Sneakers are tied to so many facets of culture — from their enduring link to hip hop, to their lasting impact on basketball, sneakers are symbolic of more than just lacing up.
Because of that, sneaker collecting culture has blossomed in recent years. Once reserved for those willing to sleep overnight outside a store to be the first one to cop an exclusive pair of Dunks, collectors have evolved to form communities around the globe.
Sneakerheads are all tied together by a few common threads — a hard-hitting passion for unique street style, sustainability and of course, scouting out the rarest (and coolest) sneaker silhouettes there are.
With thrifting tips all over TikTok, to online groups dedicated to answering all your burning questions, and services like eBay's Authenticity Guarantee (that'll verify everything from the box, soles, and stitching, laces to ensure you're getting the real deal), there's never been a better time to build a collection. So, we spoke to avid sneaker collectors Jackie Pettitt (@vasitii) and Shelly Carr (@poloshelly) about their go-to tips for tracking down rare styles and why the community holds such a special place in their hearts.
What makes a ‘good’ sneaker?
Shelly: A good sneaker to me is a silhouette that has stood the test of time — the ones that transcend hype and trends — that’s my definition. They’re made with a quality upper, and an outsole and have to be comfortable on foot, too. I look to classic designs and OG colourways, for example, the Nike Air Max 95 Neon Green, New Balance 992 and 990s, maple suede Clarks Wallabees and Timberland wheat 6-inch boots.
These pairs have been worn for the past 25-30 years, which is a testament to their design and wearability. I see new models come and go, but you can’t beat the classics.
Jackie: The colour combinations for sure. I always look for a sneaker that I can easily pair with the clothes in my wardrobe. I usually lean towards earthy tones and neutral colours so I’m not restricted with what I can wear back with them.
How can you tell when a sneaker is authentic versus a knock off?
Shelly: A good starting point is checking the serial numbers and SKU/UPC on the tag under the tongue (or wherever it may be inside the shoe). Pop those into Google to ensure the numbers are correct. However, that doesn’t always guarantee they’re authentic.
When I’m trying to figure out whether a pair is real, I bring up photos and compare different design points of the shoe. If I’m really unsure, I ask my friends who own the same shoe or have more experience than me in doing legit checks. That’s the cool thing about the community — even if you don’t know something, your mates are always happy to help out.
Jackie: The more you look at sneakers in person and in photos, the easier it becomes to tell if a shoe is fake. You can also judge by the seller and their reviews or reputation.
How do you track down hard-to-find styles?
Shelly: I’ve had a lot of luck over the years by doing more broad searches on eBay (where you can verify your sneakers against a seller's listing description). For example, instead of searching for the whole make and model of a shoe, I’ll enter 'Nike shoe' and scroll for hours. It can be arduous, but it also pays off in spades. That’s how I found my pair of Air Jordan 1 Black Toes for $70USD in 2014; they were titled 'Nike high tops'.
Searching via a shoe’s SKU/UPC can work (if found on the tag), too if you’ve got the time — it’s worth it! Over the years, I’ve found a lot of good pairs at markets and thrift shops, too, maybe not as much now since the sneaker world boom. I’ve found countless SB dunks and ACG trail pairs at my local thrifts.
Jackie: eBay! If I really want a pair, I will keep searching for it every so often and hopefully, something pops up for a good price. Resale prices are so high now that it's often hard to find a good price but sometimes you can get lucky or you can buy a lightly worn pair instead.
What do you enjoy the most about sneaker collecting and the sneaker community?
Shelly: The parts I enjoy most are the people I’ve met along the way and the friendships we’ve made from a shared passion for collecting shoes. These days, a lot of community is built online through places like Instagram, which is cool. Still, it’s more exciting when it translates into real-life — like the Nike ACG Community group hikes in regional Victoria.
When we were locked down for so many years, I think a lot of us were craving that in-person connection — which is what makes the community hikes so good.
Jackie: There are always new releases coming out which keeps it interesting. It’s nice to also have something in common with people you know and you can talk about the upcoming releases and what not.
What are your hacks for cleaning your favourite sneakers?
Shelly: Use different brushes for different uppers and don’t use a coarse brush or water on suede. I use natural cleaners and never use protective spray (controversial) but whatever! I like the look of worn pairs, anyway. They look more comfortable.
Jackie: I’m not great at keeping my sneakers in a good condition haha. My boyfriend and I will buy the same shoe and somehow his pair will still look new and my pair will look like I’ve gone hiking in them. Lately, I’ve only been using wipes like the Jason Mark Quick Wipes, they are mess free and you can use them before you head out the door.
Any tips for someone wanting to get into the sneaker game?
Shelly: Follow your heart and whatever excites you — you’ll be surprised by the rabbit holes you’ll fall down, especially with some of the more niche lines. If you fall in love with a particular silhouette, see what other colourways or collaborations of it are out there. There might be a particular pair you’re desperate to cop — and if one person is selling it and being hard stance — remember it’s okay to play the long game.
They might not want to budge on price, so keep your eye on it. I’ve waited over six months on a pair and had back and forth with the seller until we reached an agreement. Look for pairs that make you feel good about yourself when you wear them and be as authentic to yourself as possible. If everyone in the world liked the same things, it’d be a pretty boring place.
Jackie: Buy sneakers you really like rather than buying them for the hype. That way you can enjoy them and hopefully keep them in your wardrobe for longer.