Style & Fashion

Where to Find Your Next Investment? Streetwear and Sneaker Auctions

Christie’s handbags and accessories expert Caitlin Donovan provides an inside glimpse of the rise of this new collectible asset class

Last summer, Christie’s partnered with sportswear company Stadium Goods to host Original Air: Michael Jordan Game-Worn and Player Exclusive Sneaker Rarities, a landmark online sale. “It was our inaugural sale, the very first of our sneaker auctions, with the whole process and results proving to be very exciting,” says Caitlin Donovan, Vice President, Head of Sales, Handbags and Accessories at Christie’s.

Michael Jordan drives against two basketball opponents, wearing Air Jordans – the most collectible shoe at sneaker auctions
Although Michael Jordan played for both the Washington Wizards and Chicago Bulls during his NBA career, his Air Jordans—first produced for him in 1984—were a constant fixture. Image: Getty Images

Offering the most comprehensive sneaker record of Michael Jordan’s era-defining Chicago Bulls career, the sale found a worldwide audience. “We were surprised by the level of global participation,” Donovan says. “Clients tuned in from across AsiaTaiwan, South Korea—and the Middle East, as well as the United States and Europe.”

While the sale’s global reach may have surprised Donovan, interest in sneakers as an investment doesn’t.

“There’s a generation of young buyers who haven’t had a market that is their own to really collect in,” says the New York-based expert. “So, I think that for the first time, we’re seeing that these young men and women are treating sneaker auctions as a way to find investment pieces. They then resell them on secondary markets like StockX and grailed, and of course the auction world, and that’s really fueling growth.”

A red and black pair of Air Jordan 1s
A pair of 1985 Air Jordan 1 High “‘Shattered Backboard’ Origin Story” Sneakers (modeled on the uniform Jordan wore during a 1985 exhibition game, where he quite literally shattered the backboard) realized $615,000 at the Original Air auction.

The Original Air sale featured 11 lots and achieved a total of $931,875. “The provenance for these sneakers was incredible,” notes Donovan, who believes that interest in sneakers and streetwear as collectibles will only increase. “I think this is going to be an area where we see an immense amount of growth,” she says, “And we are already planning more sales for the rest of 2021 and beyond.”

A younger audience is treating sneaker auctions as a way to find investment pieces, and then resell them on secondary markets

Donovan believes that this growth will be driven by new buyers who are perhaps not so well versed in buying from Christie’s but are looking at accessories and streetwear in a way that “perhaps 10 years ago people would never have considered. A decade ago people wouldn’t have looked at a skateboard or a handbag and said ‘Well, this is an investment.’ They definitely do now.”

The underside of black, red, and white Air Jordan 7s
Today, Air Jordans are the world’s most popular and collectible sneaker, with this 1992 pair of Air Jordan 7 “Olympic,” Player Exclusive, Game-Worn Sneakers realizing $112,500 at Christie’s recent sale.

And while this younger audience is learning about building a collection and fostering a relationship with Christie’s, Donovan and her team are also on a learning curve.

“This collecting market is new at Christie’s and we’re enjoying developing an understanding of what it is that our buyers want and are looking for, and we’re taking cues from them. We’re looking forward to growing the department and providing the best service for our new clients.”

Banner image: Alamy