How to Start Building a Sneaker Collection

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Sneaker collecting has become a serious business over the years.

While in the early 1980s, sneakers were more about function than style (that’s not to say some weren’t collecting), things started to change with the introduction of the Air Jordan in 1985. The shoe inspired by the legendary basketball star Michael Jordan played an undeniable part in the rise of sneaker culture. Fans became obsessed and other brands took note.

The prominence of sneaker culture is rooted not only in the sports industry but also in the music industry. In 1986, hip-hop group Run-DMC released their iconic track “My Adidas,” which would lead to them signing an endorsement deal with Nike’s rival. It became common for artists to rap about their favorite sneakers, from Superstars and Chuck Taylors (2Pac) to Air Force 1s (Nelly) and Air Max 95s (The Game). The sneaker culture we know today would not exist without star athletes (Allen Iverson’s signature series with Reebok was huge as well), from basketball players to skateboarders) and hip-hop.

Many collectors today are motivated by holding on to a specific moment in time. A certain pair of sneakers can instantly call to mind a classic game or album. Others are more driven by having the most coveted style on the market. Regardless of whether sneakers evoke specific memories for you or you’re simply all about copping the hottest drop, there are some things you need to know about the world of sneaker collecting.

Ahead is a guide to help you get started.

Learn the Lingo

While picking up sneaker vernacular can seem intimidating at first (you might feel like you need a translator), following sneaker accounts on social media, reading sites dedicated to sneaker culture and watching unboxing videos on YouTube or TikTok will go a long way.

Terms you’ll see and hear a lot include silhouette, colorway, deadstock, cop, drop and grail. Silhouette simply refers to the style of shoe (i.e., Jordan 11), while colorway is pretty self-explanatory. When a shoe is brand-new, it’s deadstock. A “grail” shoe is short for holy grail, meaning it’s a highly sought-after pair (though grails can vary from person to person).

When discussing Jordans or Air Maxes, people will often refer to them by their number (for example: 4s, 5s, 90s, 97s). Speaking of Jordans, “Bred” is another term to know. Bred is an amalgamation of black and red, referring to a black and red shoe colorway and is typically associated with Jordans.

Deciphering what various terms mean should come relatively easily as you immerse yourself more in the culture.

nike, air max 1, Kasina x Nike Air Max 1 Collab
The Kasina x Nike Air Max 1 collab.

Start Simple

If you’re really interested in building a collection, start by doing some research on classic sneakers and go with your gut. Educate yourself on brands and what their most popular silhouettes are. There are a number of great books out there that spotlight sneakers you should know about. Sneaker Freaker has published several super informative books to check out.

sneaker freaker book, world's greatest sneaker collectors, sneaker book
‘World’s Greatest Sneaker Collectors.’

Sneakers to Know

While tastes differ and some aficionados may have different sneakers on their list, here are some of the most well-known silhouettes that many sneakerheads will have on their shelves.

  • Air Jordan 1

  • Air Jordan 3

  • Air Jordan 11

  • Nike Air Uptempo

  • Nike Air Foamposite

  • Nike Air Max 1

  • Nike Air Max 90

  • Nike Air Max 95

  • Nike Air Max 97

  • Nike Air Max Plus

  • Nike Dunk

  • Nike Air Force 1

  • Adidas Originals Samba

  • Adidas Originals Stan Smith

  • Adidas Originals Gazelle

  • Adidas Originals Superstar

  • Adidas Originals Yeezy

  • Converse Chuck Taylor

  • Converse Chuck 70

  • New Balance 574

  • New Balance 991

  • New Balance 993

  • New Balance 550

  • New Balance 2002R

  • Reebok Club C

  • Reebok Question

  • Reebok Answer IV

  • Reebok Classic Leather

  • Vans SK8 Hi

adidas samba wales bonner leopard print, adidas Originals by Wales Bonner Ponyskin Samba
Adidas Originals by Wales Bonner Ponyskin Samba.

Copping the Drop

The rarer the sneaker, the harder it will be to cop. It’s not uncommon for sneakerheads to wait in long lines to score the latest releases in stores. Unfortunately, bots, automated software applications often used by resellers to purchase items quicker than humanly possible, have made it harder for genuine collectors to shop online.

This has led many stores to run raffles to combat the bots. When shopping online, it’s key to know the date and time of a drop and be ready with your information pre-filled in to get ahead of the curve. Set alerts on your phone and be prepared to wake up early. Make sure to download apps like Nike SNKRS, Adidas Confirmed, Finish Line, Foot Locker and Stadium Goods. Another great app for keeping track of release dates spanning different brands is Eastbay.

new balance, new balance 550, Aime Leon Dore x New Balance 550 'Green'
The Aime Leon Dore x New Balance 550 “Green.”

The Resell Market

If you weren’t able to cop the drop at release, you may be able to via resell sites like Grailed, eBay, Goat and StockX. However, shoes purchased through the resell arena will typically cost you more. You also want to be wary of fakes, but most big resell sites provide verification of the shoe’s authenticity.

Union LA x Air Jordan 1 Retro High NRG ‘Storm Blue.’

Hyped Sneakers

Exclusive collaborations with luxury brands, designers and artists have become enormously popular in the past decade or so. Ahead, limited-edition sneakers most you’ll find in many hypebeast’s rotation.

  • Supreme x Nike SB Dunk Low ‘Black Cement’ (2002)

  • Staple x Nike SB Dunk Low ‘NYC Pigeon’ (2005)

  • Ronnie Fieg x Asics Gel-Lyte 3 ‘Salmon Toe’ (2011)

  • Tom Sachs x NikeCraft Mars Yard (2012)

  • Atmos x Nike Air Max 90 ‘Duck Camo’ (2013)

  • Pharrell x Adidas NMD R1 (2016)

  • Off-White x Air Jordan 1 High OG ‘Chicago’ (2017)

  • Sean Wotherspoon x Nike Air Max 1/97 ‘Light Blue Fury’ (2017)

  • Travis Scott Air Jordan 1 Retro High (2019)

  • Dior x Air Jordan 1 High OG ‘Wolf Grey’ (2020)

  • Ben & Jerry’s x Nike SB Dunk Low ‘Chunky Dunky’ (2020)

  • JJJJound x New Balance 992 ‘Green’ (2020)

  • Aimé Leon Dore x New Balance 550 ‘Natural Green’ (2021)

  • Salehe Bembury x New Balance 2002R Low “Water Be The Guide” (2021)

  • Louis Vuitton x Nike Air Force 1 Low ‘White’ (2022)

  • Wales Bonner x Adidas Samba ‘Core Black’ (2023)

  • Tiffany & Co. x Nike Air Force 1 (2023)

new balance, Salehe Bembury, Salehe Bembury x New Balance 2002R Low "Water Be The Guide"
new balance, Salehe Bembury, Salehe Bembury x New Balance 2002R Low "Water Be The Guide"

Sneaker Care

Every serious sneaker collector should have a place in mind to store their shoes and keep them in pristine condition (unless dirty shoes are your thing). Having an ideal setup to keep your collection organized is key, otherwise things can get unwieldy. You definitely do not want to store your shoes in an environment that is either too hot or too cold. The aforementioned could turn them moldy or lead to cracks. Some suggest investing in a dehumidifier. Also, do not display your shoes in a place where they could get too much sunlight as this can lead to fading over time.

To combat wear and tear, there are protective sprays on the market like Kiwi, Crep Protect, Scotchgard or Jason Markk Repel Spray.

yeezy boost 350, crep protect, sneaker protector
yeezy boost 350, crep protect, sneaker protector

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