At ATC, a sneaker consignment store in Miami Beach, an unassuming pair of black leather Nikes with green soles sits in a locked glass cabinet.
These shoes are Air Jordan 1s, from the XX8 Days Of Flight series.
Don’t know what that means? This may help: The asking price for the one-of-a-kind size 10s under glass is $13,500.
Miami has become a draw for people who buy, collect and trade shoes like these. “Sneakerheads” have encyclopedic knowledge of the latest and greatest shoes, such as the Air Jordan 1s, and approach them like some collectors approach rare stamps and coins, driven by a thirst for value, prestige and profit.
What makes the Air Jordan 1s so valuable? It’s a one-of-a-kind shoe Nike created for a contest. It never went on sale.
It’s just an example of how companies like Nike and Adidas fuel sneaker fever. They make special sneakers in limited runs, and the fewer made, the more valuable they can become. The sneakers feature flashy designs, usually created in collaboration with an athlete, celebrity, performing artist and other shoe “tastemakers.”
Releases of the shoes attract long lines the first day they are sold at stores, akin to the hype that surrounds the release of new Apple products. And then, if the buyer is lucky, they grow in value.
Lifted by the popularity of the Heat and especially LeBron James — who has earned tens of millions of dollars on shoe deals and is part owner of a sneaker boutique in Aventura — Miami has become a city that rivals Los Angeles and New York as a place where sneakerheads come to find the rarest limited edition shoes.
For the first crack at limited edition shoes, they flock to sneaker boutiques including SoleFly near South Miami and Shoe Gallery in downtown Miami.
In the aftermarket — at conventions, on eBay and in specialty stores — hundreds of dollars can turn to thousands for the rarest models. Shoes for less than $100 can be found but prices escalate rapidly from there. Generally, the average price for a pair of shoes in the Miami aftermarket ranges from $250 to $300 at conventions like SoleFest, and $300 to $400 at shoe consignment shops like ATC.
The more limited the edition, the more potentially expensive, and that’s what whets the appetite of local sneakerheads. At a recent Miami Beach sneaker convention, seventh-grader Kurt Carlson bought a pair of “Nike LeBron James Crown Jewel” sneakers, created last year in honor of the Miami Heat star’s 10th year in the NBA.
Nike produced fewer than 650 pairs of the fuchsia-colored shoes, making them prime targets for sneaker enthusiasts like Kurt — who picked up his pair for $800 earlier this month at SoleFest at the Miami Beach Convention Center.
So how did Kurt feel about paying $800 for a pair of secondhand sneakers?
“These I got a good deal on,” he said. “They [usually] go for $850, $900.”
The next big event in Miami happens June 29. It’s called Sneaker Con, at the University of Miami’s BankUnited Center, and it’s expected to attract between 3,000 and 5,000 people, according to its co-founder, Yu-Ming Wu.
“Sneaker Con started in New York but the attendance in Miami is slowly approaching our New York numbers,” said Wu.
The shoes are a big business for Heat players. The Heat’s James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are prominently followed on sneaker blogs for their choice of footwear, and their endorsements of shoes carry significant weight.
A June 10 article in Forbes magazine called James “the NBA’s leading shoe salesman,” with $300 million in sales for his Nike line in 2012 alone. During the NBA Finals, several San Antonio Spurs players wore James’ signature shoes.
But the phenomena of sneaker culture really started in 1985 with the release of Michael Jordan’s first Air Jordan shoes. The enduring popularity of Air Jordans has made them the equivalent of a blue-chip stock in the sneaker aftermarket.
“[With] Jordans, there’s been no faltering in the resell value of the shoe, the brand, the models. Other shoes and other silhouettes under the Nike umbrella, we’ve seen come and go in the last five years,” said ATC owner Greg “DJ Daai Lo” Lewis.
The sneaker manufacturers don’t get a cut of the re-sales. What they do get is free advertising — buzz on social media, and news accounts of the long lines. And the high-end products can create a “halo effect” that spreads to the companies’ more affordable products, said Claudia Townsend, a marketing professor at the University of Miami.
“Nike and Adidas are both strong brands and respected brands, but they’re mainstream brands and they don’t have this exclusive identity,” Townsend said. “By investing in these limited runs, they get that cachet that’s just bigger than the one product. It sets themselves up to be more appreciated for their other products as well.”
Jourdan Binder, managing partner at the Miami marketing firm Workshop Collective, reiterates the “halo effect” these limited edition runs have on their brand. Himself a reluctant sneakerhead who has more than 100 pairs of shoes worth “over five figures,” he says that these limited runs are a part of brand building.
“If you can’t get the limited edition pair, then you would go get a similar or another pair of Nikes because you want that association. It’s a great model [from a marketing perspective].”
Major sneaker brands have taken note of Miami’s emergence as a capital of sneaker culture. Specialty sneaker stores in Miami will often be one of the few stores in the country to carry a limited edition sneaker. In addition, sneaker brands will also make limited edition runs tailored specifically to the Miami market. Reebok recently collaborated with local street artist Tati to create a limited edition shoe created specifically for Miami for the 30th anniversary of their most popular shoe, the Reebok Classic Leather.
“Miami has alway been an important market for us due to their thriving culture, fashion and street art connection. We’ve established a few partners in Miami that help us achieve these goals, specifically Shoe Gallery,” said Ryan Cross, Reebok Classic product marketing director.
With all this hype and money at play, it’s no surprise that popular sneaker brands often are counterfeited. SoleFest founder Mike Irene, 21, says many people come to conventions to ensure they are getting what they pay for.
“Because sneakers are so easily replicated, there are so many fake and inauthentic shoes walking around that you cannot buy online anymore,” Irene says. “It’s not safe. People are getting scammed. So the only way to ensure that you are buying quality product that’s authentic is to come to the [conventions].”
Like anything else of value, high-end sneakers pose a risk of theft.
Diego Urdaneta, 15, returned to his family’s home in West Miami-Dade one day in May to find he had been the victim of a burglar. The kicker: The thieves ignored TVs, a computer and other valuables and went straight for the sneakers, grabbing four pairs worth a total of about $1,500.
“My closet was open and all my shoes were gone,” said Diego, a rising sophomore at John A. Ferguson High School. “Nothing else was taken, my door was wide open to the rest of the house.”
Among the stolen shoes were a pair of James’ Miami Nights 8s.
“There are less than 1,000 pairs” made of that model, Diego said. “They were only released in Miami. If you start looking, there’s only a handful of people who own a pair.”