Like Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, we enter the “secret cave” (two units of storage space) where Singapore’s biggest sneaker collector, Daniel Tan, stashes his collection. We leave with a precious story about his enduring childhood love for good sneakers and a loot of photos.
By Kim Hana
Photos by Marc Tan
How many pairs of shoes do you own?
Around 700 to 800 pairs now though I’m quite sure I’ve hit the 1,000 pair mark sometime in the past. But I’ve since sold off some pairs and am still looking to sell more pairs God be willing…
How long have you been in “The Sneaker Game”, i.e., collecting?
Since 1998. Has it really been 15 years??
When did you begin to feel more than what might be called an “average affection” for sneakers?
This obsession arose out of a childhood envy of my schoolmates who were mostly from well-off families (Daniel attended an elite school). Saturdays were CCA* day and these kids wore the latest Air Maxes and Jordans and other basketball shoes – all I had were my Bata 2000 canvas shoes. It was heartbreaking. So when I grew a little older and had a little more financial independence I started to hunt down those shoes I yearned to wear back in the day. Of course some shoes are just too old to be worn so it was really good that Nike and the footwear industry in general were leaning towards releasing ‘retros’ back in the late 90s.
What were the very first pair of sneakers you bought?
Nike Air Windrunner circa 1987-1988. I chanced upon it at a sale sometime in 1990 at SportsLife at Far East Plaza which was within walking distance from school and I hung out there every day. It was $49.90 and I recall having to beg my mum to bits to buy it for me (“Mum, these have ‘Air’ and are very comfortable and besides my classmate is wearing the latest Air Jordan IV”). Mum said NO, and it was true we just didn’t have the means to buy expensive $50 Nike sneakers with ‘Air’. For my birthday that year, my uncle wanted to buy me a badminton racket but I managed to convince him otherwise, and that’s how I got my first brand new, gleaming pair of Nikes.
Which were the shoes that got you into sneaker collecting?
I started collecting sneakers in 1998, in the aftermath of the sneaker craze that swept across Japan from 1995 to 1996 and so these models had a very, very profound influence on me when I first started: the Air Max 95, Air Zoom Flight 95, Air Footscape and Air Jordan XI.
Which is the most expensive pair in your collection?
I have a few pairs of brand new, never worn, 1985 original Air Jordan Is which I slowly picked up over the years. Street value of each pair would be about USD1,500 to USD2,000. About 10 years ago, I bought three pairs of brand new, never worn original 1985 Black and Royal Air Jordan Is from a gentleman in Kentucky, US. He said he had purchased them, massively discounted, for US$19.99 back around 1988 (the original box price for the Air Jordan I back in 1985 was US$65). He said they were all sitting on the floor in front of the store, most with no boxes, some in boxes but with no lids, around 50 pairs of them, in colors like White/Red/Black, Black/Red, White/Grey, Black/Royal, White/Blue (Metallic). He was a little embarrassed about his asking price given the low price he had bought them at. He asked for USD750 for three pairs – I transferred him the money the next morning.
What are your thoughts on Singapore’s sneaker buying and/or collecting scene?
We used to be a smallish, close-knit community. For the most part you could stroll into a store a few days after a release date and still pick up your Air Jordan retros, with the exception of some very limited releases. With Singapore’s population growth, the community has become a lot larger. Apply simple supply and demand economics and it’s not difficult to figure what the community has become. It is right now a seller’s market, particularly over the past 3 years. We are also affected to some extent by the other larger sneaker ‘markets’ globally, which is mainly in the US. I don’t like it at all, no ma’am I don’t. But, as with any other market, trends evolve; things go up but they also come down. The period of 2000 to 2005 were also filled with limited releases, quickstrike releases, hyperstrike releases but then it went downhill for many few years after that until the past three years. Having pursued this hobby for 15 years the one thing I know for sure is that change is constant, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see the cycles repeat themselves.
Where do you go to acquire your sneakers?
Local stores and eBAY.
How do you care for and store your collection?
Now this particular question could warrant a long answer, thesis-style, but I’ll try to be brief. The main problem with storing sneakers in Singapore or for that matter most countries in South-Asia is that the high heat and humidity. I used to have all my pairs in an unoccupied room in my old house, and then Mum got pissed with 1,000 pairs of sneakers lying around so I had to go and store them in rented storage outside. My shoes have been in the 24/7 air-conditioned storage for the past six years. It’s really expensive, and despite air-con 24/7 it still isn’t good enough to keep the shoes as flawless and pristine as say a collector in the US or Europe could. I’m now aiming to downsize my collection drastically and turn one of my rooms into a museum quality, climate controlled storage.
What are some fond memories you have from collecting?
What really drives me on in this hobby is the hunt. It’s the search for shoes you always wanted to fill in your collection with and trying to pay as low a price for them as possible – I get real kick out of doing this!
What shoes are you currently on the hunt for?
Nothing actually. I’m not in the buying mode now. I’m in the selling mode and once I downsize my collection sufficiently and figure out how to take real good care of them i.e., storage, I will be keen to start expanding my collection. But, what would really get me excited would be to find those original Air Wovens (1st or 2nd releases) circa 2000.
Fill in the blanks. “My friends look at my collection and they…”
… say “this guy is nuts”
You can find Daniel on Facebook.