Kicks Just Keep Getting Harder To Find Kicks Just Keep Getting Harder To Find
BY SABRINA VICTOR AND ALYSSA FISHER Boxes and boxes of shoes lined the wall; the room could have easily been mistaken for a shoe... Kicks Just Keep Getting Harder To Find

Senior David Conde posing with his large shoe collection. Sneakerheads spend hundreds of dollars trying to find the rarest sneakers. Photo Credit: KAYLEE OBERFIELD


Boxes and boxes of shoes lined the wall; the room could have easily been mistaken for a shoe store. As senior David Conde delicately opened the boxes one by one, he unveiled pristine, practically untouched sneakers, each one more colorful and unique than the one before it. After a few minutes, there were around 20 pairs of Nike Air Jordans strewn across the floor, less than half of his sneaker collection. This may appear obsessive and certainly costly, but it’s normal behavior for “sneakerheads,” a growing subculture of devoted sneaker collectors searching for the most desired, rare sneakers on the market.

Sneakers have long been identified as one of the material icons of hip-hop culture. Though as the sneakerhead movement evolved, it began to stray from hip-hop and developed its own aesthetic. Collecting sneakers is equal parts couture and trading cards; people wear them to look their best, but to others, finding rare shoes is about the satisfaction of sporting a pair no one else has. Some find, purchase and sell sneakers like art collectors, conscientiously storing and treasuring them.

It’s almost like a game, where manufacturers like Nike, Adidas, Bape or Reebok team with cultural icons, athletes and young designers to create limited production runs. Some shoes are re-releases with modified fabrics and color schemes while others are ultra-modern new models. These rare and therefore valuable shoes are then distributed to select retailers in select cities on specific dates. Plus most stores only get 20-30 pairs, fueling the sneakerhead fire.

“These sneakers make me look good, but they are also like having a piece of art,” Conde said, who has pictures of himself as a baby wearing older, miniature versions of his current favorite Jordans. “I don’t even wear most of them. If I want to wear a pair, I’ll usually buy two so one stays in perfect condition.”

Manufacturers are picky about where they ship collectables. The collectables game avoids mass chains and instead draws crowds to hole-in-the-wall stores and boutiques. The demand of collectors along with the emergence of up-and-coming designers has even spurred popular brands to create specialty accounts with smaller boutique stores to carry rare models. Because sneakerhead culture places such an emphasis on exclusivity, when word leaks that a sought-after shoe is going to be released by a certain store, it can create mob scenes. Legions of collectors can line up for hours, even days waiting for the store to open.

On December 22, 2011, thousands lined up at malls across America to buy a pair of exclusive Air Jordan XI Retro Concord sneakers. The night ended in mini riots, causing police to shut down the big midnight release., a crowd-powered media source, even reported that Florida police officers were forced to pepper spray some out-of-control shoppers. In this chaos stood freshman Chris Alicea, who waited at the mall from 12 am to 12 pm in hopes of becoming one of 300 to rock the hottest shoe of the year.

“The riot started after people were told it was cancelled,” he said. “It was crazy. S.W.A.T. was even called.”

Alicea became a sneakerhead when he began noticing a lot of people wearing Jordans around school. Once he caught a glimpse of the Air Jordan Retro V “Raging Bulls,” he was hooked. Since then, Alicea has appreciated being greeted each morning by the rows of brightly colored and intricately designed sneakers in his closet.

“Everyone has their own style: Some people like the crazy colors, but I get the colors and designs to suit my personal style,” Alicea said.

In this age of sneakers, anything is possible. According to The Washington Post, sneakers come with pumps, straps, lights, air bubbles and even silver briefcases. Designs may even be as bold as stars, tie-dye, camouflage, plaid and zebra stripes. Conde has so many pairs that he will usually pick out which shoes he wants to wear and then choose an outfit around it. He and other sneakerheads spend much of their time online researching sneakers’ backgrounds, like the years they were released and the materials used. True sneaker fans even have the lingo down, knowing that terms like Deadstock means a foot has never been inside the shoe and F.O.T.B means fresh out of the box.

Fanatics of this magnitude may cherish their hundreds and thousands of shoes, but their hobby comes at a price. Collectibles easily run into the hundreds of dollars with vintage models, and limited-edition sneakers or anything related to basketball legend Michael Jordan are typically worth more.

“I have about 50 pairs of Jordans,” Conde said. “I made a deal with my parents: if I get straight A’s, they’ll get me a pair of sneakers. I’ve gotten straight A’s ever since then.”

Instead of sticking to collecting alone, some sneakerheads have turned their obsession into a social activity by attending conventions such as the DunkXChange, a monthly event that takes place at the Seminole Hardrock Hotel and Casino. Alicea, always on the hunt for a new pair of sneakers, goes to the event to sell his sneakers in exchange for newer, rarer ones. At the last DunkXChange he went to, Alicea spent $1,600 and came back with a couple pairs of sneakers.

“I’m always looking for texture and personality, mostly retro sneakers,” Alicea said.

The Internet, which allows collectors to buy, sell, trade and talk about shoes, has also played a pivotal role in creating a worldwide marketplace and online hang-out for sneakerheads. While Ebay remains the largest online source for scoring hard-to-find sneakers, countless teens utilize Facebook to advertise their business. Local sneakerheads post pictures of their shoe collections, and those interested will send them a message. After figuring out an appropriate price, the parties will meet up at a mall and exchange money and sneakers.

“I have sold and traded most of my Jordans through Facebook, so now I’m down to four pairs,” freshman Matthew Colombo said. “I want to save up for the release of Air Jordan XI Retro Bred in the summer.”

Sneakerheads have taken their hobby to the next level, spending hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars and devoting most of their time to the search for their personal “Holy Grail” sneakers. They want what the average shopper can’t get, the most rare and unique sneakers. Like any collector, sneakerheads feel a rush of satisfaction when they acquire  new kicks.

“When I get a new pair of sneakers, I’m just like, ‘wow, these are mine,’” Conde said as he put each shoe away in its rightful place before placing new, sealed shoes on the top of the stack of boxes. “They’re just awesome.”