Rapper and designer Kanye West has made a fortune out of his Yeezy brand, with sales generating nearly $1.7 billion in revenue in 2020, according to Bloomberg.
But before he turned his Adidas collaboration into the phenomenon it is today, West, who was No 2 on Forbes' highest paid celebrities list last year, first went to shop with Nike.
The association soon turned acrimonious, eventually ending in 2013 and even inspired West's 2015 single Facts, now known as the "Nike diss track".
"I took the Adidas deal because I have royalties and I have to provide for my family,” West told New York’s Hot 97 radio station when announcing his separation from Nike, which had never collaborated with a non-sporting personality before the rapper.
Remnants of that first relationship, however, are now much sought-after by collectors and have led to the record-breaking $1.8 million sale on Monday of a pair of Nike Air Yeezy 1s – the most expensive shoes ever. The black high-top Yeezys that were sold by auctioneer Sotheby's to Rares, a footwear investment marketplace, were worn by West during the 2008 Grammy Awards.
With a growing base of investors, the trainer market is now a legitimate “asset class”, according to Cowen Equity Research, which estimates the sneaker resale market could be worth $30 billion by 2030.
With that in mind, here are some of the world’s most-coveted and rarest shoes that have gone on sale for record prices.
The 11 most expensive shoes ever sold:
1. Nike Air Yeezy 1s worn by Kanye West ($1.8m)
2. Nike Air Jordan 1s worn by Michael Jordan sold by Christie's ($615,000)
3. Nike Air Jordan 1s worn by Michael Jordan sold by Sotheby's ($560,000)
4. 1972 Nike Waffle Racing Flat "Moon Shoe" ($437,500)
5. Nike Air Force 1 "Entourage x Undefeated x Fukijama Gold" ($88,200)
6. Nike Air Jordan IV Retro Eminem "Encore" ($56,700)
7. Nike Air Yeezy 2 "Mismatch" Sample worn by Kanye West ($50,400)
8. Nike Mag "Back to the Future" from 2016 ($50,000)
9. Nike Dunk SB Low Staple NYC Pigeon ($33,256)
10. Jordan 4 Retro Wahlburgers ($26,000)
11. Nike Dunk SB Low Paris ($20,000)
Nike Air Jordan 1s at Christie’s
Last year, auction house Christie’s sold this pair of Nikes worn by Michael Jordan for a cool $615,000, then becoming the most expensive trainers ever sold. The autographed Nike Air Jordan 1 shoes were used by the basketball star in 1985 during a match. Described as a “one-of-a-kind artefact”, the shoe even has a shard of glass embedded in the sole from the match.
Nike Air Jordan 1s at Sotheby’s
Nike’s collaboration with Michael Jordan is still one of the brand’s most lucrative today. Before Christie’s Nike Air Jordan 1s sale, auction house Sotheby’s also sold an autographed 1985 pair for $560,000.
Nike gave Jordan his own signature line of shoes and clothes in 1984, the first time the brand did anything like this, and the Jordan 1s were one of the first the basketball star wore on court.
1972 Nike Waffle Racing Flat ‘Moon Shoe’
In 2019, shoe collector Miles Nadal shelled out a whopping $437,500 in a Sotheby's sale for one of the first hand-made shoes Nike ever produced.
Designed by Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman for runners at the 1972 Olympic Trials, only about 12 of these shoes were created. Bowerman used his wife’s waffle iron to create the first prototype of the sole, thus the name.
Nadal also bought all of the other 99 lots on the sale at this auction. Sotheby's decided to keep this pair open for public bidding, which Nadal eventually won. It's pre-sale estimate was $160,000.
"I think sneaker culture and collecting is on the verge of a breakout moment," Nadal told Sotheby's after the purchase.
Nike Air Force 1 'Entourage x Undefeated x Fukijama Gold'
Those who watched the hit HBO show Entourage – which ran for eight seasons from 2004 to 2011 – will remember a scene from season three, in which one of the characters was scrounging for covetable trainers.
The character, Turtle, then chances upon fictional artist Fukijama, who sells him a rare design of which there was only one pair.
Well, Nike actually created a real pair for the scene in 2009, a gold version of its popular Air Force 1 shoe, and it became much sought-after, thanks to the popularity of the show.
Sotheby's auctioned the shoe last month, and it fetched a cool $88,000.
Nike Air Jordan IV Retro Eminem ‘Encore'
In 2005, rapper Eminem and Nike teamed up to create a special blue, red and black Nike Air Jordan IV to celebrate the release of his 2004 album Encore. Only about 50 pairs were reportedly made, and most of them given to friends and family.
Nike then re-released the model in 2017 timed with the release of Eminem's ninth album Revival. This 2017 model, which features a slightly lighter shade of grey on the heel, and modelled on the 2005 version, was bought for $56,700 at Sotheby's.
Nike Air Yeezy 2 'Mismatch' Sample
Signed by West, this rare trainer is unique in that it was never put into production.
Only the rapper has had the honour of wearing them, before modifications were made to the design that made it to shop shelves.
A buyer shelled out $50,400 at Sotheby's to win the auction.
Nike Mag Back to the Future (2016)
Made famous by Michal J Fox's character Marty McFly in the 1989 sequel, Back to the Future II, the self-lacing Nike Mag shoes were never meant to be produced. But in 2011, Nike finally released 1,500 pairs to the public to benefit the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research, and immediately became one of the company's most popular releases.
Nike also released additional limited versions in 2016 and in 2019.
This 2016 model sold for $50,000 on online marketplace StockX.
Nike Dunk SB Low Staple NYC Pigeon
Originally released in 1985, these shoes were specifically designed to wear while playing basketball, but the popularity of Nike Dunks with skateboarders led to the launch of the Nike SB line in 2002.
Only 150 pairs of this model by designer Jeff Staple were released in 2005. On release day, the crowd had grown to such a size at the store that New York City police had to be called in to keep things in order and make sure those who purchased could get home safely, according to StockX, which now sells the shoes online.
More recently, a pair sold on StockX for $33,256, making it one of its most expensive trainers to date.
Jordan 4 Retro Wahlburgers
To mark the opening of his restaurant Wahlburgers, Oscar nominee Mark Wahlberg collaborated with Nike to release a limited edition Air Jordan 4 Wahlburger in 2018.
The shoe's colour is inspired by the restaurant's theme and a Wahlburger logo is also embroidered on the shoe's tongue.
Only about 30 pairs of these Jordan shoes were made available, immediately spiking its value. On StockX, it sold for $26,000.
Nike Dunk SB Low Paris
This Nike SB model was released to recognise skate culture's popularity around the world.
Nike collaborated with French painter Bernard Buffet to create limited bespoke pairs for its White Dunk: Evolution of an Icon exhibition in Paris in 2003.
With only a few pairs in existence, this one last sold for $20,000 on StockX.