August 7, 2014 at 1:00 am

Sneaker Xchange draws serious footwear fans

Organizers Jake Schreier, left, Adam Shapiro, Juan Neal and Drew English have moved their Sneaker Xchange to larger space to handle growing crowds. (Bryan Mitchell / Special to The Detroit News)

To many, sneakers are just sneakers, causal shoes you throw on your feet when you need to run to the store or step outside to get the mail. This story is not about those people.

This story is about Sneakerheads, sneaker obsessives who go out of their way to collect specialty releases and fork over hundreds (sometimes thousands) of dollars for rare and hard-to-find shoes. In the $22 billion-a-year sneaker industry, sneakerheads account for around $1.1 billion in sales, says Matt Powell, a sneaker business analyst.

Some 1,000 of those sneaker die-hards are expected to show up at the Michigan Sneaker Xchange on Saturday at the Ultimate Soccer Arena in Pontiac, to buy, sell and trade rare Air Jordans, Yeezys and other top sneakers. Around 100 vendors from 10 states will be on hand to display, wheel and deal their kicks.

The event is the fourth under the Michigan Sneaker Xchange banner, and this year will upgrade from the 6,000-square-foot Modern Skate Park in Royal Oak to the 45,000-square-foot Ultimate Soccer Arena.

Founder Jake Schreier says the big space bump is needed to accommodate the Xchange’s growing popularity. The first one, held in May 2013, drew 300 people, the next one around 500, and one earlier this year attracted about 700 sneaker fans.

“The last one, you couldn’t even move,” recalls Schreier, who, at just 15 years old, is a sneaker mogul in-the-making. The Bloomfield teen works at Pogo Skateboard Shop in Birmingham, a sponsor of the Michigan Sneaker Xchange.

Juan Neal, another partner in the show, calls the Sneaker Xchange “the Eastern Market of sneakers,” comparing the atmosphere to a lively Saturday at Detroit’s farmers market. He says the Xchange brings together old and young sneaker fans, dealers and various off-shoots of the sneaker world, some trying to buy, others looking to sell, and others wanting to just show off their designer footwear. “It’s a lot of different cultures coming together, for one day only,” says Neal, 32, of Southfield.

The Xchange comes as sneaker culture is hitting a peak, says Matt Caputo, a co-owner of the newly opened NoJo Kicks in downtown Detroit.

“It’s at the highest it has ever been. In my 13 years of collecting, I’ve never seen the sneaker culture expand to this level,” says Caputo, 26, whose high-end store opened last month in the shadow of the Compuware Building. “The amount of people that have become wrapped around the different releases, and the information they obtain on a daily basis, is far beyond what anybody was doing 10 years ago.”

Contributing factors include social media and celebrity influence, especially from hip-hop figures such as Wale and Kanye West.When West stepped out in a pair of Nike Air Flight 89s — far from a high end or sought after sneaker silhouette at the time, in 2012 — he immediately increased demand for the shoe.

Along with that increase in demand comes the resale market, a growing beast in sneaker culture. Every Saturday, sneakerheads camp out for hours for new releases at stores such as Pogo, Villa and Burn Rubber Sneaker Boutique in Royal Oak, some come with no other intent than to flip them online (or at events such as the Sneaker Xchange) for a wad of cash.

“Instead of people buying shoes because they like them, they want them because it’s going to be a good investment,” says Rick Williams, co-owner of Burn Rubber. “A lot of people are jaded about it. It kind of hurts the people that want to buy the shoes because they want the shoes.”

Schreier doesn’t mind the resale aspect of the sneaker game.

“At this point I’ve had all the shoes that I’ve wanted, and I’ve sold them,” including one pair of Nike Air Mags that he sold for $4,500, he says. “Because a big stack of money looks better than shoes, honestly.”

But that’s not the case for everybody.

Drew English, another one of Schreier’s partners in this weekend’s Sneaker Xchange, gets giddy when describing a pair of Reebok Shaqnosis sneakers he picked up last year. He had his first pair of the Shaquille O’Neal-branded kicks when he was in kindergarten and finding them again brought back childhood memories of when he first fell in love with sneakers.

“Early on, you got one pair of shoes, and you’d try to save up all your allowance for a month just to buy the shoes,” says English, 25, of Royal Oak. “But now that I have a job, I can afford them, and it’s like, ‘I want to get that shoe I couldn’t get when I was younger.’ It sucks you back into it. You paid attention when you were a kid, now you’ve got money and you’ve got a job, and you’re like ‘What can I spend my money on? That shoe, I remember that shoe, I gotta get it, I gotta get it!’ ”

Michigan Sneaker Xchange

Noon-5 p.m. Saturday

Ultimate Soccer Arena

867 South Blvd E., Pontiac

Tickets $10

michigansneakerxchange.squarespace.com/

Hot kicks

How much do some pairs of sneakers sell for? You’d be surprised.

Shoe:Nike Air Yeezy 2 “Red October”

Price: $5,000

Why: The final pair of shoes released under Kanye West’s partnership with Nike (he’s since signed with Adidas) were mythologized long before their release. They were put up for sale — with no advance warning — on Nike’s website this year. Other pairs of Yeezys regularly sell in the low thousands as well.

Shoe:Nike Air Mag

Price: $7,000

Why: Only a limited number of these shoes, modeled after the ones Marty McFly wore in “Back to the Future Part II” were made, and they were sold in 2011 with proceeds going to charity.

Shoe:Nike Dunk Low Pro SB “Paris”

Price: $3,500

Why: Only 202 of these sneakers — designed by French painter Bernard Buffet — were ever produced, each with their own unique design.

Shoe:Nike Lebron 8 “South Beach”

Price: $1,000

Why: These shoes use a teal, pink and black colorway meant to represent Miami and were produced when Lebron James left Cleveland for Miami. Their value has increased since James announced he was heading back to the Cavaliers.

Shoe:Nike Air Foamposite One “Galaxy”

Price: $1,200

Why: These shoes, with an image of what looks like the Milky Way galaxy printed on them, represented a tipping point for sneaker culture, when several incidents of violence broke out in store lines prior to their release in 2012. As a result, many stores now discourage (or outright ban) waiting in line for sneakers, with more releases becoming online-only affairs.

Shoe:Nike SB “Tiffany”

Price: $800

Why: This limited 2005 release was modeled on the iconic colors of Tiffany & Co. jewelers, and now cost just as much as some items in the store.

agraham@detroitnews.com
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Nike Air Yeezy 2 'Red October' sneakers go for $5,000. (Mike Lawrie / Getty Images)