Nike Air Jordans Getty Images Entertainment/Ethan Miller
By Enrique Grijalva

Two years ago I paid $400 for a pair of Air Jordan sneakers. When my colleague at work asked how much money I had spent on them his jaw dropped. “Whaaat?” he yelled in bewilderment. I laughed. He was oblivious to the exorbitant sneaker culture in New York. This made his flabbergasted yelp and judgmental laugh a reasonable response, if not predictable. Trust me, I can see from an objective angle how this purchase could be deemed ridiculous, considering the fact that Nike hasn’t produced footwear with a five-year shelf life since the 1990s. If you have never considered yourself to be a sneakerhead to some degree, I wouldn’t expect you to understand.

In the 18 years since my sister bought me my first pair of Air Jordans, I’m sure I’ve wasted close to $10,000 on sneakers. Comparatively, it’s a minuscule amount when you consider the booming sneaker culture around the globe. It’s a culture filled with distinguished sneaker collectors, serious and casual sneakerheads, plush boutiques, and a multitude of blogs, Internet forums, and online stores.

I can’t forget about the hypebeasts. These creatures literally hype up an upcoming release of any pair of sneakers deemed exclusive or rare. This usually inflicts an unhealthy amount of anticipation, which is commonly the reason people camp out in front of stores before the release date.

But who says you need to wait until the release date? Depending on how serious you are about your acquisition of sneakers, you could possibly pay anywhere between retail price and a hundred dollars above retail price. I was guilty of doing this many times in high school. There was nothing better than walking around with a pair of sneakers that hadn’t been officially released yet. In retrospect, I regret nothing.

Constantly buying sneakers can be a symbol of status. It tells you that I have money to spend, or at least it gives you that illusion. It could also tell who my favorite athlete was/is at the time, which can reveal which sports I follow. It might even indicate the type of music I listen to. The rest of my outfit could suggest whether I’m just a sneakerhead or a fashionista. The type of sneaker I wear can describe my personality. Do I buy retro kicks? If so, are there any childhood memories attached to them? There can be sentimental value in a pair of sneakers, you know. That’s the reason why retro kicks are so successful. The sneakerhead community doesn’t consider sneakers to be just material items; to believe that would be to trivialize the culture.

OK. What if someone doesn’t wear their sneakers?

Imagine being able to have the option to don a Picasso painting. That would be awesome, right? As ill as it may be, some sneakerheads choose not to wear certain pairs with the incentive that if they keep those sneakers in perfect condition they can resell them later. They’d either recoup on their investment or make some extra cash. That’s why some people collect sneakers like works of art, because that’s what they are. Some even collect with no intention of selling. These are the sneakerheads who simply admire the historical context of the sneaker — people who just love sneaker design, technology, and evolution.

Tinker Hatfield is one of the most successful designers Nike has ever had. His work is revered and highly coveted. You can credit Nike’s success and best designs to him alone. With a background in architecture, Tinker is rightfully viewed an artist. We wore his creative and innovative designs. Then we began collecting them…like Picasso paintings. And like all works of art, they appreciated in value over time. We gave them that value.

So you can laugh at me for spending $400 on footwear. But when you spend more on an item that depreciates in value, I can’t understand how you can judge me. In ten years, your television will be an obsolete machine you’ll replace without giving it a second thought. In that time my Air Jordans might be dusty and less shiny, but they’ll always take me back to June of 1996. That’s when a 9-year-old fell in love with basketball, sneakers, and the Chicago Bulls (you know which sneakers I’m talking about).

Sneakerheads: We’re people who want to celebrate an era in our lives. We’re admirers of lifestyle. We’re the celebrators of humanity’s extraordinary physical feats. We each represent a culture within a subculture. We’re individuals each with a story to tell, and it just so happens that we use sneakers to tell those stories. Sneakers symbolize who we are, what we love, and what we represent.

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