Today’s sneaker game is saturated with swooshes, stripes, and brand names that demand price tags higher than ever before. With the growth of demand for hype, technological, collaborative, and luxury footwear, we must ask the question: what is it that defines the value of the shoe?
The shoe that arguably spurred the resale market is Kanye West’s Yeezy V2. For a few years, Kanye had been working with Nike on rare, select models of his first two iterations of the yeezy. They were sold in random pop-ups, prompting sneakerheads to race to stores during class or lunch breaks to get their hands on a coveted pair. After 3 years, Kanye split his relationship with Nike and moved over to Adidas, where he took the Yeezy brand to mass-production levels with the V2 line. Understanding the inherent value of his shoe, Adidas and Kanye marked up the typical $140-180 high tech shoe to a $220 price tag. Initially releasing a select quantity, the demand for the shoe was drastically larger than the supply, creating a void to be fixed by secondary re-sellers who sold the same shoe for upwards of $1000. This created a resell market and trends for other sneaker manufacturers to follow in order to generate hype and oversaturated demand for their products.
Nike saw the opportunity for budding artists like Travis Scott. For Travis, Nike recombined the iconic Jordan silhouette with a reversed swoosh that initially confused sneakerheads. But when Travis himself was spotted sporting the rare pairs, the market swelled. From 2016 and onward, Nike released limited quantities of the shoe that never met the demand, which resulted in price inflation to allow the demand to equilibrate with the supply. Effectively, Nike managed to recombine its vision with that of the artist’s by changing up a classic silhouette altogether and treating it like a work of functional art rather than a shoe. This separated the shoe from the rest, creating an artistic value for the shoe that spiked it’s overall value. Similar trends were followed by Adidas when it collaborated with Pharrell to create the HUMAN NMD line, subverting the traditional NMD designs for Pharrell’s more sleek versions, propelling the shoe as artwork. These kinds of shoes are rarely seen being worn in the street due to their artistic value, as owners choose to typically house the shoe and keep it clean like a museum would treat an artifact.
Kobe Bryant has consistently proven to be a tenacious athlete, so Nike crafted a line of shoes for him that he would use to win championships. His success, combined with the appearance of the shoe while he was achieving it, created an image that anyone wearing the shoe could be a part of this success story. However, because Nike chose to mass-produce the shoes and price them relatively high ($160) for a new line, Kobe’s sneaker did not take off into the resell market like Kanye or Travis’s iterations did. For years, Kobe sneakers stocked the shelves of Footlockers and the like, rather than sit in sneakerhead collections. This all changed after Kobe’s unfortunate death at the beginning of the year. His martyrdom spurred the Kobe line into a value inflation. Some of his shoes, like the Kobe Summer Pack 11’s, had never seen a price cap higher than their retail value of $160, but after February, their average re-sell value increased to over $500. Effectively, the cessation of production, in this case due to an athlete’s death, increased the value of shoes. This can be seen for many other shoes that ceased production. Lebron James also holds a line at Nike, and every year the line ceases to produce the previous year’s iteration of the shoe as a policy. The Lebron 8, which he wore to win the NBA championship for Miami, increased in value dramatically in the year its production ceased. Additionally, Kanye West’s first Yeezy iterations with Nike increased in value by thousands of dollars in the years after his deal with Nike ended and there were no longer shoes in production.
Collaborations with brands in order to create awareness, improve technology, or generate a heightened sense of luxury also proves to be directly related to sneaker valuation. Earlier this year, Nike partnered with luxury line Dior to fuse the Air Diors, a new Jordan 1 silhouette. Though the retail price matched Dior’s already established luxury price tags at $2000 per pair, the re-sell market recognized the over-demand and the price tag eventually raised to over $12,000 per pair. The brands limited production and distributed pairs to celebrities and influencers, making customers covet the shoes as crowned jewels. In a different direction, Nike partnered with brands like tech-wear Acronym, A Cold Wall, and Supreme to create more sustainable materials and designs for shoes while heightening their fashion value. Time and time again, the supply of these shoes was far lower than the demand for innovative tech-wear, and the overall value of the shoes increased due to their technological ingenuity. Brands like Adidas partnered with green initiatives to create inventive shoes out of recycled materials, shoes with designs promoting progressive movements like BLM and LGBTQ+ rights, and shoes celebrating multinational cultures, most of which found success in re-sell markets due to their display of a growing vision for the companies and those sporting the shoes.
Although there are various examples that explain the growth of sneaker values, overall trends cannot be drawn out from specific cases. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, also NBA MVPs with a Nike deals, have not found that their shoes are reaching the level of success like Lebron James is – perhaps they entered the game too late or there is more attention to other silhouettes. And even though Kanye West has become the article of negative attention recently, sneakerheads still see an increasing value with shoes that come from his fashion label. While trends cannot be explained using just a few metrics, it is clear that the value of a shoe is linked with the artists that work on it, the innovation of the gear, and how the companies initially manipulate demand through pricing, supply, and representation.
Elder, Adam, “Why Are Sneakers So Fucking Expensive?” MEL Magazine, 5 Nov. 2019, melmagazine.com/en-us/story/why-are-sneakers-so-expensive
Cain, Áine, “Shoppers are now willing to drop hundreds of dollars on sneakers — and they might need to spend even more in the future” Business Insider, 29, July. 2019, https://www.businessinsider.com/sneaker-prices-costs-expensive-shoes-footwear-2019-7