How Sneakers Have Become More Than Just A Hobby —Plus 5 New Sneaker Releases To Watch Out For
What was once a niche hobby among enthusiasts has grown into a mainstream passion with the potential to reap serious financial rewards
Currently valued at US$2 billion, the global sneaker resale market is expected to triple over the next five years, according to the investment bank Cowen. StockX, an online marketplace central to this booming industry, itself recently hit a US$1 billion valuation. The most profitable sneakers sold there in 2019, the Jordan 5 Retro Trophy Room University Red (F&F), went for an average of more than US$5,200—a premium of about 2,490 per cent. The Jordan 1 Retro High Dior has an average resale price in excess of US$11,300—and it hasn’t even been released yet.
The numbers are indicative of the journey coveted sneakers have taken from a small world of true enthusiasts to the mainstream. “The investment element has always been there as a consequence of the culture,” says Derek Morrison, StockX’s London-based director for Europe. “You would typically try to buy two pairs of the same shoe; the other pair would go up in value and pay for the first. It was passion-led and helped you scale your collection or validate what you were doing. But over the last decade people have realised the economic aspect, beyond passion.”
One Shanghai-based sneaker enthusiast who works at a major sportswear brand notes: “There aren’t many hobbies out there where you can get both the emotional and monetary gains. However, there are a lot of kids entering the game who only look at things from a resale-price perspective, and it detracts from what sneaker culture is really about, which is community, connecting to different people, love of story, love of great product in and of itself. Sometimes I’m in group chats and I can’t tell if they’re talking about stocks or shoes.”
Art On Your Feet
Typically, volume is key to the professional resale game. Even though pros do deal in iconic “hype” pieces, which they might buy for US$150 and then resell for US$1,000, their bread and butter comes from trades that might yield a profit as low as US$10 a pair, says Morrison. “To get that supply, you have to invest a lot of time in relationship building.”
More inspiring is the segment who view sneakers as assets that will appreciate long-term. Morrison likens this group to art collectors, and indeed some of the shoes that have proved most valuable do have artists’ names attached to them, such as the NikeCraft Mars Yard 1.0, created with Tom Sachs. Debuting in 2012 at US$385, it now sells for between 10 and 20 times that amount. The 2.0 iteration, launched at US$200 in 2017, has seen a similar increase in value. Another example is the Future Runner 4D collaboration between Adidas and Daniel Arsham: released at US$450 in 2018, its price has gone up fourfold.
These shoes have the collectability of any other work by the artist “at a lower entry point”, Morrison says. Of course, a shoe doesn’t have to be the work of a fine artist to rise dramatically in value. Neither does it have to be very attractive: in March, a pair of pre-worn Apple sneakers dating back to the early 90s sold at auction through Heritage Auctions as a piece of “urban art” for nearly US$10,000.
All About Stories
That example might be an anomaly, but it illustrates the importance of a story to the value of a product. The story might be a nostalgic one around an athlete or around the mystique of a particular designer, such as Virgil Abloh, whose Off-White sneakers generally appreciate well. It might be around a celebrity collaborator, such as Kanye West for Adidas.
Or it might be down to the shoe’s appropriation by a subculture or validation by a figure from the world of sports or music. As well as designing his own shoes with Nike, Travis Scott might wear a 15-year-old shoe “that goes under the radar at US$500 and suddenly jumps to US$2,000”, notes Morrison. He says materials do play a role in a shoe’s value, but to a lesser degree.
Underpinning everything is scarcity. Luxury sneakers can appreciate as dramatically as more affordable releases from mainstream brands, but in order for that to happen, their supply must be genuinely limited. A lot of luxury brand pricing is built on perceived—not real—scarcity. “You have to consider what is actual scarcity,” Morrison says. He adds that if a new release doesn’t sell out immediately, it will impact long-term appreciation as an investment.
The business of investing could be set to become more complex due to growing hype fatigue. Morrison envisions a “post-hype”, more fragmented era for sneakers. He compares it to hip-hop: when it became mainstream, it attracted more people, who in turn were inspired to look within the genre for something deeper.
When The Hype Dies Down
“Now if you look at it, it’s a universe, it’s not one type of music, and I see sneakers going the same way,” says Morrison. “People come in through hype, then think: what’s the history of basketball, of running? There are all these different designers and cultural avenues to go down. People are saying: I don’t want hype; now I want to find those gems, the back-catalogue items. It’ll cluster into different segments just as music has done. You need to hit a certain scale of audience for that to happen.”
The Shanghai-based collector sees “more people trading and curating their collection and moving from one shoe to another. Space is still limited for everyone, so it’s hard to maintain so many shoes,” he notes. “There will be a lot of people keeping some grails for themselves and moving in and out of newer sneakers with a constant stream of cash flow.”
As a pure investment vehicle, he sees sneakers evolving in the same way as financial instruments or other collectibles do: as “complex products to invest in and get a part of the action without ever having the product”.
See also: Jimmy Choo Launches The Diamond Sneaker
Scroll down to see discover the most anticipated sneaker releases:
Air Jordan 1 High OG Dior
Perhaps the most eagerly awaited sneakers of the year, with a run of just 8,500. Underscoring just how far sneaker culture has come over the past decade, the Air Dior might come to be seen as the peak of the relationship between mainstream sneakers and luxury. “It’s one of the rare triple crown winners, where it’s functional, fashionable and nostalgic at the same time,” says Tony Poon, a sneaker collector in Hong Kong. “The hardest part about owning a pair will be deciding whether to wear them or not.”
Nike Air Zoom Alphafly Next%
A version of the shoe that helped Eliud Kipchoge run a marathon in under two hours is due for public release in the summer. Promising an astounding level of technology, the shoe’s appeal is enhanced by the tension between purists who accuse it of giving runners an unfair advantage and Nike's positioning of it as a game-changer. Of course, running a long-distance race will be the last thing collectors intend to do in them.
Off-White x Air Jordan 5 “Sail”
A release date has not been confirmed for this shoe, which among other models released this year would mark the Air Jordan 5’s 30th anniversary. Off-White CEO Virgil Abloh’s collaboration with Nike began in 2017. Under the theme The Ten, Abloh has set about deconstructing what he deems to be Nike’s most iconic silhouettes. The shoes are typically highly sought after, and the Jordan 5 Retro Off-White Black, which was released earlier this year, is currently reselling at between approximately US$500 and US$700.
Adidas Yeezy Foam Runner
This highly unusual Kanye West shoe is formed from sculpted foam and is expected to come in an assortment of red, black, beige and white colourways. Its price tag is expected to be about US$75. Release timing is unconfirmed.
Shawn Stussy x Dior B23 High Top
A hardcore original Stüssy enthusiast, Dior’s artistic director Kim Jones drew legendary Californian designer Shawn Stussy out of retirement for an ambitious collaboration not limited to sneakers. The shoes feature Stussy’s instantly recognisable handwritten script and floral illustrations on one side, and the Dior monogram on the other. The shoe is expected to be part of Dior’s autumn-winter collection.