Five years ago, Jordan Michael Geller opened a Las Vegas ‘Shoezeum’ to showcase his 2,500-plus pairs of Nike trainers. Among his collection, the vast majority of which had never been worn, were the company’s first prototypes and some game-used – and signed – examples from basketball legends Michael Jordan and LeBron James. In 2013, Geller was inducted into the Guinness World Record Books as the world’s biggest ‘sneakerhead’.
Hollywood actor mark Whalberg is a known sneakerhead, and though his 130-plus collection falls far short in terms of numbers to that that of Geller’s at its peak (Geller has since sold his sneakers off), it is said to be worth in excess of US$100,000 thanks to a handful of rare and unreleased designs including some Eminem x Carhartt x Air Jordan IV kicks valued at nearly US$23,000.
When Kanye West, in collaboration with Adidas, released his latest limited trainers last year many queued for days to bag them. Only 33 pairs were on sale in one Auckland store, with another 24 released in Wellington. A pair of the $300 shoes were later offered on TradeMe with a whopping ‘buy-now’ value of $1,200. I caught up with collector Adrian Daniel, founder of the My Wife and Kicks blog, to see just what it is that makes these aficionados tick.
Born in Cape Town 27 years ago, Adrian moved to New Zealand when he was 15. After completing a degree in commerce at Auckland University, he discovered a passion for working with young people and now lives in Whangarei where he is a youth pastor for his local church. I begin by asking Adrian why collecting sneakers is so addictive, and what, exactly, people get out of it.
“Personally I wouldn’t call it an addiction but for some that may be pretty accurate,” he says. “Then again, for the majority of the population, having more than fifty pairs of shoes, several of which you haven’t worn, would probably not be considered normal! I guess where it gets addictive is that there is always another pair to get, whether it be the latest release, an old release you missed or even a sample pair that was never sold to the public. It’s impossible to have every pair you want so you either come to terms with that or you just keep hunting and buying.”
Adrian only collects New Balance shoes. “I love that they value quality and craftsmanship so highly and the fact that they are the only major footwear manufacturer to produce Made in USA and Made in England sneakers speaks volumes,” he says. “My favourite silhouettes are from the late 80s, as that era of running produced some great simple designs.” Many, adds Adrian, mistake New Balance as an ‘old man’ shoe, but they are in fact among some of the most exclusive sneakers in New Zealand: “We don’t get many pairs here, especially of the Made in USA kind, and when we do they are very limited, so it doesn’t make them easy to get but that’s all part of the fun. I have also met and talked to many of the company’s employees, not only in NZ, but around the world, and all seem to carry the same culture. There is just a down to earth nature and authenticity to them all.”
Is it typical for collectors to stick to one brand?
“Yes and no. There are a lot of die hard fans of the Jordan brand, Nike, Adidas and of course New Balance. If you look hard enough you will find dedicated fans of every sneaker manufacturer, although they might not all be on social media.”
Social media must be a great way to connect with fellow enthusiasts. Is there a sneaker community?
“There is a massive sneaker community and a growing community locally. Social media and the internet has changed the face of sneaker-collecting massively, where in past times you would have to travel to get an exclusive that released in a different city or country now everything is just a click away. Aftermarket buying and selling is now mainly done through Facebook groups and Instagram so it’s easy enough to get a sneaker that didn’t release here – so long as you are willing to pay an inflated price. We have a growing community in NZ, with various events being hosted by Loaded and Pac Heat of which I was fortunate enough to do a display at their last event. There is also a large Kiwi presence online with the leading group being Sole Central on Facebook.”
The community, continues Adrian, is one of the coolest things about collecting. He tells me there is no typical sneaker collector – he dislikes the term ‘sneakerhead’ – and many that do wouldn’t even want to be called collectors, either. “Sneaker collectors vary drastically, from their fashion sense to their preferred brands or even to the style of shoes they actually wear,” he says. “Within that someone may have an affinity with a player, celebrity or certain model that they collect, or some people may collect original releases from the 80s or 90s. It’s almost like your sneaker collection is an extension of your personality, of your interests, and of who you are.”
Is there a ‘holy grail’ of the sneaker-collecting world?
“The word ‘grail’ is thrown around a lot but there isn’t one sneaker that everyone would consider that to be. A sneaker has value because someone values it. The more sneakers you have or the more exclusive, I should say, your collection is, the harder your grail will be to find and the more money you would have to pay to get it. There are several pairs I would love to have but would be near impossible to find or really expensive. There are several older NB collaborations that will cost me over $1000 simply because there were in cases with less than a hundred produced worldwide so the demand for them is so high.”
Last November, Newsday ran an article discussing the dark side of sneaker culture, referencing the countless sneaker muggings and even deaths that have resulted, such is the desperation to possess a pair of the latest must-haves. The film Sneakerheadz, which examines this ever-expanding community, also touches on the crime angle, using the example of 22-year-old Joshua Woods who was gunned down in Houston for his pair of Air Jordans. “I’m distressed by the violence that occurs,” co-director David T Friendly tells the LA Times, “and I do hope this film will encourage companies to be smarter about their releases.” Friendly estimates sneaker-envy to be responsible for up to 2,000 deaths per year. Woods’ mother went on to found the non-profit organisation Life Over Fashion to raise awareness of crimes over material stuff.
“We have seen some crazy hype for certain sneaker releases but fortunately not the sort of violence like you hear about in the US,” says Adrian. “There have been times when I’ve been obsessing over the next sneaker but I have learnt to be content with what I have and keep a strict budget. Overall, I have found a real joy from sneakers. I never thought that simply picking up a camera and taking some photos of my shoes would have given me the opportunities that it has. I continue to be surprised by it and will continue to simply enjoy the journey.”
Words: Jamie Christian Desplaces
Find links to Adrian’s blog and social
media sites at www.mywifeandkicks.com