Sneakers. Tennis shoes. Kicks. Gym shoes. No matter what you call ’em, this once-sleepy footwear category has firmly entered the mainstream—growing into a multibillion-dollar juggernaut. There are online marketplaces, social media pages, pop-up shops, conventions, and trade shows—all devoted to the sneaker economy.
At the center of the action is a group of enthusiasts known as sneakerheads. They are the superfans of the market—the ones who know their stuff, who can separate the long-term trends from the latest buzzy fads. Whether it’s for passion, profit, or a mix of both, they hungrily consume sneaker news on upcoming collabs, exclusive drops, and market fluctuations.
Sneakerheads are more about the authenticity of the shoes. They are more interested in the history.
- Nimet Degirmencioglu, PhD, an assistant professor at Appalachian State University and co-author of a study that explored the group’s identity and behaviors.
There’s even a sneakerhead community at Schwab—and Mario Valle is a proud member. Senior representative for institutional fixed income, Mario says he’s been a sneakerhead for as long as he can remember. And that means a whole lot of shoes.
“Right now, my sneakers are held in the master bedroom closet, which is getting overrun. I have new sneakers on the floor that are still in the boxes that I want to display but I can’t,” he explains. “So we’re converting a guest bedroom into a full-blown sneaker room, with a lounge chair and big-screen TV. I have about 100 pairs, and my wife probably has about 20.”
He married another sneakerhead? “Well, I turned her into a sneakerhead,” he says with a laugh.
Not just for kicks
The sneakerhead culture traces its roots back to the ’70s and ’80s, when rappers and basketball players helped move sneakers from the court to the street. Think Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Run-DMC. Companies began collaborating with athletes and other celebs to create exclusive lines—prompting the value of the sneakers to skyrocket.
With sales on the rise, many sneakerheads started to see the financial opportunities. And so, the sneaker reselling industry was born. The sneaker and streetwear reselling market in North America was at least $2 billion in 2020—and could reach $30 billion globally by 2030.
There are many avenues to resell a pair of sneakers: barter with friends and family, drop them off at a consignment shop, or list them on reselling sites. While some people might prefer to invest in a few pairs and wait for them to grow in value, others use a high-volume strategy to make money by moving product quickly at slimmer margins. Still others focus on acquiring rare pairs that can fetch thousands, relying on sophisticated algorithms to determine the best way to buy and sell.
As with any other investment, sneakerheads must navigate risk and reward.
Mario’s strategy is to cast a wide net. “Everyone just looks at the sneaker apps and that’s it. But a real sneakerhead will go through every single avenue that they can, including raffles, and just give yourself the best chance to acquiring it. Even personal connections—it’s all about networking.”
Schwab employees can find fellow “sole mates” through the sneakerhead community group chat (which is open to everyone).
“When I created the sneakerheads chat channel, it was an encouragement to all Schwabbies to bring their whole selves to work,” says Branden Murphy, senior manager for high-net-worth services at Schwab. “So many of us love sneakers, and we often do not get a chance to share that love in corporate America. It creates instant connections with peers based on a common interest in sneakerhead culture.”
The community has also taught him a few things about investing along the way.
“I’ve learned that everyone invests in the things that they love,” Branden says. “And shoes can actually be investments. Some of the shoes posted in our chat can be resold anywhere from $400 to over $500.”
Mario hits the channel every day for some bonding, knowledge-sharing—and shopping.
“Our sneakerhead community is a judgment-free zone. It feels really good knowing that there are people at Schwab who share that same passion. We may have the same sneakers: ‘Oh, you got those? I got those, too. That’s pretty tight.’ And see how other people dress them up,” he says. “I’ve been a part of helping people at Schwab get pairs. There have been shock drops that people don’t know about that I know about. And I put that information out there: ‘Hey, guys, shock drop in like 10 minutes,’ or ‘There’s a rumored shock drop today, be ready.’ People have hit because of the information that I’ve been able to share—and likewise. I think it’s so great that Schwab has that for us.”
Sneakerheads aren’t just collectors. They’re passionate investors who have found a way to pair their personal fulfillment with financial gain. Talk about a slam dunk.