their footwear and other goods.

Collecting sneakers used to be a niche hobby but it is now a pastime enjoyed by many. Jong has been collecting sneakers since she was a teen. “I’m opposed to ever owning more sneakers than I can wear although I have amassed a big collection. Though I have plenty of unworn pairs of sneakers, I do my best to break them in before I switch back to my staple white canvas shoes,” she says.

When asked about his history with sneakers, Xia relates how he developed his interest while he was schooling and the Nike Air Force 1 was the one pair of kicks he truly desired. “The Air Force 1 really caught my eye because not only do they look good but they match well with many dress codes. It helps that they are relatively affordable too,” he says.

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According to Chin, brand heritage is very important as well as the story behind the shoe. Equally vital are the materials used and the quantity produced, denoting its status as a limited edition. “A sneaker has to look good when it’s worn. There is no point making the rarest of shoes and it looks ugly,” says Chin who has amassed over 200 pairs of sneakers in his personal collection.

He still recalls his very first pair of sneakers, gifted by his mother on his 21st birthday. “The first pair of sneakers that got me hooked was the New Balance 574 ‘transportation series’, of which there were only 574 pairs in the world,” he remembers fondly. Sometimes, the design does not define the sneaker. Loo admits while there are plenty of beautiful sneakers to choose from, he knows only a few suit him. “I don’t stay in touch with the latest trends but if the sneakers are comfortable and look good, it has a place in my collection.”

I’m not the kind of collector that needs to stay in touch with the latest trends but what guides my buying decision is finding the right pair of sneakers that is both comfortable and fits my personal style.
Bryan Loo

Here are five of the most expensive sneakers ever:

 

1 / 5

Nike Hyperadapt 1.0

Technology and streetwear clash with the Nike HyperAdapt 1.0, a super innovative pair of sneakers created by legendary sneaker designer Tinker Hatfield. These sneakers feature self-lacing technology that electronically adjust themselves to the wearer’s foot. Before Nike released a more “affordable” version of the HyperAdapt, the first model with adaptive lacing was priced at US$720 per pair.

2 / 5

Balenciage X-Pander

Balenciaga is best known for making chunky sneakers trendy and demand for them at the time, went through the roof. Although this phase has long since passed, there are many fans who are loyal to the brand and continue to still rock one of the brand’s most expensive sneakers. Never ones to give up, the French fashion house has its most expensive sneaker to date with the X-PANDER Sneakers. These super chunky pair of kicks certainly make a statement and will set you back US$1,250.

3 / 5

Air Jordan III OG

Another notable pair that has a place in sneaker history, designed by Tinker Hatfield no less, are the ‘White Cement’ sneakers. Released back in 1988, and priced at just US$100 at the time, NBA legend Michael Jordan wore this particular sneaker when he cemented his place in basketball history during the 1988 Slam Dunk contest. These are without a doubt one of the most popular Air Jordan models ever released by Nike that gave a mix of sophistication and style. To feel a bit of basketball history on your feet, you will need to pay US$4,000.

4 / 5

Solid Gold OVO X Air Jordans

Nothing makes a statement than a pair of gold sneakers. While it is perfectly normal to see flashy sneakers worn by rappers who like to show off their riches, these custom Solid Gold OVO x Air Jordans take the cake. These sneakers were first seen in 2016 when award-winning rapper Drake revealed that he spent US$2 million to buy these sneakers designed by Matt Senna. Don’t expect to wear them because these kicks weigh a whopping 22kg and are coated in 24-carat gold.

5 / 5

Nike Air Mag Back To The Future

If you think Nike’s HyperAdapt sneakers were cool, there was a much cooler pair of kicks that was launched back in 2011. These limited-edition sneakers, called the Nike Air Mag, were inspired by the futuristic depiction of shoes in the 1989 sci-fi film Back to the Future Part II. Fittingly, Nike partnered with The Michael J Fox Foundation to auction the sneakers and all proceeds were sent towards the foundation’s Parkinson’s disease research. Nike would later rerelease the Air Mags in 2016 and were promptly snapped up by collectors. They now sell between US$24,000 and US$50,000.

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