When Michael Jordan’s sneaker—worn during the 1984 Olympics—sold for $190,000 at auction in June, it showed that sneakers have entered the realm once reserved for the luxury goods produced by brands like Hermes, Gucci and Prada.
Sneaker Con, an event for sneakerheads that unveils the newest offerings from a range of designers, including high-end collaborations, made its Hong Kong debut in August. Revered by sneakerheads with the same fervor usually reserved for fashionistas during Paris Fashion Week, the fair exhibited more than sixty thousand pairs of shoes, and attracted many devoted Chinese fans.
“New York is not the center of the world,” Alan Vinogradov, co-founder of Sneaker Con, said in an interview with local media. “The price of a pair of sneakers promoted by a Chinese celebrity can go through the roof.” Vinogradov was commenting on the difference between today’s market and that during the first Sneaker Con eight years ago.
“When people think about sneakers, they would say the US and China are the biggest markets.” According to Vinogradov’s estimation, the show attracted about 6,500 visitors, 40 percent of whom came from Hong Kong, 30 percent from mainland China, and the rest from other parts of Asia.
Increasingly, as athleisure edges its way into the luxury market, and brands attempt to get a foothold in the sneaker industry, many luxury designers are collaborating with athletic companies rather than opening their own line of sneakers, which could dilute a brand’s value. According to a 2015 report by apparel analytics firm Edited, the money for luxury athleisure is in footwear: 25 percent of sneakers released were from luxury designers, and the trend is only getting stronger. We remember how fanatic young shoppers got when Louis Vuitton teamed up with Supreme.
Virgil Abloh, the designer and founder of OFF-White, announced the company’s recent collaboration with Nike. Designer Raf Simons, who made his victorious New York debut at Calvin Klein in February, delivered the luxury version of Adidas’ classic Stan Smiths for $300. Stella McCartney and Alexander Wang have also helped Adidas reach new heights in fashion.
Though many people speculate that it’s the profit rather than the creative end-result that drives these collaborations, co-founder of Sneaker Con Yu-ming Ng, keeps a positive attitude. “So now you have Nike and [Riccardo] Tisci, Wang and Adidas, who come together and you have this incredible level of buzz around these lines of apparel and sneakers.”
Though Yu-ming did observe, as he said in an interview with SCMP, that there’s a trend of high-luxury fashion brands “beginning to borrow [ideas] from streetwear,” he also noted that he “wouldn’t say it’s copying. It’s more influence.”
Sneakerhead culture and luxury share a special bond. For the same price as a vintage pair of collectible sneakers—like Michael Jordan’s Olympic kicks—one could easily afford a collectible Hermes Himalaya Birkin bag. And just as in the luxury market, the hunger for limited editions in the sneaker market drives up prices way beyond the cost of manufacturing them. It seems like the dalliance between the luxury market and footwear is only getting stronger.