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.”