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Sneakerheads: A Brief History of Sneaker Collecting

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For many of us, buying a pair of sneakers is a chore. But for a sneaker collector, there's no greater joy than a fresh pair of kicks. Here's a look at this growing subculture, whose members are proud to call themselves “sneakerheads.”

From B-Boys to Sneakerheads

Sneaker collecting got its start in the late 1970s as part of the burgeoning b-boy and hip-hop movement of New York City. Unique clothes were a hallmark of early hip-hop, and sneakers were easily customized, either by color coordinating laces to an outfit or by filling in the triple stripes on a pair of Adidas with a magic marker. Once a b-boy found a shoe he liked, it wasn’t unusual for him to buy more than one pair so he could have them on hand when the old ones wore out.

1985 Air Jordans

The sneaker craze hit mainstream America when Nike and Michael Jordan introduced Air Jordans in 1985.

Even at a retail price back then of $125, stores couldn’t keep the shoes on the shelf, and Jordans quickly became a sought-after status symbol. In a shrewd marketing move, Nike continued to produce a new style of Jordans every year. The shoes proved so popular that, by the early 1990s, some estimates say that 1 in every 12 Americans had a pair of Air Jordans.

However, the popularity of Jordans created a backlash among sneaker fans who, like their b-boy forefathers, always wanted their kicks to stand out. These sneakerheads began digging through the back rooms of mom and pop shoe shops to find out-of-production styles, often “copping” them for a fraction of their original price. Of course these vintage shoes were in short supply, so sneakerheads sometimes traveled hundreds of miles, and then bought more than one pair, keeping some “on ice” so they'd always have a fresh supply for years to come. Today, it's not unusual for a committed sneakerhead to have 50 or more pairs of shoes, most of which are “deadstock," meaning they've never been worn (and probably never will be).

From the Street to the Boutique

When shoe companies discovered the lengths sneakerheads would go to for a pair of unique kicks, they started producing limited edition “colorways," a term used to describe the different color schemes and types of materials available across a shoe line. Today, just about every major shoe maker offers limited edition colorways, but Nike has really embraced the concept with lines like the Dunk and the Air Force 1 that are produced almost exclusively as limited editions.


Colorways

Normally, these special colorways are produced in very limited runs—often fewer than 500 pairs worldwide—and are only available at handpicked stores and specialty boutiques where they sell for well over Nike's suggested retail price. But if you miss your chance to buy an exclusive colorway, the secondary market is thriving on eBay and at sneaker consignment shops like Sole Control in Philadelphia, and Flight Club in L.A. and New York. If you have to go this route, be prepared to pay two or three times the already-inflated boutique price.

On top of exclusive retail colorways, there are even rarer collectible shoes that make sneakerheads go crazy. One type are “Friends and Family” editions, colorways created for a celebrity or a company, who give them away as gifts or promotional items. These designs are usually limited to less than 100 pairs, so they fetch top dollar on the collector's market. There are also “Samples," prototype colorways that were never put into production, making these extremely rare; maybe even elevated to “1 of 1” status. Perhaps the most unusual are “Player’s Edition” colorways made for a high-profile celebrity's personal collection. The exclusivity and the provenance of these kicks make them true Holy Grail designs.

10 Kicks to Cop

There are far too many collectible colorways to list, but here are 10 styles that fetch top dollar on eBay and at sneaker consignment shops.

1. Nike Dunk Low “Black & Tans”

Nike Black & Tans were created this year as a toast to the popular drink of the same name, and then released just in time for everyone's favorite drinking holiday, St. Patrick's Day. However, Nike didn't know that “Black and Tan” is a name that leaves a bad taste in the mouths of many on the Emerald Isle. The Black and Tans were a group of World War I veterans assigned by the British government in 1920 to root out IRA members in Ireland. Unfortunately, they used their power to commit indiscriminate acts of violence against non-IRA affiliated citizens, without any legal ramifications. Nike has since apologized for the misstep, but a little controversy can go a long way with collectors.

2. Nike Dunk Low “Heineken”

The Heinekens dropped in 2003, featuring color cues taken from the logo for Heineken Beer (even the brand’s signature red star). The beer company never agreed to this collaboration, though, and has since asked eBay to pull any auctions that use their name to describe the shoes. Of course that only makes them harder for sneakerheads to find, which increases their value considerably.

3. Nike Dunk Low “Freddy”

In 2007, Nike took inspiration from a most unusual place: Freddy Krueger, the star of the popular horror film franchise A Nightmare on Elm Street. Sporting stripes like Freddy’s sweater, a shiny swoosh like his knife-laden glove, blood-splatter highlights, and melted flesh insoles, these shoes are not for the collector who is faint of heart (or fashion).

4. Nike Air Yeezy

The first time a non-athlete got a shoe contract was the $1.6 million deal between Adidas and Run-D.M.C. in 1986. There have been others since, but the first for Nike, with Kanye West, has proven to be a big hit. Kanye's Air Yeezys were released in 2009 in three colorways, at a retail price of $225. Depending on where you look, the first and third colorways go for about $1700, but the second one—black and neon pink—can reach upwards of $2300.

5. Nike Dunk Low “Paris”

The Dunk Paris was released in 2004 as part of Nike’s "White Dunk: Evolution of an Icon" art installation in Paris, France. Exactly 202 pairs were made, all featuring different samples of artwork from painter Bernard Buffet.

6. Air Jordan Retro IV “Eminems”

Another Friends and Family release, 50 pairs of blue and black Air Jordans were made for rap artist Eminem in 2004 to celebrate the release of his fourth album, Encore. Aside from the unusual colorway, the rapper’s name is stitched onto the inside of the tongue and the album title on the heel pull.

7. Nike Air MAG “The McFlys”

You probably remember the 1500 pairs of special Back to the Future shoes released last year. Sadly, they didn't have automatic laces, as the shoes in the movie did, but they did raise $5.7 million for the Michael J. Fox Foundation. British DJ Tinie Tempah paid $37,500 for the very first pair. If you missed your chance to own a piece of sneaker and Hollywood history, and you have some cash to burn, they're available on eBay and at consignment shops for about $3600.

8. Nike Dunk Hi FLOM (For Love Or Money)

Designed by graffiti artist Futura 2000, and limited to only 24 pairs, this Friends and Family colorway featuring different currencies from around the world is considered one of the Holy Grails of shoe collecting.

9. Air Jordan Retro XI “Blackout Samples”

A buyer tried to sell a sample pair of all-black Air Jordan Retro XI’s on eBay for $15,000. This colorway never made it out of the prototype phase, so it’s hard telling how many exist; these could be a rare “1 of 1” shoe.

10. The eBay Charity Dunks

Nike and eBay held a charity auction in 2003 for a pair of shoes based on the eBay logo. The anonymous winning bidder paid $30,000 for a pair that was made-to-fit. To ensure no other eBay Dunks were ever produced, Nike publicly cut up the prototype pair used for the auction, and sent the pieces to the winner for safekeeping.

Sneaker Riots

Whether it's sneakerheads looking for limited edition kicks or just “hypebeasts” chasing the latest fashion trend, there have been times when the demand for popular shoes has gotten ugly. Here are three such shoes.

1. Nike Dunk Low Pigeons

In 2005, Nike introduced the Dunk Low “Pigeons," a colorway limited to 150 pairs and available only at five boutiques in New York City. Although Nike’s suggested price of $69 was inflated to $300, over 100 people eager to score a pair showed up at the boutique, Reed Space, on the morning of release. Unfortunately, the shop only had 20 pairs, so most people went home sans sneakers—and they weren’t happy about it. Although it was tense, the NYPD was able to disperse the crowd before things got out of hand. That night, the shoes were going for $750 on eBay, but today you’ll be lucky to find a pair for less than $2000. Unfortunately, this first “sneaker riot” was not the last.

2. Air Jordan Retro XI

Just after midnight on December 23, 2011, hundreds of people gathered outside shopping malls in order to be one of the first to drop $180 on the Air Jordan Retro XI, a re-release of the 1996 design, now available in two colorways, the “Concord” and the “Cool Grey." Before the night was over, many crowds had gotten out of control. Indianapolis police were called to three different malls, 20 Atlanta police cars responded to a mall in the suburbs, Seattle cops deployed pepper spray, and a man was stabbed in Jersey City, just to name a few of the many incidents reported across the country. For those who wanted the shoes, it was a small price to pay. But for those who didn't get a pair, the price on eBay the next day was $500, which is what they're still valued at today many months later.

3. Nike Air Foamposite One

A similar scene occurred just before the NBA All-Star Game in February, with the release of the $220 glow-in-the-dark Nike Air Foamposite One. Smaller instances occurred in other markets, but Orlando required more than 100 officers in full riot gear, a handful of police dogs, and two choppers to control an anxious crowd of hundreds of shoe shoppers. To prevent a repeat of the Jordan riots, Nike had to cancel the release at that time. In the meantime, the few Galaxies that were purchased in other parts of the country are going for anywhere between $1800 and $2300 online.

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13 Fantastic Museums You Can Visit for Free on Saturday
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On Saturday, September 23, museums and cultural institutions across the United States will open their doors to the public for free, as part of Smithsonian magazine’s annual Museum Day Live! event. Hundreds of museums are set to participate, ranging from world-famous institutions in major cities to tiny, local museums in small towns. While the full list of museums can be viewed, and tickets can be reserved, on the Smithsonian website, we’ve collected a small selection of the fantastic museums you can visit for free this Saturday.

1. NEWSEUM // WASHINGTON, D.C.

The Newseum in Washington, D.C. is an entire museum dedicated to the First Amendment. Celebrating freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly and petition, the museum features exhibits on civil rights, the Berlin Wall, and the history of news media in America. Their latest special exhibitions take a look back at the event of September 11, 2001 and go inside the FBI's crime-fighting tactics.

2. INTREPID SEA, AIR & SPACE MUSEUM // NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK

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New York's Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum doesn’t just showcase America’s military and maritime history—it is a piece of that history. The museum itself is one of the Essex-class aircraft carriers built by the United States Navy during World War II. Visitors can explore its massive deck and interior, and view historic airplanes, a real World War II submarine, and a range of interactive exhibits. Normally, a ticket will set you back a whopping $33 (or $19 for New York City residents), but on Saturday, general admission is free with a Museum Day Live! ticket.

3. AUTRY MUSEUM OF THE AMERICAN WEST // LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA

Perfect for art lovers, history buffs, and cinephiles alike, the Autry Museum of the American West (named for legendary singing cowboy Gene Autry) offers up an eclectic mix of art, historical artifacts from the real American West, and Western film memorabilia and props.

4. MUSEUM OF ARTS AND SCIENCES // DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA

A massive art, science, and history museum located on a 90-acre nature preserve, the Museum of Arts and Sciences features the largest collection of Florida art anywhere in the world, as well as the largest collection of Coca-Cola memorabilia in all of Florida. Its diverse exhibits are alternately awe-inspiring, informative, and quirky, ranging from an exploration of 2000 years of sculpture art to an exhibition of 19th and 20th century advertising posters.

5. INTERNATIONAL MUSEUM OF THE HORSE AT THE KENTUCKY HORSE PARK // LEXINGTON, KENTUCKY

The International Museum of the Horse explores the history of—you guessed it!—the horse. That might sound like a narrow scope, but the museum doesn’t just display horse racing artifacts or teach you about modern horse breeds. Instead, it endeavors to tackle the 50-million-year evolution of the horse and its relationship with humans from ancient times to modern times.

6. THE PEGGY NOTEBAERT NATURE MUSEUM // CHICAGO, ILLINOIS

Pete LaMotte, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The 160-year-old Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum is pulling out all the stops for this year’s Museum Day Live! In addition to their vast exhibits of animal specimens and cultural artifacts, the museum will be hosting a live animal feeding and a butterfly release throughout the day.

7. OGDEN MUSEUM OF SOUTHERN ART // NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA

The Ogden Museum of Southern Art aims to teach visitors about the rich culture and diverse visual arts of the American South. Right now, visitors can view a collection of William Eggleston's photographs and check out the museum's 10th annual invitational exhibition of ceramic teacups and teapots.

8. BALTIMORE MUSEUM OF INDUSTRY // BALTIMORE, MARYLAND

Marcin Wichary, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Located in a 19th century oyster cannery on the Baltimore waterfront, the Baltimore Museum of Industry tells the story of American manufacturing from garment making to video game design. Visitors this weekend can meet video game designers and create custom games at the museum’s interactive “Video Game Wizards” exhibit.

9. SYLVAN HEIGHTS BIRD PARK // SCOTLAND NECK, NORTH CAROLINA

You can meet 2000 birds from around the world this weekend at the 18-acre Sylvan Heights Bird Park. Visitors to the massive garden can walk through aviaries displaying birds from every continent except Antarctica, including ducks, geese, swans, and exotic birds from all over the world.

10. DELTA BLUES MUSEUM // CLARKSDALE, MISSISSIPPI

Visit Mississippi, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Visitors to the Delta Blues Museum can learn about the unique American musical art form in “the land where blues began,” with audiovisual exhibits centered on blues and rock legend Don Nix, as well as Paramount Records illustrator Anthony Mostrom.

11. NATIONAL MUSEUM OF NUCLEAR SCIENCE & HISTORY // ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO

America’s only congressionally chartered museum dedicated to the story of the Atomic Age, the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History features exhibits on everything from nuclear medicine to representations of atomic power in pop culture. Adult visitors to the museum will delight in its impressively nuanced take on nuclear technology, while kids will love the museum’s outdoor airplane exhibit and hands-on science activities at Little Albert’s Lab.

12. MUSEUM OF THE MOUNTAIN MAN // PINEDALE, WYOMING

sporst, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Dedicated to the mountain men who explored and settled Wyoming in the 19th century, the Museum of the Mountain Man brings American folklore and legends to life. The museum features exhibits on the Rocky Mountain fur trade and tells the story of American folk legend and famed mountain man Hugh Glass (the man Leonardo DiCaprio won an Oscar playing in 2015's The Revenant).

13. BESH BA GOWAH ARCHAEOLOGICAL PARK AND MUSEUM // GLOBE, ARIZONA

Arizona’s Besh Ba Gowah Archaeological Park and Museum lets visitors connect with history firsthand. The museum is home to the ruins and artifacts of the Salado Indians who inhabited Arizona from the 13th century through the 15th century, and even lets visitors wander through an 800-year-old Salado pueblo.

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12 Secrets of Sephora Employees
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Kimberly White/Getty Images

With more than 2000 stores in 33 countries, Sephora has arguably become the ultimate destination for all things beauty-related. Founded in France in 1970, the cosmetics giant sells a variety of makeup, nail polish, perfume, and skincare products, but it’s not your average beauty store. The shops offer customers an interactive experience, with beauty advice and free samples galore. We got the skinny on what it’s like to work there—from the special vocabulary they use to why they’re always happy to give out samples.

1. THEY HAVE THEIR OWN LINGO.

Sephora employees use a variety of terms to refer to themselves, their wardrobe, and where they work. Employees who interact with customers on the sales floor (a.k.a. the stage) are dubbed cast members, and managers are called directors. Continuing the theatrical theme, Sephora employees refer to their uniforms as costumes and call the back area of the store the backstage. There's also a particular term they use to describe all the free loot they get—gratis.

2. WEARING MAKEUP IS A JOB REQUIREMENT.

A Sephora employee in uniform applies eyeshadow to another woman seated in a chair
Bryan Bedder/Getty Images

Sephora employees sometimes jokingly refer to their costumes’ futuristic style—black dresses with red stripes or black separates with red accents—as Star Trek attire. But besides donning Trek-y garb, Sephora employees must also wear fragrance and a full face of makeup. “We had a minimum amount that we had to wear every day, and we got written up if we didn’t wear it,” writes Garnetstar28, a former color and fragrance expert at Sephora, on Reddit. “In the beginning it was fun, but when I started working the opening shift I really started to hate having to put that much makeup on at 6 in the morning."

While most employees must wear eyeliner, eye shadow, mascara, foundation, blush, and lipstick, some of them can get away with wearing less makeup, depending on their area of specialty and the location of the store. And although they don’t necessarily need to wear products sold at Sephora, management often encourages employees to do so because many customers ask cast members about the products they personally use.

3. THEY MIGHT NEVER HAVE TO BUY THEIR OWN MAKEUP …

Reps from various beauty brands regularly visit Sephora stores to educate employees about their new products and how to use them. In these trainings, which typically occur a few times a week, Sephora workers may receive free products (in full, half, or sample sizes) to try. That can add up quickly, with some employees estimating that they’ve accumulated thousands of dollars worth of products. “I will most likely never have to buy mascara ever again,” writes Kaitierehh, a Sephora Color Lead (the manager of a store’s color cosmetics section), on Reddit.

4. … BUT IF THEY DO, THEY GET HEFTY DISCOUNTS.

A line of women pour over a new Sephora display of makeup in Australia
Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

If Sephora employees want a specific product that’s missing from their gratis goodies, they can always purchase it from their employer—at a steep discount. Store policies vary, but most employees enjoy a 20 percent discount for in-store and online products. During the winter holidays, this discount increases to 30 percent, and products from Sephora’s own collection are always available for a 40 percent discount. Additionally, Sephora employees who work at stores inside J.C. Penney (Sephora has a partnership with the department store chain) enjoy a 20 to 30 percent discount on J.C. Penney products. Not a bad deal.

5. THEY CAN WORK THEIR WAY UP FROM CASHIER TO SKINCARE PHD.

At Sephora, most new hires—who don’t need to have any makeup application experience—start at the bottom, working as cashiers or stocking the shelves overnight. But opportunities for growth abound. “Once you feel comfortable you can let your managers know you want ‘to go through build’ where you will learn about all the different ‘worlds’ the store has to offer,” a Sephora employee going by littleboots writes on Reddit. “Eventually you will be tested, and if you pass, you will have your very own brush belt.”

Sephora employees go through plenty of training, from the Science of Sephora (a curriculum covering makeup application and customer service) to hands-on learning from brand reps. “Sephora is amazing about education,” says Kim Carpluk, a Senior Artist and Class Facilitator at one of the company's New York City locations. “I’ve grown so much as an artist in just three years with the company,” she tells Mental Floss.

Cast members who complete additional training (beyond Science of Sephora) are eligible to earn a Skincare PhD, a senior title bestowed upon employees who have comprehensive knowledge and serve as personal beauty advisors to customers. Additionally, a select few become part of the Sephora Pro team, traveling the country to demonstrate makeup application techniques and represent the company on the brand’s social media channels.

6. THEY WISH MORE PEOPLE WOULD PRACTICE GOOD HYGIENE.

A display of Mar Jacobs makeup a a Sephora store in Australia
Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

The various testers around the store let customers dab on concealer, experiment with a new shade of gloss, or test a bold eye shadow. Although Sephora employees work hard to monitor and sanitize the testing stations, they can’t completely control what customers do. “I’ve seen people with cold sores, people with really nasty chapped lips, and people who were visibly sick using lipsticks and glosses on their mouths,” Garnetstar28 says. Besides the gross factor, contaminated makeup brushes, applicators, and wands can harbor bacteria (including E. coli) and spread infections. To minimize the risk, Sephora employees use alcohol-based sanitizers and encourage customers to use disposable applicators.

7. THEY AREN’T PRESSURED TO MAKE COMMISSIONS.

Unlike salespeople at other beauty retailers, Sephora employees don’t work off commission—so they feel free to give customers their unbiased opinions about products. “We just really care. The reason a lot of us work for Sephora is because we don’t have to work off commission,” Carpluk says. “We’re there to support each other and make our clients feel beautiful and happy, and suggest what’s right for them based on their particular concerns.”

To encourage cast members to be positive and friendly (without the motivation of commissions), Sephora offers customers online surveys that allow them to rate their experience at a store. Managers may also reward cast members who meet hourly sales goals (selling more than $100 worth of products in the next hour, for example) with free beauty products. “If we do extra well a manager might randomly let you choose extra gratis,” littleboots reveals.

8. THEY'RE NOT ALL WOMEN.

5 Sephora employees, 2 of them male, pose in front of a display in a Santa Monica store
Rebecca Sapp/Getty Images

While many of Sephora’s employees (and customers) are women, you can still find plenty of men in the store. “I have three beautiful amazing super talented drag queens on my artistry team," Kaitierehh says. “At one of my previous stores, I even had two straight boys on my cast.” At Carpluk’s store in New York City, the employee ratio is almost 50/50 males to females. “We have a lot of men that work with us,” she says. “We even have a lot of male clients come in. I recently did a small makeover for an actor—I walked him through how to use foundation and concealer.”

9. THEY’RE HAPPY TO GIVE YOU FREE SAMPLES …

Sephora is generous when it comes to free samples, and employees fully embrace the store’s bighearted policy. “I love to give out samples,” Carpluk says. “We’re there to help and to give out as many [samples] as possible. If you’re having trouble choosing between two foundations, we want you to take them home and try it out.” Typically, employees stick to giving three samples to each customer, but some are happy to give even more. “Anything we can squeeze into a container is the easiest—think foundation, primer, skin care,” littleboots says. “We can make a sad attempt to scrape out lip gloss or cut off a piece of lipstick too, it’s just not as effective.”

10. … BUT THE STORE’S GENEROUS RETURN POLICY CAN IRRITATE THEM.

A selection of makeup on display at a Sephora store in Beverly Hills, California
Joe Scarnici/Getty Images

Sephora’s return policy lets customers return anything (even "gently used" products) up to 60 days after buying it for a full refund, and customers who return items without a receipt get full store credit. While customers love the flexibility of trying products and returning them, some Sephora employees get frustrated when customers abuse the return policy. “I’ve seen entire articles written about how to take advantage of Sephora’s generous return policy by returning half used products and shades when the trends change and you get tired of them,” writes Ivy Boyd, who worked her way up at Sephora from a Product Consultant to Senior Education Consultant. “It infuriates me, to be honest, and is a very entitled attitude. When items are returned used, they are damaged out. They are destroyed. They go to complete waste.”

11. THEY MIGHT NOT WEAR MAKEUP WHEN THEY’RE OFF THE CLOCK.

Sephora employees are passionate about makeup, but many of them choose to go barefaced on their days off. Besides saving time by skipping makeup, they can give their skin and pores much needed time to “breathe” without being smothered in products. Not all employees forego makeup on their days off, though. “Every single day of my entire existence I wear makeup,” Carpluk admits.

12. THEY LOVE MAKING PEOPLE FEEL CONFIDENT.

A male Sephora employee applies powder to a seated woman holding a mirror and smiling at her reflection
Steve Jennings/Getty Images

Besides scoring free products and getting paid to work with makeup, Sephora employees love making people feel confident and beautiful. Whether they help a customer with acne find a good concealer or boost the self-confidence of someone with the right mascara, Sephora employees know the importance of self-image and the power of makeup to transform. “That’s actually why I feel happy going to work ever day,” Carpluk says. “A lot of women haven’t heard how beautiful their skin is, or how sparkly their eyes are, or that their lips are their best feature. I try to compliment my clients as much as possible throughout the service to let them know how gorgeous they are.”

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