The Air Jordan 1 wasn’t the first sneaker made by Nike, but it may be the most important. The partnership between Michael Jordan and the footwear brand from Oregon launched—at least in America—what we now refer to as “sneaker culture,” and no single shoe had a bigger role in that than the original pair of Jordans, first released in 1985.
The sneakers have since been re-issued in a plethora of colors and styles, but none are more prestigious than the first Jordans ever produced. There have been stories about people finding pairs, with yellowed soles and cracked leather, and holding onto them as their most-prized possession. But Dylan Ratner, a 17-year-old from Miami, has made a hobby out of collecting the original Air Jordan 1s, and he’s done an excellent job at it.
Dylan has amassed nearly every original and sample Air Jordan 1 from the line’s inception. He has other vintage Air Jordans, too, but the 1s have his heart, and his collection would make even the most seasoned collector wide-eyed. Many wonder how he was able to procure such a priceless stash of shoes, especially since he’s not old enough to have ever watched Michael Jordan suit up in a Chicago Bulls uniform. This is how he did it.
How did you get into collecting vintage Air Jordans?
The vintage thing happened by accident. I was originally involved in newer releases, and I made a trade for a vintage pair. I became really interested in the history and the significance behind the older pairs, so it started from that. Then I began to buy and sell, focusing on vintage, and I amassed a collection.
How do you get your pairs?
Sometimes I get them online and through people I meet, connecting through Instagram and Facebook. I run a Facebook group called “What Did You Wear Today?” and we have 67,000 members at the moment. So, I’ve met a lot of people through there. There’s a lot of different outlets where I find pairs.
How difficult is it to get the sneakers?
With the 1s, it’s very difficult to find some of the more obscure pairs. It’s taken a lot of patience, and you need to just get lucky.
What was the hardest shoe to get?
Probably the “Orange Metallics.” I’ve never seen pairs of them. I’ve only seen one pair on the market, and I got them when I had the chance. All of the other pairs I’ve seen on the market a couple of times. But they seem like the ones that are never for sale.
What’s the most you’ve ever spent?
About $2,000 for the “Purple Metallics.”
What is it about the 1s that draw you to being a completist?
They were the first Jordans, so they’re significant in that aspect. They’re also interesting because there’s a lot of mystery behind them. There are a ton of prototype pairs and samples, because it’s the first one that they made. They were playing around with different colorways and models and midsoles. It’s not only a cool shoe to look for the released pairs, but I also have a few of the prototypes and samples.
Have you worn the 1s?
A couple pairs, but most of my shoes aren’t my size. I just got them in whatever size I could, but it was impossible to get them all in my size. I’ve worn a pair of ‘85 “Royals” a couple of times, but I try to keep everything as pristine as possible.
You buy a lot online, but do you try and find stuff in old shops?
I went to a thrift shop once or twice, but I’ve never found anything. I know some guys who do that all the time and find some good stuff.
What’s your monthly sneaker budget?
Depending on the month, it’s about $100-$500.
What’s the best deal you’ve ever got?
I don’t remember the price, but I got one pair of “Metallic Blues” for a couple hundred dollars, and they’re one of the nicer pairs I own.
What is it about the kids’ sizes that fascinate you?
I think it’s interesting to have varying sizes. With the 1s, I have some adult, some kids’ sizes, some toddlers’ sizes, which are really interesting because there are differences in every pair. I hope to save them and give them to my kids one day.
What is your collection appraised at?
I can’t really put a value on it, because the market is so niche. I’ve sold off some pairs, but it’s hard to put a price on it. It’s pretty priceless.
Are you a big Michael Jordan guy in general?
I didn’t grow up watching Jordan, because I was young when he was playing. Toward his retirement, I have some family in Chicago, so I sort of started paying attention to him. But as I grew up and started to pay more attention to the NBA, he became my favorite player.
How much does your love for basketball affect your love for vintage basketball sneakers?
Not that much. I’m a huge Heat fan, but I don’t have any of Dwyane Wade’s sneakers. When LeBron [James] was on the team, I had a few of his sneakers. But I don’t think there’s much of a connection between my sneakers and my love for basketball. I’m not a Bulls fan.
How do you store your sneakers?
I have mini plastic boxes, and I keep them in a storage unit, so I try to eliminate any dust or aging flaws. The thing with 1s is that there could be a brand new pair, but they can get destroyed from bad storage. I try to keep them as protected as possible.
Do the kids at your school know about your shoe collection?
My friends do, but not everyone does. I go to a pretty big school.
Do you have any horror stories about wearing the shoes?
I don’t have any stories about wearing the shoes, but I have one about buying shoes. They were “Purple” and “Green” Metallics that I bought off of a collector. They were from outside of the U.S., and when 1s get old, the collar and padding gets crunchy from drying out. Customs thought something was sketchy with the inside of the collars. So, they cut into the insides of them to check what the material was. Once they determined that the material was OK, they taped over them. When I got them, there was tape over the collars and a cut down the side. It was horrible. The collector that I bought them from was disgusted when I told him, and there was nothing I could do to get my money back.
What do your parents think of your collection?
At first they thought I was pretty crazy for buying and selling sneakers that were so expensive, because I started to do it in 7th grade. But when they saw that I was making a business out of it, they went along with it, as long as I didn’t go overboard.
What are your plans going forward. Do you plan on making a bigger living with this?
Next year I’m going to Babson College, which is an entrepreneurial school in Boston. I don’t know if I’m going to continue with sneakers. I’ll definitely still collect, but I want to branch out and not limit myself to them.
What’s something you could picture yourself doing that’s not sneakers?
Maybe being involved with a startup, maybe being involved with social entrepreneurship, but I’m open to pretty much anything.
Were you surprised you were able to obtain all these shoes?
When I first set out the goal, I never thought I’d be able to obtain all of these pairs. But doing the research, hunting them down, finding the old pictures, tracing the owners, and contacting them, I never thought I would ever accomplish this. It took a lot of hard work and time to do it.
How do you contact the owners?
For some of the pairs, there used to be a large NikeTalk thread with original sneakers. That was mostly active back in 2005. There were a lot of guys on there who owned vintage pairs. I found two guys who ended up having a ton of vintage stuff. I contacted them to see if they were still interested in selling their pairs. These were people who were collecting 8-10 years ago, and they weren’t so interested in it anymore. It wasn’t that difficult in getting them to sell. Sometimes it was, because the sneakers held so much sentimental value. I was able to prove that they were going to a good home.
How did you do that?
By showing them my collection and proving that I wasn’t going to just resell them.
How many vintage pairs have you sold?
Probably a couple hundred over the years.
So, your main source of income is reselling?
Aside from the 1s, is there anything else you want to collect next?
The goal is to collect the complete 1 through XI set. It’s a little far-fetched. I have probably 65 percent of it right now. The hardest stuff to track down is some of the IIs, also some of the ‘88 IIIs are very expensive. The IVs aren’t that difficult, I’m only missing the “Military Blues.” Everyone on up isn’t that hard. It’s just the 1s through IVs are the most expensive, but it’s more about financing that instead of finding them—except for the IIs.
Do you see the sneakers as an opportunity to make money, or do you just collect them to collect?
Definitely both. I’ve done a fair share of buying and selling, mostly on Instagram, through an account called “Resurrected Soles.” I try to give fair deals to people on vintage shoes. They’re not always 1s. I sell a lot of VIs and Vs. I usually deal with 1 through XI. I don’t usually deal with pairs past the XI, just because the market isn’t as strong for them. I like collecting, but I’ve also been able to turn it into a business.
What do you plan to do with your collection when you go to college next yearI’ll probably slow down, but I hope to hold onto them for as long as I can, because I don’t think the value is going to change. It’s more than just buying and selling; being one of the only people to have the whole set is an amazing thing.