At the Sotheby’s auction house in New York, in a building packed with fine art and rare collectibles, there’s a room filled with sneakers.
Glass cases house shoes such as the 1994 Air Jordan 1, which marked Nike’s first-ever reissue of the shoe that launched modern sneaker culture (Quartz member exclusive). One case holds a pair of limited-edition Adidas NMDs from Pharrell’s collaboration with Chanel that the singer had made exclusively for late designer Karl Lagerfeld. Most notable of all is the handmade Nike “Moon Shoe” from 1972, designed by Nike cofounder Bill Bowerman, who got the inspiration for the grippy sole from his waffle iron. The shoes, a vital part of Nike’s history, have all but disappeared, and this is the only unworn pair known to exist, Sotheby’s says.
Sotheby’s and its partner in the auction, sneaker reseller Stadium Goods, describe it as the ultimate sneaker collection, comprised of “100 of the rarest sneakers ever produced.” They’re expecting high prices: possibly $3,000 for those 1994 Jordans, up to $50,000 for the Adidas NMD, and as much as $160,000 for the Moon Shoes.
The auction, which opens today and runs through July 23, marks Sotheby’s first focused solely on sneakers. They aren’t its usual territory, but the world’s oldest fine-art auction house recognizes the position they hold in culture now.
“It seemed like a great idea,” Noah Wunsch, Sotheby’s global head of e-commerce, says of the Stadium Goods tie-up, “and especially with the trajectory we’ve been seeing in how—culturally—art, luxury, streetwear are all starting to intertwine in these bigger ways.”
Wunsch says he reached out to Stadium Goods because he’s loved the brand and saw an alignment. Sotheby’s has also recently held auctions for a complete set of skateboards by streetwear giant Supreme and for pieces from the personal collection of Nigo, founder of streetwear label A Bathing Ape. The Nigo sale far exceeded expectations, and Wunsch adds that they’re seeing these sorts of products to be a “really strong collecting category.”
Sneakers are just one part of that world, but probably the biggest. The desire, and willingness to pay for, rare shoes has allowed the resale market that companies such as Stadium Goods operate in to grow to $2 billion in North America alone. Investment firm Cowen reported the number in an April note to investors that proposed sneakers as an emerging “alternative asset class”—the rare product that can actually appreciate in value. “If you look at the trajectory of the values of these items, the collectability, the consumer interest—both from the core collector base that’s been around for years, but also international, mass-market consumption of these products—it’s just something that’s been consistently evolving for quite some time,” says John McPheters, co-founder and co-CEO of Stadium Goods.
Only the scarcest shoes hold high values that can grow. That’s what Sotheby’s and Stadium Goods set out to offer. Some were never even released to the public and were only made for brand partners to give to friends and family, such as the purple suede Air Jordan 4 Nike shoes made for rapper Travis Scott that are expected to bring up to $60,000.
Both Wunsch and John McPheters, co-founder and co-CEO of Stadium Goods, expect a wide range of bidders, from people who see the shoes as an investment to those who can’t resist the thought of wearing them.