500 Pairs Strong (and Counting): How to Collect Sneakers Like a Pro
Collecting is an art form, especially when it comes to fashion. It requires a certain eye for craft, an attention to detail and an appreciation for (and knowledge of) the finer things. And while anyone can be a collector, not just anyone can become an expert. Whether the topic at hand is hype shoes, classic handbags, archival menswear or luxury timepieces, becoming an expert requires education and certifications, discipline and skill, daily research and real passion. And it’s this passion — teetering between the personal and the professional — that simultaneously fuels and informs our experts.
Which brings us to Sean Conway, our Sneaker & Streetwear Valuation Manager. Sean got his start in streetwear managing cult-favorite store KITH in 2011, though by that time he’d already been collecting sneakers for twelve years. After his time at KITH, he moved on to manage another hub of all things cool — Dover Street Market New York’s Sneaker + Streetwear Space. Sean stays up-to-date on the latest trends in both retail and resale at The RealReal, and meets with consignors at our Melrose Luxury Consignment Office to value their sneakers and streetwear.
In this series, we ask RealReal experts-cum-collectors about their very first find, what to keep versus sell and if they actually wear their treasures. Read on for Sean’s expert advice on the key questions to ask yourself as a collector, the piece he’ll never sell and a peek at some of his most coveted sneakers.
Sean’s You Should Know I Know print by KAWS and Nike Air Jordan 4 KAWS sneakers.
What do you collect?
I collect a multitude of things including sneakers, art, records and fashion. Collecting has always been something I’ve been passionate about. As a kid, I loved going to flea markets and antique shops with my mom. Being able to appreciate something that someone else once loved and passed along is a very cool concept to me.
Sean pulls out his pair of De La Soul x Nike SB Dunks.
When did you first become interested in collecting?
I seriously started becoming interested in collecting sneakers in 2005, during my sophomore year in college. I had just bought a set of SL-1200MK2 turntables. I was researching online for some De La Soul records when I stumbled upon a pair of Nike SB dunks that had the group’s 3-Feet High and Rising album cover incorporated into the sneakers. I did further research and found that Nike SB was collaborating with all kinds of different artists and individuals I admired. It was what launched me into becoming a part of the sneaker and streetwear community. This was also around the same time that I purchased my first pair of fake sneakers, and I had to find out why anyone cared enough to make fake sneakers.
How many pieces do you have in your collection?
It’s hard to keep count when you’re always buying new stuff. Currently I have over a thousand pieces in my collection, including over 500 pairs of sneakers and who knows how many pieces of clothing. I also have numerous prints, figures and skateboard decks from KAWS and Takashi Murakami, as well as work from other well-known artists such as Daniel Arsham, Hebru Brantley, Futura, Josh Sperling, Todd James, Piet Parra, Cindy Sherman and Larry Clark.
In 2013, I had over 900 pairs of sneakers. They were in my apartment, in my storage unit and at my parents’ home in Maryland. I wasn’t wearing them and needed to consolidate, so I began selling. Recently I’ve slowed down my buying, since I need to sell and make space. Being realistic can be tough when you constantly see value in pieces every day.
Sean’s collection includes skate decks from Fucking Awesome, Krooked, Powell Peralta, Vision, Supreme and Takashi Murakami.
What’s a day in the life like for you as a Valuation Manager?
I typically start my days researching current trends, upcoming release dates and price points. Then I’ll meet consignors who are looking to consolidate their collections. I authenticate and evaluate each of their pieces and assign a specific list price. When pricing a sneaker, I’m usually able to price using my gut instinct and the knowledge of sneakers I’ve amassed over the years. I’ve been working in this industry for over a decade and have seen a lot. I always cross-reference comparable sites and The RealReal’s bank of resale data in order to ensure we’re achieving the highest price possible. I also perform various tasks related to authentication, sales and merchandising.
How do you know when it’s time to sell?
I have probably sold close to 1,000 pieces of clothing and footwear since 2005. You never really know when it’s the right time to sell. No one does. The sneaker resale market is always changing. There are times when a sneaker does best on the market immediately after the release, and there are times when it’s better to wait six to twelve months and let the value increase. Popularity and demand play a major role.
My advice is that if you believe the sneakers to be timeless, then you don’t have to worry about the value going down. However, if it’s a sneaker that will live a short life in the limelight, it will be best to sell while the hype is high and the sneaker is hot.
Daniel Johnston’s Captain America print, Nike MAGs and Takashi Murakami Mr. Dob sculptures.
What’s the thought process when choosing your next piece?
When information about a certain piece hits the market, I usually go off instinct. The questions I ask myself upon first glance are, “Do I like it? Is there anything that makes this piece different? Does this piece speak to a current trend? Is this piece exclusive to a certain region? How many pieces were produced? Is the demand high?”
For my own personal collection, if a piece speaks to me, it has value. I believe that instinct always prevails over developed thought. However, limited availability, demand, current trends and my return on investment are what determine whether or not I invest.
Out of your entire collection, do you have a favorite piece?
There are way too many things in my collection to have a favorite. I would say that I do love my KAWS print You Should Know I Know the most out of all of them. When it comes to sneakers, my Nike MAGs would have to be my favorite pair of sneakers, due mostly to my love for the Back to the Future trilogy. It’s a sneaker I’d never wear, but a piece of nostalgia I’ll likely never let go of.
Do you wear your pieces regularly, display them or keep them tucked away?
I do actually wear a lot of my pieces. I tend to buy a lot, spending around $2K a month on collection and investment pieces. It’s always been a side hustle. I do keep more than I sell, but I always buy smart. It’s impossible for me to wear everything. Things tend to get lost, then found months or even years later, which can sometimes be a good thing. If I put something away and forget about it, it’s most likely going to have more value when I find it.
Sean’s dog, Brooklyn, sits atop a Takashi Murakami pillow.
Any special care tips for keeping your pieces in great condition?
First and foremost, be sure that you are storing your shoes in a temperature-controlled environment. You never want the temperature of your storage room to drastically change because this causes the materials to expand and contract, which over time will seriously damage your sneakers. Buy a dehumidifier. Humidity is your enemy. It will cause your shoes to oxidize and crumble over time. And take care of the boxes. They matter too.
What advice would you give someone looking to consign pieces from their own collection?
Look at the pieces that mean something to you and ask yourself, “Do I wear these enough? Are they being appreciated?” If the answer is no, then think about letting them go. Then ask yourself, “If I decide that I want them again at some point, will I be able to buy another?” If the answer is yes, let them go!
Sean’s rare Nike Dunk Lows, customized by artists Sabotage and Methamphibian.
What sneakers would you recommend consignors sell right now?
Gucci and Golden Goose sneakers are holding their value, and Virgil Abloh-designed Louis Vuitton sneakers will most likely sell for much more than retail. And if you have Nike SB Dunks from 2002-2009 and similar rare pieces, it’s the time to sell.
What’s the rarest piece in your collection?
A pair of Nike Dunk Lows customized by Sabotage and Methamphibian, two famous artists and sneaker customizers who hand-painted each sneaker individually. They’re not the most valuable sneakers I own, but probably the rarest, and I don’t think I’ll ever let them go. They’re a piece of sneaker history from the early-to-mid 2000s.
We All Make Flowers Grow sculptures by Josh Sperling, a painting from Paul Insect’s Clown series and Sean’s 1985 Nike Jordan 1 Chicagos.
Do you have a particular sneaker that you like to collect?
My favorite sneakers to collect have always been Nike SB Dunks. I appreciate their obscure collaborations and street influence. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to realize that I’m mostly wearing classic styles and colorways that can be worn with everything: Jordan 1 Chicagos, white-on-white AF1s, Nike Bruins, Nike Blazers, Nike Dunks and Converse Chuck Taylor ‘70s. To me, Chucks are something I can wear every day, with any outfit. I find myself collecting a lot more Converse these days because that’s what I wear. But I’ll never stop collecting classic Nike SBs because they remind me of a time when sneaker culture was in its purest state.
Sean’s pair of Off-White x Nike “The Ten” Jordan 1s, which he hopes to sell someday.