Back when the sneaker market was less saturated and before the existence of StockX, Goat or Grailed—if one longed for a pair of Retro Jordans, eBay or forums like Niketalk were your best bet. There, collecting sneakers was simply a hobby, shared by insiders selling to one another. As sneakers grew exponentially higher in-demand, a secondary market opened, driven by consumers willing to pay a premium to secure the latest, hottest model. The sneaker market uses scarcity and social media to supercharge the traditional supply-and-demand model, building a reputation of exclusivity and fueling a lucrative resale industry, turning shoe resellers into multi-million dollar companies.
The history of reselling treads all the way back to the roots of sneaker culture in the late 80s. Sneakers have long been released on a ‘drop’ basis in limited quantities and select locations. Streetwear brands like Supreme are credited with popularising drops, but long before streetwear fanatics religiously flocked to Soho on Thursdays, Hiroshi Fujiwara, dubbed the ‘Godfather of Streetwear’, first introduced the concept of releasing items in limited quantities in 1989. Fast forward to 2013, back when Yeezys were still made by Nike and right before sneaker collecting was declared ‘mainstream’, sneakerheads turned to Facebook. Groups like YeezyTalk Worldwide and SneakerMyth became a marketplace for sneaker transactions, where users bought and sold deadstock and pre-loved sneakers, but perhaps most significantly, created communities which discussed what was trending and deemed ‘hype’, aiding in identifying sneakers that would sell well and gain profit.
The emergence of these communities coincided with the growing traction of Instagram—both key factors contributing to the exposure of the sneaker market to the masses and as a result, birthing a new generation of resellers who drive up the prices of much-desired models by selling them on the secondary market. In the last decade, securing a drop became a whole different ballpark. With an increasing number of young entrepreneurs looking for a way to make a quick profit, ‘sneaker bots’ emerged. Programmed to checkout faster than humanly possible (as little as 0.2 seconds), bots are designed to purchase up as many pairs of a shoe as possible during a drop, making it virtually impossible for a regular customer to complete a purchase. Popular bots can cost up to £300, but ironically, are equally as difficult to purchase, reselling up to £4,000. Unless you want to buy a bot yourself, the only alternative way to cop the hottest shoe is through a draw on the SNKRS app (which remains a myth), try your luck in an Offspring raffle, or, to pay a premium.
The momentum of sneaker culture was accelerated by collaborations with luxury fashion designers and celebrities alike—2015 marked the biggest shift in the rise of streetwear, following Kanye’s collaboration with Adidas, the latter became the most popular sneaker brand of the year. Globally, everyone wanted to be part of the exclusive club, and that meant owning a pair of Yeezys. By 2017, every major sportswear label had collaborated with a brand, designer or celebrity associated with streetwear. Adidas collaborated with Raf Simons, and Pharrell, Nike with Comme Des Garcon and Undercover, Reebok with Vetements. The same year, Virgil Abloh partnered with Nike to release the ‘The Ten’, a collection of reworked renditions of beloved silhouettes. The long-anticipated collection had hundreds of sneakerheads queuing in the Selfridges parking lot at 5 am in the pouring rain. The most sought-after model from the collection is the Jordan 1 silhouette, which three years later, resells for £3,960, a price tag which seems steep, but it barely grazes the tip of the iceberg.
The Jordan 1 is often cited as the king of all sneakers. A shoe rich with history, its distinctive silhouette has bridged together cultures of basketball, hip-hop and generations of youths. As the story goes, in 1984, the NBA banned Michael Jordan from wearing his black and red Air Jordan 1s (AJ1s), claiming it violated the league's rule: sneakers must be 51% white and reflect the colours of the team jersey. Reportedly, Jordan was fined $5,000 for every game he played wearing the sneakers. Nike capitalised on the controversy, releasing the colourway, and dubbing it the ‘banned’ edition, although it's more commonly referred to as the ‘breds’. Such controversy built the sort of hype that money couldn't buy—it painted a compelling narrative of a revolutionary sneaker worn by the greatest basketball player of all time. The shoe in question was actually a pair of Nike Air Ships, because the AJ1s weren’t ready by the start of the season. In April 1985, Jordan emerged on the court in his very first pair of AJ1s, the famous ‘Chicago’ colourway, which, unlike the Breds, contained enough white to meet the NBA’s uniform requirements. Earlier this year, the very same pair sold for a record-breaking $560,000 at Sotheby's, making it the most expensive sneakers ever sold. Jordan 1’s have been reimagined and reinvented countless times, notably by the aforementioned Abloh, rapper Travis Scott, stylist Aleali May, and now—luxury fashion house Dior. Perhaps the most highly-anticipated sneaker of the year, the upcoming collaboration has a limited run of only 8,500 pairs, and each pair comes with a hefty price tag of £1,800. Set to launch this summer, the resell price on StockX is already set at £30,450.
The business of reselling is no longer a niche hobby amongst those in the know, it is an investment promising serious financial rewards. Jasmin Miller from GOAT shares “In 2017, our top sellers each sold more than $2 million in sneakers. At the end of 2018, those same top sellers had each sold more than $10 million in sneakers overall. There’s a huge market looking to buy sneakers, and it’s only growing.” The resale market is currently a $24 billion dollar market, a figure predicted to more than double to $51 billion by 2023. The nature of the sneaker trade is comparable to Wall Street—where shoes are a different type of commodity, not unlike stocks and shares in their own respective markets. Popular sneaker resell platform StockX is even designed to replicate the stock market, including current share prices and detailing historical price fluctuations of each shoe. Many resellers fork out on the secondary market and hold on to models for a year before flipping them, due to belief that popular models appreciate over time, and in many cases it’s true—but it’s not always guaranteed. When Yeezy Boost 350’s first hit the market, the shoe sold out in ten seconds and appeared on eBay at five times its retail price, over $1,000. Currently, the same models resell at an average of $700. Like any other investment, sneakers are prone to volatility, susceptible to any changes in supply, demand and taste.
The parallels between the resell market and the stock exchange remain uncanny, where sneaker collectors filling their wardrobes with valuable ‘grails’ are equivalent to brokers hedging their portfolio with various financial instruments. Truth be told, none of us here are market specialists who know when to buy into commodities, ETFs or tech giants shares, but we'd like to believe we are somewhat educated in the fashion market. From our perspective, fashion carries far more of a sentimental value in comparison to market shares, and we most definitely see the worth of pieces like the iconic Air Jordans. So if you want to jump on the collectors side, we would recommend you research your odds prior to that. And if you ever manage to get your hands on those Jordans...can you let us touch them?