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How sneakers became the new currency of luxury


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How sneakers became the new currency of luxury

A pair of basketball legend Michael Jordan’s trainers has sold for $2.2m at an auction, becoming the priciest shoes ever purchased. Jordan wore the shoes during the 1998 NBA Finals against the Jazz.

The sneakers were sold as part of a lot of sports memorabilia auctioned off Tuesday by Sotheby’s. The Jordan XIIIs were the centrepiece of a two-part auction that also included the shooting shirt Kobe Bryant wore before his 81-point game, Tom Brady’s full uniform from a game in the 2004 Patriots championship season and the jersey Pele wore in his 1975 debut with the New York Cosmos.

The Air Jordans beat out the previous record of $1.8 million held by a pair of Kanye West’s Nike Air Yeezy 1s. The rapper wore the shoes, which Sotheby’s auctioned off in April 2021, during the 50th annual Grammy Awards in 2008.

I’ve never quite understood the craze behind spending thousands of dollars on shoes that you’re never going to wear, and I know I am not the only one. But ‘sneaker culture’ runs deep in our history, with the industry generating millions every year. It was following the launch of the iconic Michael Jordan’s 1985 Air Jordan sneakers that ‘sneaker culture’ first came into the mainstream and gave birth to ‘sneakerheads’ as we know them today. 

Over the past five years, there’s noticeably been an “explosion” in collectors spending big money on rare shoes. According to a report by Statista, the revenue in the sneaker segment stands at $2.46 million, and the market is expected to grow at a compounded annual growth rate of 8.93 per cent from 2022-2027. India witnessed the rise of street fashion after the release of the movie Gully Boy in 2019. The movie encapsulated the rap culture and the street culture which existed in India but wasn’t prominent. However, putting a spotlight on the culture received a positive response from the youth. People started dressing in a way that further boosted sneaker culture.

For many, it’s an investment, reselling is an industry of its own and brings in millions in revenue. For some, it’s the triumph of owning something that once belonged to your role model and icon. People like this want to breathe in the experiences and lifestyles that come with it. More than the sneakers themselves, it’s the stories of how they came to be which are worth millions.

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Clearly aware of sneakers’ cultural power, brands across the business world have brought in their own collections to ride the sneakerhead wave. Especially athleisure brands are collaborating with high-end luxury fashion brands for their new collections. Nike has collaborated with luxury fashion labels like Dior and Sacai, as well as non-sporting celebrities such as Travis Scott and somewhat unlikely brands like Ben & Jerry’s (yes, the ice cream brand). Others have followed suit, from Adidas’ Marvel Avengers-themed sneakers to Balenciaga’s appeal to gamers via a partnership with Fortnite. Practically, there’s room for everyone now, if you’re willing to spend that much. 

Collectors hold their coveted pairs in such high regard that they spend half their salaries in keeping them clean and companies make bank selling ‘special’ cleaning kits- so that the sneakers look brand new for decades. 

A sneakerhead throwing a tantrum over damaged sneakers may seem like an overreaction to those well out of the loop. But it’s pretty much like how any other high-fashion or art collection is the pinnacle of luxury. One obvious reason why outsiders take sneaker culture to face value is that most sneakerheads are young and nouveau-rich. Art collectors or fashion connoisseurs on the other hand are mostly old-money, and revered in their worlds. But sneakers have become a fashion accessory for a lot of people, and have grown from being single-faceted to multi-faceted. Attitudes are changing, and companies are taking the most advantage of that. It’s more than just comfort and functionality now, sneakers are becoming art.

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