As designer athleisure takes off, is it any wonder that sneakers have joined the ranks of fine wine and high-end watches as covetable items?

Portrait of Tammy Strobel


Francis Tan wearing Nike Air Jordan 1 “Black Toe”, and holding the Nike Air Presto x Acronym (left) and Air Vapor Max Off-White.

Francis Tan owns about 130 pairs of sneakers, including rare first-edition Adidas Yeezy 350 Boost Turtle Dove kicks by rapper-turned-designer Kanye West. Another gem in his extensive collection, which he stores in a walk-in shoe closet, its door bearing a full-length decal by cult skate brand Supreme, is the Yeezy 750 Gum shoes that glow in the dark. “I love them to the extent that I bought two pairs – one to wear and another to keep till the first one wears out,” says the executive creative director of Germs Digital, a marketing consulting agency.

Marcus Chew is a sneakerhead too. The chief marketing officer of NTUC Income has almost 100 pairs of shoes and favours limited-edition designs or collaborations such as the Hender Scheme x Adidas ZX 500 sneakers, featuring the Japanese brand’s signature nude leather uppers. To keep his beloved shoes pristine, he treats each new pair with water and dirt repellent and makes it a point to clean them after each wear.

Move over, teenagers. Just like fine wines and watches, high-end sneaker collecting has become a pursuit that big-shot executives wholeheartedly embrace. Collectors gain street cred and bragging rights when they cop – street parlance for purchase – a pair of rare kicks. The thrill of this chase is what drives collectors to obsessively check websites like Highsnobiety.com, Hypebeast.com and Sneakernews.com for updates on the latest releases, or drops, because popular shoes can sell out in a jiffy.

There is a nostalgic element to the hobby too. Both Chew and Tan grew up loving sneakers but had limited pocket money to indulge in their passion. These days, all bets are off. Plus, funky sneakers look cool when worn with suits.

“Dress codes have changed over the last few years, and sneakers have become more accessible. Sneakers with simple, classic designs can easily be “dressed up” to go with suits and office staples,” says Matt Cohen, vicepresident of business development at sneaker reselling website Goat.


While sneakers have long held a certain cult appeal – observers point to Nike’s Air Jordans, originally made for basketball player Michael Jordan in the 1990s, as the first ever collector’s shoes – it is only in recent years that the sneaker frenzy has exploded, in part due to the slew of luxury labels that have jumped on the sneaker bandwagon.

“The influences of high-end fashion in the sneaker market have resulted in new consumers who gravitate towards the high-end designer stuff from the brands, as well as towards traditional sports brands that collaborate with designers like Alexander Wang and Virgil Abloh (artistic director of Louis Vuitton),” says Mandeep Chopra, managing director of Singapore-based niche sneaker boutique Limited Edt.

It was arguably Balenciaga’s 2017 Triple S sneakers by Demna Gvasalia that dramatically changed the sneaker game. Priced from US$795 (S$1,080), it dominated the luxury sneaker market, comprising 52 per cent of sales in this category on StockX, a sneaker “stock exchange”, with an average resale price of US$1,162. Today, it is de rigueur for designer labels to include sneakers in their seasonal line-up, with popular designs from the likes of Dior Homme, Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Zegna.

This has led to impressive gains in the sneaker market. The global athletic footwear market, which was valued at US$64.3 billion in 2017, is projected to continue growing by at least 5 per cent for the next six years. The secondary resale market is also thriving. According to Cohen, the site’s top sellers sold more than US$10 million worth of sneakers each in 2018, a dramatic jump from 2016 when the top takings were US$800,000 each.

There are a few factors that can drive the price of a pair of sneakers up. “If they are produced in a limited amount and are ‘numbered’,” says Cohen. Limited-edition releases of originals such as Nike’s Air Max 1 or Adidas’ Stan Smiths are coveted too. “They are also considered rare or collectible when they are ‘hyped’ and made desirable by the community such as bloggers or  influencers.”

While Balenciaga’s Triple S holds the distinction of being a rare designer pair that has garnered feverish popularity, the shoes that attain cult status are typically those that designers, musicians or artists create in collaboration with shoe brands, including Puma, Reebok and Asics. West’s Yeezys are a perennial favourite as are Nike’s classic Air Force 1 basketball low-tops, which the brand has released in various high profile collaborations. Most notable of the Air Force 1s – Virgil Abloh’s Off White version.


Collectors say there are generally a few ways to buy a covetable pair of kicks. Sometimes, brands issue raffle tickets. Often, sneakerheads have to queue up for hours prior to a drop, in the hopes of snagging a pair the moment they are released. Street culture events, like Culture Cartel, which was held last year, also bring in rare pieces to draw crowds.

Or, the time-starved can turn to resale sites like Goat and StockX, if they have deep pockets, as prices can jump by multiples of the retail value. “It is not difficult to get a pair of sneakers you like; it is about your willingness to pay. The challenge is getting a pair you love at retail price,” says Chew, who typically buys his sneakers online. “The most extreme was to ask a colleague’s friend for a favour to buy a pair of sneakers from Canada, as it was no longer available anywhere else and they did not ship to Singapore.”

But collectors do not mind jumping through hoops to get their dream kicks. Says Chopra: “At the end of the day, the more limited or difficult it is to get a pair of sneakers, the more its value will skyrocket. You’ll own not only a shoe but a commodity or even an investment piece.”
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Triple S sneakers designed by Demna Gvasalia released in 2017.
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Designer labels such as Ermenegildo Zegna (above) and Tom Ford (right) take on luxury casual.
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Street shoes with cachet.
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Designer (and artistic director of Louis Vuitton) Virgil Abloh’s The Ten collaboration with Nike was an Internetbreaking success. This tie-up with Converse sees a reinvention of the brand’s classic Chuck 70. It has Off-White’s signature diagonal strips on the midsole, printed text on the canvas, and a bright orange sole. (Off-White is Abloh’s version of Nike’s Air Force 1.)
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Singapore boasts impressive sneaker cred too. This collaboration among Limited Edt, sneaker artist Mark Ong of SBTG, and Asics features waterproof elements, a camo pattern and removable shroud.
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These kicks, which were featured in the 1989 movie Back to the Future II, were finally released over two decades later. Note that the real-life version does not come with the film’s self-lacing feature. Only 1,500 pairs were released, practically guaranteeing this is one pair that will continue to command top dollar.
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Sometimes, sneakers that are launched exclusively in one country end up on collectors’ most wanted lists because they can’t be bought anywhere else. This China-exclusive version of American rapper Pharrell’s NMD Hu Trail features the word “happy” on the right shoe and its Chinese characters on the left.