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Vintage Nike Collectors

Four collectors share their love of Nike's early days and their quest for the rarest of the rare.

By Zack Schlemmer & Nick Santora Photgraphy Woo Jin Hwang
There is no brand of sneakers collected more than Nike. With a rich and well documented history, influence from their long roster of superstar athletes throughout the years, and the best marketing of any athletic brand ever, love for Nike has been instilled into multiple generations of sneaker enthusiasts, creating passionate and dedicated collectors across the globe. Since Nike has a far reaching assortment of models for various sports and styles with everything from mainstream genres like basketball and running to more obscure sub-brands like Nike ACG, collectors can get as general or specific as they want. Of course, the majority opt to stick with
the most well-known categories like Air Jordans, LeBrons, and Air Maxes—and there’s nothing wrong with that—but the more obsessive Nike collectors always dig a little deeper.

One of these more specific groups is who we’re here to get acquainted with today: vintage collectors. While most Nike collectors tend to focus on the years since Michael Jordan came around in 1985 and the Air Jordan and visible Air took over, vintage collectors are more interested in the brand’s earliest days when running was king and The Swoosh was still in its infant stage.

Everybody has their own idea of what qualifies as “vintage” when it comes to sneakers. Some people will qualify sneakers released in the early 2000’ s as vintage at this point, and most have no problem putting a shoe from the ’90s under the category, but for our purposes in this article, we’re going to focus on collectors who specialize in the pre-Air Jordan era. Using 1985 as a cut-off point to mark the “first era” of Nike from 1972-1984, we had four of the USA’s biggest vintage collectors share their passion for the sneakers they collect.

When it comes to vintage sneakers, few out there have as much passion and enthusiasm as Jed Likos. A born collector, Jed got his start in the world of obsessive hoarding that many of us know all too well at age three, when he just had to have every Star Wars toy on the market. In the years since, he eventually focused his collecting habits on vintage Nike shoes, and has amassed one of the world’s most impressive stockpiles of sneakers dating from the brand’s birth to roughly the early 1990s. Instead of just hoarding his shoes, Jed began his own archival, museum-like website I Remember Those to share them and unite other collectors around the globe.

A believer in the maxim “quality over quantity”, Jed has been able to find and curate a collection containing some of the earliest and rarest Nike running models, including deadstock pairs of the Nike Marathon and Obori from 1972—two of Nike’s first and most legendary shoes from the brand’s inception. In addition to having a few of Nike’s rarest running models, Jed has also scored some choice basketball shoes, namely a pair of George Gervin’s “Iceman” Blazers. So how the hell does he find all these amazing shoes? Jed shares his collecting story below, along with a few helpful tips on how you too can become a master of the vintage sneaker game.

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Zack Schlemmer: Let’s start at the beginning. When did you first start collecting vintage Nike shoes? And what do you think initially made you interested in collecting?
I have been engrossed in Nike product since the mid to late ‘80s and started actively collecting and pursuing it since the early days of eBay, around 1999. I was born a collector and it all started out with Star Wars. Before I could read a word, I could identify every single character on the back of the Star Wars action figure packaging. When Return of The Jedi came out in 1983, I became obsessed. I had to have every single figure, ship, and accessory…I was 3. In the mid to late ‘80s I started collecting baseball cards and comic books. As a child, I always gravitated towards the older stuff…Mickey Mantle instead of Don Mattingly; Jackie Robinson instead of Nolan Ryan. My bedroom was covered in posters and pictures of athletes I never once had the opportunity to witness and had only read about. There was a certain mystique tied into my love of these athletes, which naturally progressed into my passion of hunting down and collecting early Nike product.

What is it about Nike that has made you focus on that brand more than others?
The early Wieden+Kennedy advertising campaigns from the mid/late 80’s made me fall in love with the brand. I fondly remember sifting through issues of Sports Illustrated as a kid, looking for the latest David Robinson or Andre Agassi ad. Growing up, all of my favorite athletes were endorsed by Nike and everything I wore was affiliated with them. If I was going to commit to hanging up a 6-foot ‘Don’t I Know You?’ Bo Jackson poster in my bedroom, you know I had to have the trainers he was wearing!!

Growing up, all of my favorite athletes were endorsed by Nike and everything I wore was affiliated with them.

  Jed Likos

Give us the story on how you came up on your epic score of the lot of very early Made in Japan running models.
My wife was expecting and I was up late getting things set and organized around the house for the arrival of our second child. Before I called it quits for the night, I decided to do one final search on eBay—as I do Every. Single. Night.—and came across a pair of deadstock pre-registered Marathons from 1972. The seller had a very reasonable Buy It Now price and I contacted him to see if he would end the auction early. Within seconds, the seller responded back. They had no problem ending the auction and asked me if I was “into shoes” and sent me a picture of 25 pairs of deadstock pre-1974 Made in Japan Nike and Onitsuka Tiger product. I was in complete and utter shock. It was the stash that all collectors dream about. I told him that I was interested in all of the product and wished to deal outside of eBay. At the time, I literally had NO money and furiously sold off product to fellow collectors to fund the purchase. It took a while to secure all of the lot, but I eventually did and still can’t believe it!

Without revealing all your secrets, how do you find all of these rare shoes?
Research. Patience. Persistency. Networking. Luck.

RESEARCH. If you’re planning a road trip or taking a Sunday drive, try to find out if there are any family owned sporting goods stores along the way. Call beforehand (ask to speak to the owner/manager) and politely ask if they have older product that is sitting around or that they’d like to get rid of. Don’t get discouraged if you come across a spot and the owner is reluctant to letting you into the backroom. I came across a store a couple years ago that still had product from the early ‘80s on the shelves and am still trying to get past the cash register.

PATIENCE. If you’re trying to obtain a pair of 1973 suede Oboris, it may take years to find them. Set aside money (a lot) for the day they finally come up and try your best not to blow it on random models that come up every two weeks (I should start listening to my own advice).

PERSISTENCY. Don’t give up and don’t get frustrated. You will NOT win every single auction you bid on. The ‘newly listed’ eBay option on your mobile phone will become your best friend. Over the summer when I’m not teaching 4th grade, I may conduct the same search 50 times a day…all in hopes that someone will list that pair you have been searching for the last three years for a Buy It Now of $24.99. Yes, it has happened.

NETWORKING. I have had nothing but positive experiences when dealing with vintage collectors. They’re a different breed…very mature, knowledgeable, professional, and obsessive. In my search for product, I have met some truly incredible people, all of them who share the same love and passion. I have dealt with people from all across the world: Japan, Malaysia, Germany, France. Be humble and go out of your way to help others when they are in need. You never know when YOU are going to need a favor from someone who lives on the other side of the planet.

LUCK. Some days are better than others and some people have more of it than you. All collectors have it at some point or another. If you’re day hasn’t come, it will…maybe not tomorrow, or even next year, but it will.

Our fondest childhood memories often coincide with the sneakers we wore.

  Jed Likos

I know you also collect newer shoes past the early running era. Do you prefer that early stuff over the later models from the ‘80s and ‘90s, or do you love it all equally?
I love it ALL!! For me, it’s not all about the price and rarity factor of a model. I can appreciate a pair of 1989 Aqua Boots as much as a pair of big bubble Air Max 1’s or metallic Jordan 1’s. I find beauty and originality in the design components of all Nike product, which is why I am so drawn to it.

Tell us about your site I Remember Those.
I Remember Those is an online vintage database and networking platform. The basis of the website is to document Nike product between 1972-1999 and share the experiences from various passionate collectors from around the globe. In the future, I hope to travel the world and tell the stories of these collectors. Through I Remember Those, I have met some incredible people from all parts of the world—people I now consider close friends. I want to turn it into a complete visual and auditory experience. The concept is based around the idea that many of our fondest childhood memories often coincide with the sneakers that we wore.

Our youngest vintage collector featured is Chaz Anestos, who at 26 years old, is younger than every shoe in his collection. Showing that there are at least a few young sneaker collectors that aren’t only into Air Jordans, LeBrons, or Yeezys, Chaz has built up an impressive amount of vintage Nikes, and specializes in early SMU (special make up) and PE (player edition) Nike models. A vintage clothing dealer by trade, Chaz scours his local thrift stores on an almost daily basis, finding quite a few choice Nike items in the process. When not out thrifting, Chaz is also keeping an eye on eBay like every other vintage collector, where he’s had scores like an insanely rare pair of Vandal SMU’s with an MTV logo on the heel, created for one of the channel’s first VJ’s (back when they actually played music videos).

We caught up with Chaz to find out what drew him to vintage Nike product, his life as a master of the thrift store, and what the future holds for his ever-growing collection.

Zack Schlemmer: How long have you been collecting, and why did you originally start?
It’s hard to say exactly when I started. My father got into the vintage clothing business when I was a kid in the early ‘90s, so growing up that’s what I wore. I would say I got serious with collecting around 2006 while I was in high school. One day my father brought home some old Waffle Trainers and I couldn’t believe how primitive they were. I had just started running cross-country and track and couldn’t believe people used to run in these. Compared to the shoes I was wearing they seemed clunky and heavy, but something about them just looked so cool. That set me off, and I have been buying them up since.
What is it about Nike that has made you focus on that brand more than others?
Growing up I always thought Nike was the cool brand to have, but I think it goes beyond that. When I first started collecting, I could go online, look at old photos or magazines and see the different models of shoes. Everything seemed fairly well documented and I could tell how to date them and what to look for. That helped me get my foot in the door. Then once I started researching the history of the brand and seeing all these other crazy collections people had, I was sold.

Most often I don’t feel like the price accurately represents how rare some of these models are.

  Chaz Anestos

Going through your feed on Instagram, it looks like a lot of your collection is found via thrift stores. I know some collectors love that thrill of the find. Is this your preferred method of finding vintage sneakers, or do you also hunt eBay and network with other collectors?
It is by far my preferred method, but it’s tough. I’ve found several nice pairs at thrift stores and garage sales, but it doesn’t happen often. Recently I have been purchasing early player samples, and you just can’t find those locally, so eBay is my primary source by far. When I first started collecting I didn’t have the money to throw around that some others did so I would spend my time looking for pairs that were listed incorrectly or had key details left out of the auction title. eBay is a great resource, but nothing beats getting that pair nobody saw.

One of the coolest pieces in your collection is the MTV Nike Vandals. What’s the story behind those?
I was told that those were worn by J.J. Jackson, one of the five original MTV VJ’s. I believe a relative listed them on eBay while liquidating some stuff a number of years after he had passed away and that’s how I came to own them. I actually had no intention of winning the auction, it went a lot lower than I thought it was going to. I threw in a bid that was about $50 over current bid and it held up in the final minutes. It was the most I had ever paid for a pair of shoes at the time, and I initially panicked and was worried. Looking back, I feel like I got them for a steal, though.

What are a few of your favorite pieces in your collection?
It’s hard to pick favorites, but I have a few that are pretty special. A couple years ago I finally found some first generation Pre Montreals. Those were made famous by Steve Prefontaine and if any pop up nowadays they go for pretty crazy money. I have several special colorway and player/school samples that are all great, as well. Some that stand out and I love talking about are the pair of Bruins made for Terry “Furt” Furlow and his 1979-80 season with the Atlanta Hawks. After just 21 games he was traded to the Utah Jazz. Not having any shoes his size to match the Jazz colors, he painted the red Swooshes on a pair of his Bruins purple to match his jersey. Sadly, Terry was killed in a car accident just weeks after that season ended. It was just pure coincidence that someone contacted me about purchasing them, and it’s amazing to think about the journey they’ve been on.

Do you sell and trade pieces, or do you keep everything once it’s in your collection?
I have done some selling and trading with other collectors before, but it can be hard to make both parties happy. If you can do that and everyone wins, then that’s awesome. When I first started out, all of these guys had crazy special colorways and samples, and I was buying the basic models. When I finally snagged a few pairs nobody else had, they wanted to buy them. I sold a few, but now I almost exclusively collect and don’t sell. Most often I don’t feel like the price accurately represents how rare some of these models are, and once I have them it’s hard to let go. The money comes and goes, but having a tangible pair of shoes that nobody else does can’t be beat.

Whose collections do you admire the most among your vintage Nike collector peers?

Here in the states there aren’t too many people that collect the early shoes that I go after. Lindy in Ohio was the first major collection I was really exposed to, and he is still pulling crazy shoes out of the woodwork. I’ve always admired his collection for sure. Jed in Buffalo shares an interest in collecting almost exactly what I collect with the super early models and the player samples. He has an incredible collection and has made some big hits, as well. He is also one of the most passionate, you can definitely feel the excitement whenever he makes a score. Overseas there are a ton of people with amazing collections. There’s a fellow named Soufee in Malaysia that has an endless amount of early shoes and apparel, and I have several Japanese friends with incredible shoes. I haven’t even seen the full extent of their collections.

What is your plan for your collection in the future? Would you like to see some of it in a museum or other archival setting? Or will you just eventually be passing it on to friends or family?

I really don’t know yet. I’m still young, so in a perfect world the value of these shoes skyrockets in 20-30 years and I can convince myself to start parting with them. Currently I have a room in my apartment with most of them displayed, but I’m quickly running out of space. And as of right now, the collection keeps growing, so I’ll just have to cross that bridge when I come to it.

Lindy Darrell has been running marathons in Nike since the 1970s. While the majority of today’s sneaker collections begin with the introduction of Michael Jordan and Visible Air, that’s where his concludes. Darrell’s collection focuses on the rarest vintage Nike running sneakers, manufactured in the USA and Japan during the 1970s and early 1980s. His relationships with former Olympians and marathoners have granted him access to several one-of-a-kind SMU’s and prototypes that have never reached the general public. The following interview is a historic look into Nike products and manufacturing during an era when running was the company’s primary focus.

Nick Santora: When did you first get into Nike sneakers?
Right when Nike first came out with the Waffle Trainer and started becoming a running shoe company. I was a competitive runner and liked the way they fit on my feet. They were cutting edge. Innovation at Nike was ridiculous. They really knew what they were doing and had great people there. From the very beginning to up until the early 1980s, the technology got better and better each year.

When did you start collecting?

I guess eBay had a lot to do with it because when it started, you started seeing a lot of these vintage sneakers popping up. I also had a number of my old shoes, that for some reason I never got rid of. I just kept them in their boxes in my closet. I had maybe ten pairs of shoes from the early to mid 1970s. I also started seeing what the Japanese collectors were doing. They came here and just invaded the United States, taking everything they could get their hands on. Believe it or not, when the Japanese came ripping through here in the 1990s, they didn’t get it all.

I started buying a few sneakers and one thing led to another. I just started looking for stuff that I liked from the past and buying it. Again, I was one of the guys that came from that era, so I had a heads-up on what to collect. I grew up with it, so I really got to know what was what quickly.

I also got to know a lot of people. I know a lot of older guys who are out of running now, but for some reason, kept a lot of their stuff. Now, I don’t know if it’s just because I’ve been at it for so long, or so many people know about my collection, but I’ve got people emailing and calling me all the time. Guys right here in the U.S. telling me what they’ve got. I tell them, “Send it to my house. We’ll see what it is.” Right now, it’s really crazy.

From the very beginning to up until the early 1980s, the technology got better and better each year.

  Lindy Darrell

Are your connections strictly word-of-mouth, or are you active on internet forums?
This is word-of-mouth. In some cases, these guys don’t even know how to turn on a computer. Seriously. A lot of these guys are in their 70s and even up close to 80 years old. The other day, I was talking to the 1968 gold medal decathlete from Mexico City. He’s got some stuff he wants to sell.

How did you become the go-to guy for this stuff?
They know I have a lot of outlets to sell it, through word-of-mouth from this guy to that guy. I had a guy call me yesterday. He was one of the “Mavericks,” a marathoner and distance runner. He said he’s got boxes full of T-shirts that probably sell for $500 to $1,000 apiece.

You’ve got to be really careful when you’re buying that stuff because when Athletics West first appeared, they had like a three-year or four-year period where all of the stuff was made by Champion. A lot of the older manufacturers, before Nike made apparel themselves, actually made garments for them. Sometime in the mid-‘80s, Nike started making the garments to sell to the public. They weren’t the original items that were made for the club itself. You could actually buy this stuff. Then they kept on with it into the 2000s, when they were making all this retro stuff. You’ve got to know what you’re looking for though, if you want to get one of the original pieces.

What are some of the craziest sneakers you’ve acquired over the years?

I picked up a pair of shoes from a guy in Liverpool, England, that he had purchased at a flea market. They’re a one-of-a-kind shoe and I believe they were made for an ex-Olympian here in the United States. His name was Ron Daws. He wrote two books and on one of the covers, he’s wearing these shoes. They’re purple and the whole upper is pig skin. They’re a one-of-a-kind racing flat. They’re crazy. There’s nothing like them.

I had another buddy who was one of the original designers at Nike. He worked for their Department of Engineering. He had some crazy stuff that I got my hands on. He had a pair of LDVs that were made out of clear plastic. They would put them on the runner and he would get on a treadmill. They would film the guy’s feet while he was running and see how his foot would move in this clear upper LDV.

Were Nike running shoes mass produced in the USA during the 1970s, or mostly SMUs?

When they started up in Exeter, New Hampshire, the factory was designed to basically cater to technology. They would do testing and all of that stuff there. They made some of the better USA made shoes that were public, but along with that, they made special shoes. They would be able to cater to the guys here in the U.S. and get the shoes to them really quickly. The national class guys, the Olympians, and a lot of the guys that were running in colleges, they would just order whatever color they wanted. Nike could just make them whatever they wanted, because they were right here in the United States. The athletes could have them in their hands in a matter of weeks.

Believe it or not, when the Japanese came ripping through here in the 1990s, they didn’t get it all.

  Lindy Darrell

Why are all of the shoes in your collection either made in USA or made in Japan?
Those are the only ones I’ll collect. They’re the only ones I think that are really worthy. You start getting into the Air Max 1 and some of those first-generation Korean shoes, along with the ’85 Air Jordan… That’s when they left the United States and went to Korea. I guess those shoes are pretty worthy to a lot of the younger group.

I heard you say that when Michael Jordan arrived at Nike, the brand’s whole focus shifted to basketball. Do you feel that Nike running suffered because of it?

I thought they made an inferior running product. I’ve been vocal about that, which probably makes them mad, but I don’t care. That’s just me saying it, but it’s true. I think everybody felt that way. There was just so much money in basketball sneakers at that time. Nike devoted most of their energy into basketball from the mid to late ‘80s, up through the ‘90s, and you can tell. If you go back and look at the running shoes that were produced during that period, they were just horrible.

Today, many people’s connection to Nike starts with Michael Jordan and the introduction of “Visible Air.”

That’s because all the old guys from back then are dying! It’s cool because the “sneakerheads,” are carrying the torch, so to speak. They’re keeping it alive. It’s just a shame to lose the history of where it all began. That’s what I try to do. As a whole, there aren’t that many people who are into these old sneakers.

Our next collector is Jon Migdal, a native New Yorker who has somehow managed to build up one of the largest and most impressive vintage Nike sneaker and t-shirt collections despite living in the typically small NYC apartments for most of his life. “Without a basement or attic, storage units become a necessity”, he says. Indeed they are. Jon was nice enough to invite us over to one of his two storage units one Saturday to dig through his rare sneakers and t-shirts (some of which he forgot he even had until seeing them again) and talk shop about his own vintage obsession.

I was a product of the Mars Blackmon campaign, ‘Bo Knows’, exposed air bubbles, and NBA games on NBC.

  Jon Migdal

Zack Schlemmer: When did you start collecting vintage Nike product? Did the shoes or shirts come first?
When I got to college in the Fall of ’96, it was the first time I truly got on the internet. I had seen AOL at friends houses, but this was a blazing new T1 connection and there were tons of Japanese websites to explore. Soon thereafter, I learned that Air Max 95’s and Instapump Furys were going for $500 or more only a year or two after their original release—which seemed nuts at the time. I had about 15-20 pairs of sneakers, which was a lot for a college kid back then, but they weren’t collector’s items and they weren’t Jordans and Maxes or other top-of-the-line models, they were just part of looking fresh. My dorm was in the absolute center of campus and I would switch up the pairs I was wearing about three times a day because it was so damn convenient, and well, that seemed cool to me.

In the middle of my sophomore year I created an eBay account, and that really kicked things into action. The first vintage Nike shirt I bought was a faded pinkish hue of purple tee that said “From Oregon With Love” in Japanese, with the English translation just below it, the Nike logo on one sleeve, and the Fuji TV logo on the other. I just thought it was the coolest shirt ever.

This was early ’98. My next few vintage tees included a simple heather grey logo tee with orange Swoosh tag, and a navy blue tag tee with a large print of a Nike Legend shoe with “Georgetown Basketball” screened across the back in script letters. I soon got a pair of worn Neon 95’s that I had coveted so badly in high school, and another pair of original light blue/grey/black Instapump Furys that I had rocked my senior year in high school. I wore both of those to death.

It wasn’t really until after I graduated and got a job that I started buying vintage pairs from the ‘80s without regard for what size they were, and more for collecting purposes. So the shoes and tees pretty much came at the same time, but the sneakers definitely drove the collecting, while the tee’s were still more about just wearing something fresh that nobody else had.

What is it about Nike? Why not adidas or any other brand?

I grew up on the upper west side of Manhattan in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and played and watched a ton of basketball. I was NBA-obsessed. I was one of two 7th graders on my basketball team and we rode the bench consistently, while we watched and admired the play of the 8th graders…who were all wearing black Air Jordan V’s! It wasn’t a team issue shoe—we had no such thing—but the 7 or so best players on the team ALL had them and they looked DOPE on the court. I never had any distaste towards adidas or others, but the spark was never there. I was a product of the Mars Blackmon campaign, ‘Bo Knows’, exposed Air bubbles, and NBA games on NBC. The John Tesh opener still gives me goosebumps! It wasn’t about which brand was best, Nike was just cool to me. So cool.

While going through his stuff, Jon pulls out two of his most prized and rarest pairs, the Columbia University Lions SMU Franchise—which Bobbito Garcia refers to as his favorite shoe of all-time in his book Where’d You Get Those?—and the ’82 Nike Legend in a green leather SMU for Kevin McHale.

“I haven’t seen another pair, and I’m not saying another pair doesn’t exist, but these are insane! Touch the leather. It’s as if they’ve been oiled. Aren’t these insane?!”

“You just don’t see that color shoe in 1982. I mean, I hate the Celtics, but BAM! I got them on eBay from a guy who said he was a friend of McHale who played with him at Minnesota.”

He shares another one of his most prized pieces, George Gervin’s “Iceman” SMU Blazers, which are even more rare because they have red Swooshes (instead of black ones like other pairs floating around out there).

I know you actually wear a lot of of the shoes and shirts in your collection. Is the ability to still be able to wear these older pre-mid-80s models a big reason for why you collect them over the later foam-soled shoes that are crumbled and unwearable now?
That’s been a huge factor for me, whether entirely conscious or not. I think it’s widely known now, but for a long time it was mind boggling to folks that plenty of court shoes from the late ‘70s to mid ‘80s were totally wearable decades later, unlike so many that came later with EVA midsoles that sadly have suffered a different fate. I wouldn’t wear a pair of vintage kicks that I was able to get DS, but just about anything else is fair game if it’s my size. The same goes for t-shirts. Being able to rock what you collect makes us (vintage collectors) incredibly fortunate. Collectors of newer limited edition/collab/super rare pairs and many collectors of shoes from the ‘90s don’t get to experience it, either out of fear of un-deadstocking or because they would crumble.

Whose collection do you admire most among your vintage Nike collector peers?
I fell out of the loop a little in the late 2000’s as work/life/family stuff took shape. To a large degree, crazy as it may sound, it’s really been Instagram that has rekindled a bunch of the love and particularly the appreciation for others’ collections.

Frankly, I wish I knew more of them and was better connected, but the three other guys in this piece—Jed, Chaz, and Lindy—those guys are at the top for sure and I have an amazing amount of respect for what they’ve been able to accumulate and curate.

Then there are dudes over in Asia who just have some jaw dropping stuff. A few standout, but the guy that really blows me away is a super solid dude named Soufee from Malaysia. He has over a thousand vintage Nike tees, not to mention countless sneakers, but his t-shirt collect blows me away. Just when I think I am close to having seen all the blue tag and orange Swoosh tees, he just comes through with dozens more and breaks your heart.

As we’re looking through his collection, Jon makes a very good point: “This isn’t manufactured scarcity, it’s organic scarcity. That’s why I love collecting vintage. You know, there’s nothing ‘limited edition’ here—there’s just only so many left.” And that mentality pretty much sums up this breed of sneaker collectors. Vintage collectors aren’t in it to get Instagram likes, become an “influencer”, or resell everything in a couple years, but because they genuinely love, respect, and cherish the rarity and history behind each shoe.

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