Part 1: Interview with ShoeZeum’s Jordy Geller

Jordan Michael Geller is the current Guinness World Record holder for the largest sneaker collection in the world, which in 2009 became the world’s first sneaker museum, the ShoeZeum. Through his meticulous collecting of Nike sneakers, Geller has become a Nike historian and sneaker aficionado. In our interview, Geller discusses his process of collecting for the ShoeZeum, his identity as a collector, and his relationship with Nike. In the first portion of the two-part interview, Jordan Geller and Shayla Black talk about the beginnings of the ShoeZeum and his identity as a collector.

Shayla Black: Could you begin by explaining how your collection for the ShoeZeum began?

Geller's Air Jordan Vs

Geller’s Air Jordan Vs

Jordy Geller:  When I bought the first shoe that I started collecting, I never had an intention of starting a crazy shoe collection. It was a pair of Air Jordan Vs that came out in the year 2000; originally the Air Jordan Vs came out in 1990. This was the first time they retroed that model—I didn’t get the shoe as a kid in 1990, but I did get it in the year 2000. Once I had this shoe that I always wanted, I just couldn’t put it on my foot. I didn’t want to mess it up because I didn’t know if Nike would ever come out with them again. Maybe this was my only chance to have them, so I just collected it. This started happening with other shoes that came out when I was a kid that I wanted, but didn’t get to have. Instead of wearing and buying them, I would just covet them.

SCB: When you first began collecting, did you identify as a collector? If not, when did you understand that you were a collector?

JG: I’ve always been a collector of many things going all the way back to Garbage Pail Kids when I was 7 years old; baseball and basketball cards a little bit after that. Shoes were the latest thing I collected, and the greatest thing I ever collected. I gained my voice in this particular arena. Since being featured in the book of Guinness World Records and opening up the world’s first sneaker museum, I’ve become an authority because of my collecting. I had the idea to build the ShoeZeum in 2009, and that’s when I went off the deep end with collecting. I literally tried to collect every single pair of cool Nikes that had ever come out. So it was really between 2009 and 2012 that I amassed and showcased the ShoeZeum. Before then, I was a collector of shoes, but not anything out of the ordinary. There are a lot of people like me that love shoes, who maybe buy two pairs: one to wear and one to keep in the closet. And some people just buy them to collect them—that is who I was until I had this idea in 2009 to build the world’s first sneaker museum.

SCB: You stated previously that in the beginning, you had this really ambitious idea of collecting everything, how did you narrow down and create criterion for the ShoeZeum?

JG: I wanted the ShoeZeum to be a personal collection. There are lots of stores that have a ton of inventory of shoes, but that’s not a collection, that’s an inventory. I think for this to be a personal collection, the shoes would have to fit me. My size is an 11 ½, and I went up or down ½ size. Then I also

A "Back To the Future" display featuring the Nike Air Mag at the ShoeZeum

A “Back To the Future” display featuring the Nike Air Mag at the ShoeZeum

thought people are going to want to come and see a shoe museum. They’re going to want to see brand new shoes in the boxes, not old beat up shoes. So the criterion was set for me: collect in my size range and buy everything new in box.

From there, I went into the different categories: running, basketball, cross-training, tennis, skateboarding, hiking, and a category that I called innovation. I tried to collect each significant model in each category or sport and put them together in chronological order. So start with basketball, the first basketball shoes are the Blazer and the Bruin from 1972, so I was like, “Oh, okay, I have to get a lot of Blazers and Bruins, and that will start basketball.” Then I worked my way toward the Air Force 1 of ’82 and the Dunks and Air Jordans of ’85. Putting everything in chronological order just made sense to me because it was the best way to see the evolution and innovation of each category.

SCB: So you wanted this to be a more personal collection; however, you didn’t wear the shoes. Do you have a personal collection for wearing and how does it differ from the ShoeZeum collection?

JG: I had about 200 pairs of shoes that I would rotate through and wear. I recently downsized that collection and sold a lot of them on eBay. I didn’t need all of those shoes anymore, and I thought I could auction them off and donate the money to the Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, a children’s hospital in Portland that Nike does a lot of work with. So my collection has slimmed down to half of what it once was. But I wore 200 pairs, and I had about 2,500 pairs of brand new shoes on display.

Geller owns a pair of the late musician DJ AMs Nike Hemp Dunks

Geller owns a pair of the late musician DJ AMs Nike Hemp Dunks

SCB: Is sneaker collecting a lifelong pursuit for you, and how does your sneaker collection convey your personal history?

JG: Sneaker collecting is more of a fulfillment of my childhood dreams. When I was growing up, I loved Nikes—the running and the basketball and the cross-training. My dad was a runner, and I use to go to the shoe store with him and admire all the kicks. I also watched Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, and David Robinson wear all the cool basketball shoes on the court. I had wanted all of these shoes since I was a kid, so sneaker collecting for me was really about reflecting back to my childhood and finally obtaining all these things that I wanted when I was 14, 15 years old.  I think my collection conveys how meticulous, obsessive, and thorough I am. Everything in the ShoeZeum had a purpose. Every shoe was there for a reason, and every exhibit was there to bring the shoe to life. And it was meticulously laid out. There wasn’t any dust in that entire 9,000 square foot building. It was my own Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. I got to create this world surrounding myself with everything I ever wanted as a kid, and then I was able to do something with it that nobody had ever done before, nobody had ever thought of doing.

Shayla Black

Shayla Corinne Black served as the microsite curatorial intern for “Out of the Box: The Rise of Sneaker Culture” exhibition for the Fall 2015 term. In addition to working with the AFA, Shayla is a second year Master candidate at Bard Graduate Center where her academic focus is African-American Menswear from the 20th-21st centuries.

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