How streetwear went from underground to dominating the auction world

Streetwear isn’t what it used to be. Historically a product of the hip-hop and skater culture of the 80s, 90s and early 2000s, the fashion subculture created a community that welcomed everyone, regardless of social or financial status.

But while brands like Supreme have gone mainstream, the streetwear industry is now valued at around $185 billion – and suddenly everyone has their eyes on it, from high fashion brands like Gucci and Prada to fashion houses. auction like Sotheby’s and Christie’s.

Due to widespread interest in streetwear, pushed far and wide by celebrity co-signers, and a more casual global dress code, it has become increasingly difficult to buy even a widely known and mass-produced sneaker like the Nike Air Jordan 1. And when luxury brands create limited-edition collaborations that bridge high fashion and casual wear, that inevitable exclusive finds its way to auction to be auctioned off by collectors, enthusiasts, and even stockists. There’s money to be made in streetwear, and individuals and businesses alike waste no time trying to get the most out of it.

Go once, go twice


Recorded as early as 500 BC. AD, over time, auctions led to diplomatic sales of luxury items, antiques, household items, works of art and, more recently, pairs of Nike sneakers and skateboards. Although big auction houses like Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips – and newer companies like StockX, eBay and GOAT that have a similar auction model – have a strong hold on secondary luxury fashion sales, the introduction of streetwear has opened them up to a demographic that was once out of reach.

In the 2000s, luxury brands began to notice the high profit potential of streetwear, especially as the sneaker market grew by more than 40% since 2004. Sneakers that could once be found in a skate shop, thrift store, or mall for $40. are now lavishly covered in monogrammed prints and sold in a jiffy for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Young collectors meet more ready to learn from this market because of what they were raised in.”

StockX and GOAT are websites that allow buyers to participate in a contemporary form of auction. Because they have been able to generate new interest in selling items using traditional auction methods, established houses like Christie’s and Sotheby’s are using this to their advantage and exploiting the market.

Donovan holding the sneaker worn by the Air Jordan 1 High ‘Shattered Backboard’ game from the Christie’s x Stadium Goods auction.TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images

Caitlin Donovan, sales manager, handbags, streetwear and sneakers at Christie’s, explained that there is not a single definite buyer or collector in this space, but the recent increase in the value of streetwear has sparked a new interest from young buyers. “Buying a piece of art at Christie’s can seem daunting,” she said. Contribution in an interview. “But the aftermarket for sneakers is very established, and younger collectors find themselves more willing to learn from that market because of what they were brought up to be.”

Auctions’ interest in streetwear has made this space more accessible and mainstream, especially as more and more of these houses hold online-only auctions. A third of new buyers at Christie’s are millennials and two-thirds enter through online sales, the auction house reported to CNBC. At Sotheby’s, 55% of customers are new, while 65% are in the 20-40 age bracket, said Brahm Wachter, head of streetwear and modern collectibles at Sotheby’s. yahoo.

Late last year, Christie’s held an online-only auction titled Handbags x Hype: The Luxury Remix that raised over $2.9 million. The event aimed to track the evolution of the luxury industry’s gaze towards streetwear, including a selection of sneakers, vintage arcade games and more.

The Air Jordan 13 sneakers worn and signed by Michael Jordan in his last game during the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls championship season were a highly coveted piece, selling for $375,000. Two complete sneaker collections, including Virgil Abloh’s Off-White x Nike sneakers and Kanye West’s Yeezy 350 sneakers, sold for $62,000 and $37,500, respectively. Kanye’s name was also attached to another item: a signed Donda vest from an Atlanta listening party in 2021 that fetched $75,000 at auction.

The new buyer

Young buyers represent a growing segment of auction customers. Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

For some collectors, the luxury streetwear auction boom is based on nostalgia and a desire to feel connected to their heroes, like Michael Jordan. Those who couldn’t afford a certain brand of sneakers or high fashion in their youth can now afford to purchase a collaboration that can now only be found at auction. And for younger generations, rarer coins can be seen as a long-term investment.

Nick Engvall, founder of Sneaker History and streetwear enthusiast, explained that the rising monetary value of streetwear is pushing many of these young shoppers to invest. “We find that the average 16-year-old can spend five times more than I did at 16 on sneakers, streetwear, apparel and skateboarding stuff,” he said. Contribution in an interview. “But most of the things they buy hold their value much longer than anything I needed to buy at the time.”

Buy a coin of value streetwear history it’s like having a savings account if the room retains its value.

In a way, buying a valuable piece of streetwear history is like having a savings account if the piece retains its value, especially when it also has societal value. Auctions for Virgil Abloh’s Sotheby’s Louis Vuitton x Nike Air Force 1 sneaker collection have reached over $25 million, just two months after the late designer passed away. Although the proceeds benefited Abloh’s “POST MODERN” scholarship fund, the average price of a pair was $126,000.

Meanwhile, a pair of Nike Air Ship sneakers worn by Michael Jordan sold for $1.5 million and a Nike Air Yeezy sneaker from Kanye West’s performance at the 2008 Grammy Awards sold for $1.8 million. dollars in 2021 at Sotheby’s, the highest sale price ever seen on shoes at auction.

on the block

NurPhoto/NurPhoto/Getty Images

These sales reflect that interest in historic streetwear is strong, and Engvall describes it as a form of generational approval. Buyers are often nostalgic for these cultural moments and their own professional success allows them to buy these cultural goods that they appreciate.

“When you think about what Nike Where Supreme done i would say 90 percent is always published in a way that is actually affordable.”

And the life of the item is not over after it is sold, its value only continues to increase. Kanye West’s aforementioned Donda vest has changed hands three times, increasing its price each time until its last sale for $75,000. Nike’s Louis Vuitton sneakers sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars, but their value probably doubled in the process. Sotheby’s also auctioned off Kobe Bryant’s 2006 jersey, the earliest sports memorabilia from that game, proving that there are countless moments that can be archived and sold.


Although streetwear itself is built on accessibility and community, Wachter isn’t worried about the legacy of streetwear as it becomes more exclusive. “When you think about what Nike or Supreme do, I’d say 90% is still marketed in a really affordable way,” Wachter said. Contribution. Spending thousands of dollars on a collectible may put the item beyond the reach of the average consumer, but they are initially released in an accessible way, even if that accessibility is distorted by resellers, bots, and overall limited quantities. .

And while not every buyer will be able to afford a Basquiat painting, a Kaws sculpture, Bearbrick or a Louis Vuitton sneaker, the abundance of those names, images and likenesses has helped streetwear retain its rebellious core and original. “Truly, it just opens up the possibility for other brands to step in and be affordable, localized brands to create cooler products that aren’t as expensive,” Engvall said.

Ultimately, as streetwear’s dollar sign continues to rise, everyone wants to drink from their golden fountain. But with each release and historic moment sold to the highest bidder, is the fountain about to dry up?

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