Finance Inside the world of sneaker collecting, where Australians jostle for – and invest in – shoes
Updated:

Inside the world of sneaker collecting, where Australians jostle for – and invest in – shoes

Michael Fan is part of a growing trend of collecting sneakers.
Michael Fan has about 700 pairs of rare sneakers and basketball shoes in his collection. Photo: Supplied
Share
Twitter Facebook Reddit Pinterest Email

Melbourne ‘sneaker head’ Michael Fan doesn’t know how much his entire, 700-piece shoe collection is worth.

But the 36-year-old collector does have a pair of ultra-rare Air Jordan I ‘Chicago’ basketball shoes that are similar to the pair Sotheby’s recently auctioned for a record $US560,000 ($790,000).

“That pair was signed by Michael Jordan,” Mr Fan told The New Daily.

“I remember that it only had one signature on the shoe. But my pair has two signatures, so they’re probably worth more.”

Basketball legend Michael Jordan wore the Air Jordan I 'Chicagos' back in 1985.
Basketball legend Michael Jordan wore the Air Jordan I ‘Chicagos’ back in 1985. Photo: Getty

A new kind of asset

Mr Fan is part of a new trend of sneaker collecting where fashion meets sports – and it’s fast becoming a lucrative investment strategy.

Globally, the market is booming.

“For example, for the Michael Jordan game-worn shoes, the price I purchased them for would be 1 per cent – or less – of the current market price,” Mr Fan said.

“So it’s a good investment.”

In the US, the market for resold sneakers was estimated to be about $US2 billion ($2.9 billion) in July 2020, with Bloomberg calling the shoes “a bonafide asset class”.

Meanwhile, the People’s Bank of China has even encouraged citizens to practise “vigilance against the trend of shoe speculation” after big returns encouraged more collectors to get on board.

Sydney-based investor Ilan Israelstam has about 50 pairs of sneakers in his personal collection, but says others are trading them just like any other asset.

“This is not investment advice, this is just a fact: Almost all sneakers that are put into limited-edition capsules have gone up. It’s just a question of at what rate,” he told TND.

Inside the sneaker authentication room for online marketplace StockX in Detroit.
Inside the sneaker authentication room for online marketplace StockX in Detroit. Photo: Getty

“Celebrity culture plays a huge part in that.

“If LeBron James walked out on the court in something that’s been put out limited edition, the price will just completely spike. Obviously, people like Kanye West and Travis Scott too, these guys are real opinion leaders in that space for those people that care about that stuff.

“That’s the reason why people are investing in them, because it has been a pretty good asset class. It’s just obviously hard to get scale – it’s hard to buy a lot of them and store them.”

Mr Israelstam is an angel investor for Sydney upstart PUSHAS, which is competing with established online players eBay and StockX as a marketplace for rare sneakers.

“The category has continued to grow on eBay Australia with triple-digit growth over the past three years,” said Alaister Low, eBay’s local head of authentication, luxury and collectibles.

Nikes, Air Jordans and Yeezys are among the top sellers.

New Balance is also seeing a resurgence in Australia and the US.

Even the likes of Crocs maintained an average resale premium of 98 per cent last year.

PUSHAS has taken the investment potential further by setting up a fund.

“They’d be among the better performing asset classes from a return perspective, as far as alternative assets go,” Mr Israelstam said.

As the demand for vintage shoes has grown, so too has the demand for shoe authentication amid a sea of counterfeit products.

Several companies will now analyse the minute details of a shoe, like the stitching, tags or inner soles, and add their seal of approval if the pair is indeed genuine.

One company, Sneaker Con, had operations in the US, UK, Canada, Germany and Australia, and was recently bought outright by eBay to give customers peace of mind.

A labour of love

Mr Fan has been collecting since 2004. His wife and two kids each have significant collections of their own, and all are avid basketball fans.

But he’s not looking to flip any of them to make a quick buck.

In fact, he never even wears half of his collection – including the prized Air Jordan I ‘Chicagos’ – in order to protect them.

Besides, those mismatched US13 and US13.5 shoes worn by Michael Jordan are the wrong size for him.

Sneakers from Mr Fan's collection are on display at the eBay Museum of Authentics in Brunswick, Melbourne.
A few treasures from Mr Fan’s collection are on display at the eBay Museum of Authentics in Brunswick, Melbourne. Photo: Supplied

This pair and a few more will be on display at the eBay Museum of Authentics in Brunswick, Melbourne, from April 29 to May 1.

Another pair that holds special significance was the very first pair of Air Jordans he bought – a pair of Air Jordan VIIIs that the basketball player wore on the day his wife was born.

“Sneaker culture is not just about like the stories behind the shoes and the designs,” Mr Fan said.

“It’s also about the connections between the collector and the shoes.”