Sotheby’s Head of E-Commerce Explains Why the Market for Rare Sneakers Is Off to the Races, With ‘Very Serious Buyers’
A recent $1 million sneaker sale at Sotheby's shows the company's recent pivot may be working.
Sotheby’s $1 million-plus auction of rare sneakers earlier this month is further proof that collectible kicks have become serious business.
“I’ve seen the market expansion in this category over the years,” Sotheby’s global head of e-commerce, Noah Wunsch, told artnet News. “There’s more and more interest, including media sites and columns devoted to sneakers. It’s really becoming a prominent collecting category with very serious buyers, so it made sense that we would test the market with a dedicated sale.”
Sneakers were also featured in Sotheby’s spring sale in Hong Kong, NIGOGOLDENEYE, where two pairs of “BAPE x KAWS” sneakers, estimated at $125 to $190, soared to a final price just under $16,000. Meanwhile, in February, Sotheby’s revealed that 17-year-old Vancouver collector Carson Guo was the buyer of a complete archive of 248 skateboard decks produced by the streetwear brand Supreme. Guo purchased the set at Sotheby’s New York for $800,000 (against an estimate of $800,000 to $1.2 million).
But the most recent online sale, a collaboration with Stadium Goods, a sneaker and streetwear marketplace, marked the house’s first dedicated sale of sneakers. Wunsch, who reached out to Stadium Goods first, says the companies immediately saw eye to eye about organizing an online auction. It featured a “curated” selection of 100 pairs of “the most prized footwear from their famed trophy case—the most exclusive and coveted sneakers ever produced by Nike, Air Jordan, Adidas, Yeezy,” and others spanning more than 15 years.
In the end, Canadian entrepreneur Miles S. Nadal acquired the whole sale, first snapping up 99 pairs for $850,000 on July 17, and then nabbing the last pair, a set of 1972 Nike “waffle racing flat ‘moon’ shoes” that were designed by Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman, on July 23. The latter sold for $437,500, which surpassed the previous sneaker record of $190,373, set in 2017 for a pair of signed Converse worn by Michael Jordan in the 1984 Olympic basketball final. Nadal plans to display the entire shoe collection at his private museum in Toronto, the Dare to Dream Automobile Collection.
The collector base for sneakers is more diverse than one might think. Wunsch says there is a huge base of buyers in the US, followed by China and Japan, but also considerable demand from collectors in London and Paris.
“It ranges across the board. In the case of the skate decks, we had a 17-year-old buyer. The buyer of the sneakers, Nadal, is well into his 60s,” Wunsch says.
Another unpredictable area of crossover is interest in sneakers from rare car collectors. “That idea of produced items with a very serious focus on beauty and design has appeal across the two categories,” Wunsch says.
Wunsch says there will definitely be another such sneaker sale in the future, though he didn’t have any dates set yet.
But not everyone is so bullish on the foray into pop culture, or the opportunity cost. One skeptic noted that the $1.3 million total is small potatoes when compared with individual seven-figure painting sales. And since there was a partner involved, Sotheby’s had to share the revenue on this deal.
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