Ask any economist to name the top 100 appreciating assets, and
it is highly unlikely that old sneakers would make anyone's
list. Yet the value of those decrepit shoes in the back of your
closet--yes, even the ones that reek worse than fetid feta--may
well have increased by a multiple akin to Amazon.com's stock. To
wit: A mint-condition pair of Nike Dunks or Terminators, which
retailed for around $50 in the mid-1980s, now fetches between
$1,000 and $1,500. Puma Beasts, surreally kitschy kicks adorned
with faux leopard skin, are worth up to $3,500. The Holy Grail
of sullied soles, a limited edition pair of Air Jordans with a
gold swoosh, reportedly command in excess of $25,000. What in
the name of Jack Purcell is going on here?
"Fashion is fickle, but in the past few years there has been a
huge demand for old shoes," says Tace Chalfa, who owns The Red
Light, a vintage clothing shop in Seattle's University district
that had sales of more than $300,000 in "previously owned
footwear" last year. Two years ago Chalfa innocently paid $50
for a pair of 1976 Nike Stings, which were festooned with a
psychedelic mix of orange suede and green nylon. Within days she
sold the pair to a teenager for $1,000. "Pretty much after that,
I was in the used-shoe business," she says.
The vast majority of the consumers are not the among the legion
of sports memorabilia collectors who covet Michael Jordan's
jockstrap but rather are Japanese fashion Brahmins with an eye
for camp who actually wear what they purchase. Consequently,
most of the used-shoe dealers are located on the West Coast and
are starting to do significant business over the Internet.
"Actually, because the Japanese and the Asian economies are in a
recession, we expect our sales to be way down this year," says
Steve Gillette, owner of Husky Boy Vintage, a shop in Tacoma,
Wash., "but it's still pretty big business."
How big, no one knows for sure--certainly nowhere near the
annual sales of $13.3 billion in new athletic footwear. Still,
it is telling that even as Nike denies paying much attention to
the vintage-shoe market, in 1995 the company reissued the
original Air Jordans, which retailed in 1985 for a comparatively
modest $65. "They are supposedly going to reissue the Dunks
again, too [the company plans to reintroduce the model in
January], which will decrease the value of old Dunks by at least
50 percent," says Chalfa. "On the other hand, it will help
popularize the retro look."
Perhaps. But what about the--how to say it?--"skeeviness," to
use grunge parlance, associated with wearing something that has
been on a stranger's foot? Chalfa thinks little of it. In fact,
she warns against trying to clean old footwear before offering
it for sale. "People devalue the shoes all the time by doing
that and fading the color," she says. "Sometimes, if the shoes
are really nasty, I might use some water and a little soap,
nothing abrasive. But usually I don't do much before reselling
For the entrepreneurs in this fledgling business, the smell of
success has an aroma all its own.
Chalfa's shop in Seattle sold $300,000 in "previously owned
footwear" last year.