Sneaker Culture at UC Irvine

Most of us could admit to having collections when we were younger, be it stamps, baseball cards or pogs. But a new type of collecting has branched onto UC Irvine’s campus: shoe collecting. Although many of our minds immediately jump to the idea of collecting Manolo Blahniks like Carrie Bradshaw, that is not the type of collecting that the majority of the members of Sneakerheads@UCI are into.
Started in fall 2005, the club meets every other week to talk about one thing: shoes. Although that may sound simple enough, any of the members would assure you that there is much more involved. While the club is open to anyone who has a passion for shoes, the topic of every meeting is usually sneakers. Talking about anything from ‘How to Spot a Fake’ to ‘The History of the Jordan Brand,’ each meeting consists of a shoe-related information session and a display of valuable sneakers volunteered by officers. With about 40 regular members, this organization is an outlet to educate the general public of UC Irvine on this unique hobby.
Shoe collecting, although not as well-known as other types of collecting, has developed its own type of sneaker culture, usually tied closely to athletes or the hip-hop industry. There was a rise in popularity of sneakers due to the incredible Michael Jordan and his trademark basketball moves. And who can forget Nelly’s 2002 hit ‘Air Force Ones,’ a song completely dedicated to the rapper’s need for sneakers.
But why put money into shoes instead of other normal investments, like stocks or real estate? Shoes worth collecting have shown a tremendous increase in their return, as long as you know how to buy and sell them. The rise of the Internet and eBay has provided one arena for shoe exchange, while sneakerhead forums have become a means of social interaction for these collectors.
It is easy to see how addicting sneaker collecting can be when you take a look at the professionals from Sneakerheads@UCI. In the club, certain members boast shoe collections that cost between $10,000 and $40,000. The most expensive pair of shoes owned by a member, the Nike Dunk SB Paris, can reach a market price of $3,800. One collector also owns a pair of Jordan XVIIs, one of only five pairs made for Jordan himself.
So while the exchange of shoes online may seem like an innocent transaction, the members of the club are practicing business skills that may lead them to become young millionaires, at least shoe-wise.
For others, joining this organization may be for the pure love of the shoes themselves. President Bijan Ameri says that he started collecting shoes simply ‘because I could not stand to see the shoes I loved getting messed up.’ While many may think it is absurd to buy a pair of shoes and never wear them, those involved in the ‘sneaker culture’ know that it is the only way to protect the condition of your shoes, similar to keeping ‘Star Wars’ action figures in mint condition.
Not to mention that the shoes are not just your ordinary, everyday sneakers. Just glance at the spread laid out at a meeting and you can see a multitude of colors. Fourth-year Biology major Lizette De Ramos says these shoes are distinct from others.
‘They take the same base for the shoe and change it up so each shoe has its own personality,’ De Ramos said.
And that’s exactly what you can see with each pair. A collection can have any type of color scheme and pattern, even displaying a shoe with gold stars spread all over it. The material of each shoe can vary; one shoe on display was made of completely clear plastic. And just like any other collectible, these shoes are not the type you wear on your feet, but keep in the box to protect them from creasing and the mud of Aldrich Park.
With a special discount at multiple shoe stores in Orange County, the members of Sneakerheads@UCI will continue to grow, both in numbers and size of collections. While some are there for serious shoe networking, others find it just a warm atmosphere for people to discuss their common goals.
‘It’s an expensive hobby, but in some ways it’s like having an appreciation for some sort of art,’ De Ramos said.
With the outreach and growth of Sneakerheads@UCI, this contagious new shoe ‘art’ is off to a running start.