200 pairs, nothing to wear: the fascinating world of sneaker worship

At one point in his sneaker collecting "career", DJ Jerome Salele’a owned 400 pairs.

These days, the 34-year-old has considerably fewer – he keeps about 50 at his home in Sydney's south-west, with the remainder in storage – but his passion for "kickz" is as strong as ever.

New Zealand-born Salele'a is part of the global community of "sneaker enthusiasts" (he hates the term "sneaker freaker" but loves the magazine of the same name started by Melburnian Simon Wood) that congregate through online forums, meet-ups and events, such as this weekend's SneakerCon in Sydney.

Rarity is the sneaker-lovers' drug, although unlike collectors of, say, wine or art, sneaker heads will often purchase things they don't even like. Salele'a explains: "[I may] buy a pair [I don't like] to trade a pair I am chasing."


Salele'a has spent "well into six figures" on his collection, with some pairs worth several thousands. But his all-time favourite shoe is a Puma Clyde, which was first launched in the 1970s and retails for less than $100, excluding rare colourways and limited editions.

Although the sneaker community has been dominated, publicly at least, by young men, Salele'a says women are becoming more active, thanks mainly to social media and celebrity culture.

"My partner collects, she loves them as well," he says. "I have been jealous of the women's releases for years. I'm a size 14 men's and I could never fit them. They have had some crazy colourways that guys never get, like an all purple [Nike Air] Jordan."

Speaking of Jordans, named after the famous Chicago Bulls champion Michael Jordan, they are something of a holy grail for collectors, especially after the NBA banned the original 1984 version for breaching uniform rules.

To this day, almost weekly, brands manipulate the market through "drops" of hard-to-get styles that can trade immediately for 10 times their face value. This week, Nike went one step further by releasing its first "virtual" sneaker in partnership with the online game Fortnite that players can purchase for their avatars for about $18.

Brooklyn native Alan Vinogradov, 33, co-founded SneakerCon after he and his brother found trading shoes on eBay a frustrating experience. Since 2009, they have staged events as far away as China for up to 20,000 fans.

Vinogradov, who is in Australia for the Sydney expo, said sneakers inspire an emotional connection for collectors.

"A lot of these shoes are very rare and you can't go into any sneaker store and get them," he says.

Jay Mijares, who runs The Kickz Stand community and events, adds nostalgia to the emotive pull of sneaker collecting. "It's about being part of historic moments or just getting that pair you never could get when you were younger," he says.


Salele'a agrees the thrill of the chase is part of the appeal, although he acknowledges the internet has completely reshaped the sneaker landscape.

"If they have a limited drop in Paris, Japan or New York, you can buy it [from home]. In the early 2000s, you would see the same guys in the line [at stores], waiting, camping overnight … you started seeing trends – you made a little community."

Salele'a estimates he wears about 25 per cent of his collection, although that ratio was once as high as 80 per cent. He says the casualisation of dress standards, including CEOs wearing sneakers, has meant old stereotypes about sneaker wearers have also dissipated.

"My old CEO, who was worth $400 million, used to walk around the office wearing Air Max 90s. [Apple founder] Steve Jobs wore a pair of $10 sneakers. [It's great] seeing sneakers not just looked at as 'less than' because you aren't wearing a suit and tie. The stigma has lifted."

Click Here: