Hoping to start a run on old Nikes Fashion: In Japan, used sneakers are as hot as tattered jeans once were. Marketers hope that translates to success in America.


The running shoes are vintage 1982, slightly soiled, clearly worn, with a periwinkle "swoosh against a white background." Two bucks at the swap meet, right?

Try again.

Eighty dollars.

Yes, $80 at Stateside, a used-clothing store in Southern California. These used sneakers are worth more than some styles of new Nikes.

Just as used or old Levi's became wearable collectibles in the early '90s, older models of Nike, trailed distantly by Adidas, Converse and Puma, are poised to be the next trend in recycled fashion to arrive in the United States from Japan. At least, that's what used fashion purveyors are hoping.

Kids into used clothing are checking out the shoes, said Josh Speyer, co-owner of two Stateside stores.

"That old-school sports stuff is hot right now," he said. At Stateside's loft, Speyer displays used synthetic track suits near used athletic shoes.

"It's also part nostalgia," Speyer said. "When something is so mass-produced, people look for the collectible in it. They like to go into the roots of the thing."

The biggest consumers of these shoes, however, remain the Japanese.

For nearly two years, early-model athletic shoes have been a craze in Japan, where at any one time, collectors will pay nearly $1,000 for a never-worn 1985 basketball shoe called Nike Dunk, said Kurt Jensen, general manager at Farley Enterprises in Orem, Utah, which buys and sells early-model athletic shoes.

"The Japanese wear uniforms in school," said John Farley, president of Farley Enterprises. "They stake out identity by wearing things that are hard to come by. Walking down the street in Japan in a pair of shoes that no one else can get is what they're after."

One thing is clear: Buyers of vintage Nikes wear them for leisure -- not for sports activities. Vintage Nikes are a fashion statement the way used Levi's once were.

For a short time, there was demand also for Adidas, Converse and Puma, but that has drastically dropped off because of highly volatile Japanese tastes in fashion, Farley said.

"When an item is hot there, it's so hot for a short time that everyone has to have it," he said. "Then, when it's out, it's so over no one wants to wear it. It's not like fashion here in the U.S. that has a longer life span."

Nike, with its powerful imagery in the United States, has been in an exceptional holding pattern, vintage Nike exporters say.

"Nike does a really good marketing job and keeps a really tight control on supply, so the demand goes higher for all of the vintage items," Farley said. "It's hard to kill the demand when the supply is always limited."

Two categories of Nike shoes are most wanted: Running shoes such as LD 1000, LDV and Oregon Waffle are worth at least $300, according to retailers Farley Enterprises and Heller's Cafe in Seattle; the other category is accelerated by one famous basketball player.

"Michael Jordan is really popular in Japan," Farley said.

First- through the seventh-edition Air Jordans can command $140-$400, according to a Farley Enterprises report, with prices changing each month, depending on the demand.

In some cases, die-hard collectors bid for hard-to-find models through auctions in Japan.

But before you dig up old Nikes from the basement, know that not just any old pair will do, Jensen said.

The year and model partly determine price. To find out the year of a shoe, the serial number in the inside of the shoe is the best indicator. The first two digits of the serial number correspond to the year the shoe was made. Other signs of age: an orange "swoosh" on the tongue, waffle bottoms and block lettering on the back of the heel.

Rips, tears, holes, cracks and missing parts except for shoelaces diminish the value of the shoe. People are going to use the shoes in rainy weather, so they must be in wearable condition.

Size is crucial: Most Japanese men wear sizes 8-10 1/2 , with 9 the most popular, Jensen said.

If the size is outside this range, the shoe has less value, no matter how pristine it is, unless it is a hard-to-find collector's item, said Larry McKaughan, president of Heller's Cafe.

Colors are also important, McKaughan said. In general, brighter is more valuable. Green is popular, he said.

The demand for vintage has spurred sales of late models, McKaughan said.

Lately, some Japanese will buy '94s and '95s and pay up to 50 percent more than the retail price in the United States, Farley said.

A 1995 Nike running shoe called the Air Max can command up to $160, Jensen said.

"It's both fascinating and very flattering that people are finding some of our products collectible," Nike spokesman Keith Peters said. "In the last couple of years, Nike has selectively remanufactured a few models of older Air Jordans, including the first edition."

These were the same shoes as the originals but were available only on a limited basis, he said.

Nike has no plans to introduce retrospective styles that incorporate new technology, Peters said.

"The focus of our product development is to continue to create innovative performance-oriented shoes. That formula has been good for us."

Peters does have one regret: He once owned a pair of fourth-edition Air Jordans in black and white. The shoes are worth nearly $200 now.

"It went so well with my tuxedo," he said.

Pub Date: 8/01/96

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