Podcast: Story in the Story (7/24/2019 Wed.)
People's Daily app


China's sneaker culture is booming, and “sneakerheads” are struggling to cope with the intense competition for the coveted shoes.  

The footwear is so much more than just an everyday item as many people feel they’re an ode to China's national sport, basketball.

There is also the camp who views the shoes as investments. Just like the precious works that go under the hammer at Christie's or Sotheby's, coveted sneakers command hefty prices. 

At the Shanghai Sneaker Con, a pair of Air Jordan 4 Undefeated sneakers with an asking price of $26,000 traded hands.

Released in 2005, the shoe model was the result of a collaboration between the Jordan brand and US sneaker boutique Undefeated. 

There are only 72 pairs in the world.

Today’s Story in the Story looks at sneakerhead culture as demand for athletic shoes continues to grow among basketball fans and collectors alike.


Visitors look at shoes at Shanghai Sneaker Con. (Photo: China Daily)

"I love sneakers because I've always been a big fan of the NBA," said Yalding Xu, a sneaker enthusiast who confesses that he once owned about 200 pairs of sneakers.

"In the beginning, most Chinese sneaker lovers fell in love with the footwear because of Michael Jordan and the famous Japanese anime Slam Dunk,” Xu explained.

Sneaker enthusiast Medy Zhu owns about 300 pairs and cites his admiration for the legendary US basketball player as well.

"I usually go for Air Jordan sneakers and the ones that were created as part of a collaboration between a famous designer and a shoe brand," Zhu said.

Founded in 2009 in New York, Sneaker Con is considered to be the premier sneaker event in the world and has been held more than 100 times in over 30 cities. Apart from shoes, the event frequently features high-profile athletes, celebrities and famous designers.

For the Shanghai edition, personalities such as former NBA player Stephon Marbury, Chinese tennis superstar Li Na and Chinese rapper Will Pan were in attendance.

"Sneaker Con is where you get to see the 'holy grail of sneakers’ as most of the time, people only get to see such coveted sneakers online. This convention is where you get to see them in person," said Michael Ma, the CEO of Endeavor China, and the event’s organizer.

According to Ma, the response to the inaugural Shanghai Sneaker Con was overwhelming. Tickets were priced upwards of $50 and sold out within two minutes. Roughly 17,000 people attended the event which generated 130 million social media impressions.

The practice of reselling and collecting sneakers is believed to have originated in the US in the 1980s when the footwear became an intrinsic part of street culture. This subculture in China, however, is much younger, said Zhu.

The NBA's influence is evidenced by how the Air Jordan series of sneakers has been one of the most popular in the market. Another famous line of shoes is the Adidas Yeezy, which was designed by US musician Kanye West. Launched in 2015, the sneaker brands are among the most commonly found on resale platforms.


Visitors look at shoes at Shanghai Sneaker Con. (Photo: China Daily)

"Recently, many talented Chinese designers have also been leveraging sneakers to tell local stories, and they have been very well received by sneaker lovers," he said.

While Li-Ning is still generally known for their affordable sportswear, some of their sneakers come with a hefty price tag. The purple Li-Ning Way of Wade 2013 sneaker-the company has a lifetime contract with NBA star Dwyane Wade and sells the shoes for almost $2,500.

Over in China, the app Poizon ranks among the most popular e-commerce channels for sneaker purchase and authentication. 

To sneakerheads, authentication is crucial because it is hard to tell the fakes from the real products these days. In fact, even authenticators at Poizon have been duped before, according to Chinese portal Jiemian.

Some of the things sneakerheads look out for when verifying a pair of shoes are the quality of the box and whether the SKU (stock-keeping unit) number on the box matches the one inside each pair of shoes. The most obvious sign of a fake, according to sneakerheads, is the price. Brands sold significantly lower than the market rate are usually fake.

Zhu pointed out that being knowledgeable of the sneaker scene and not falling prey to hype also helps.

"There is no such thing as an Adidas Yeezy - Off-White collaboration, but you'll find fake ones on the market," he said.

Produced by Nancy Yan Xu, Lance Crayon, Brian Lowe and Paris Yelu Xu. Music by: bensound.com. Text from China Daily.)