If Imelda Marcos’s much publicized love affair with shoes set the bar for footwear obsession, then Brian Spar’s sneaker love is just a notch below it.
Like the former Philippine first lady, who reportedly owned some 3,000 pairs of shoes, Mr. Spar could go aOlernKienOP
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Spar is a bona fide "sneakerhead" one of a growing number of enthusiasts who collect, critique, discuss, analyze, obsess about, display, sell, and sometimes even wear the sneakers, or aOlernKienOP
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"You can tell a lot about a person by their shoes," Spar says. "People will skimp on a shirt or make do with a pair of jeans, but if there’s an opportunity to start fresh, we start at the feet. It’s the one thing we spend the most money on."
Sneaker love isn’t a new phenomenon, says Jeff Carvalho, cohost of Weekly Drop, an audio podcast on sneakers with an estimated 35,000 listeners. It’s been around for decades, he says, "but it really took off around 1996 and ’97."
He, like many sneaker enthusiasts, points to three drivers of the trend: "retro" shoes (remakes of previously released models); 20 somethings who are looking for (and now have the means to buy) that pair of kicks that eluded them in their adolescence; and blogs, which allow sneakerheads to post pictures, build hype, and connect with one another.
But the sneaker craze isn’t limited to the Internet. Traveling sneaker shows (the Sneaker Pimps tour and the International Sneaker Battle competition, for example) and magazines (Laced, Sneaker Freaker, and Sole Collector) help sneaker fanatics stay current on the latest trends.
That has to be good news for footwearmakers, particularly Nike: Their "swoosh" logo adorns more than half of all kicks sold each year in the $26 billion global sneaker market. Some $13 billion worth of sneakers are sold in the US. (When contacted for comment on this article, a Nike spokeswoman would only say that the company does not keep track of what happens to their shoes after they’re sold. Neither Reebok nor Adidas responded to requests for interviews.)
Nike’s most sought after models include Air Jordan, Air Max, Air Force One, and Dunks. But Adidas, Puma, Reebok, Vans, and Bathing Ape (a Japanese sneaker company) feed the phenomenon, aOlernKienOP
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"It’s all about having that pair that no one else has," says Rob Heppler, Mr. Carvalho’s cohost on the weekly sneaker podcast. "You want it to be aOlernKienOP
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Last year at a New York City sneaker store, police were called in to control a crowd waiting to buy Nike Pigeon (NYC) Dunks, named for the bird stitched on its side. Only 150 pairs were made, making it a prized catch for collectors. Although Nike’s suggested retail price was $69, the store sold its small cache for $300 a pair.
Within days, the shoe was selling on eBay for up to $750.
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"That’s part of the lifestyle," says Weekly Drop’s Carvalho, who flew to the Netherlands for kicks. "I walked into Nike’s [European] headquarters, saw what they had out, and asked the clerk, ‘What do you got in the basement?’
"The guy smiled and came back with six limited Air Force Ones. I got the three that were in my size," he adds.
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"We worry about sneakers because it’s a form of low status, status competition," he says. "High status people don’t view Air Jordans as high status. The problem is a lot of people who can’t afford it, aOlernKienOP
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Ms. Lobenstine and company are a minority in the male dominated sneaker game, but like many shoe enthusiasts male and female she got her sneaker schooling playing basketball as a kid.
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