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How to Grow a Meaningful Collection

Shot of some of Elliot Tebele’s Air-Jordan sneaker collection.

If you’re a collector, you know just how easy it can be to dive in head first and start buying anything and everything related to your niche. While there is nothing inherently wrong with this approach, taking the time to learn more about what it is you are collecting and curating a meaningful collection can lead to a more gratifying experience.

Thankfully, adopting this approach is relatively easy — especially when you break it down into steps. Whether you’re just getting started as a collector or you’ve been collecting for years, here are some tips on how to build a more meaningful collection.

Learn More About the Items You’re Collecting and Their History

One of the easiest ways to develop more meaning in your collection is to learn more about the history of each item as well as the larger theme of your collection. Where did your items originate? What is the cultural significance? How have these items evolved over time? Building a strong foundation of knowledge behind your collection can help you feel more connected to your items and even to others who collect the same things.

Start by reading books that are related to your niche. Explore major blogs or other online platforms to keep up with the latest news and trends. For example, if you love sneakers and are a game-memorabilia collector like Elliot Tebele, consider checking out sites like Sneaker Freaker and KicksonFire, or books like “Shoe Dog: A Memoir” by Phil Knight and “Sneaker Freaker: The Ultimate Sneaker Book” by Simon Wood to learn more about streetwear and its history.

Pro tip: You can learn more about the market for your items by looking at comps on auctions sites, ebay, and even some niche instagram accounts specific to your interest.

Determine What Matters Most to You

Once you have a solid foundation of knowledge to work from, you can start to determine what about your growing collection or your collecting hobby in general, is most important to you. While it is helpful for all collectors to have a broad knowledge pertaining to their interest, this is the step in the collector’s journey that allows you to curate and personalize, creating a collection that is unique to you.

Consider asking yourself the following questions:

  • What inspired me to start collecting?
  • What details are exciting to me as a collector and why?
  • What makes an item or piece special to me and why?

If you’re someone like Elliot, who leans more towards the nostalgic side of collecting, this can help you niche down and figure out what drives your passion.

“I’ve always had an affinity for anything vintage and that definitely came into play when putting my collection together,” the entrepreneur shared when speaking to his inspiration. Elliot is the proud owner of the largest known Jordan collection in the world. “The more research I did on sneakers, the more I found myself drawn to anything Michael Jordan-related; especially items that were game-worn. Over the course of the last 10 years, that has become my biggest niche. Now I have a collection that brings me a lot of joy.”

Create a Budget

Collecting certain types of items can quickly become expensive and time-consuming. Sneakers or game memorabilia, for example, can run someone hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. Setting a certain amount of money aside or designating a limit on how much you’re willing to spend on collectible items can stop you from over-purchasing and help you become more intentional with the items you do purchase.

Be Intentional When Selecting Items for Your Collection

For most, building a robust and personally-curated collection takes time. It’s important to focus on items that you know you’ll love or that have personal value to you. Avoid filling your collection with items you don’t truly care for or know anything about simply for the sake of collecting. Buy what you like and don’t let others dictate your collection (or your spending habits).

“Being strategic and thoughtful about my purchases led me to acquiring some of my favorite pairs like the 1984 – Jordan 1 ‘Black Toe and the 1986 – Jordan 1 x Dunk,” Tebele told his staff when discussing this blog post. “It took an incredible amount of time — I mean hours in research to create this collection. That said, taking the time to learn about specific pairs, their story and how their story impacted their value has made my colElliotlection even more meaningful.”

Buy Items From Reputable Websites and Stores

It is not uncommon for buyers to get scammed by bootleggers, replica-makers and rip-off artists. Although this may vary depending on the type of item you choose to collect, many people avoid buying from individual sellers altogether and stick to purchasing from reputable, well-reviewed websites and in-person shops. Be sure to do your research and know the product you are looking to buy both backwards and forwards — doing so can help you confidently tell the difference between a fake and the real deal.

Pro tip: If you plan to collect vintage, game-worn or signed items like Elliot does, look for documentation to authenticate them. For example, companies like James Spence Authentication and the Professional Sports Authenticator can supply this type of documentation for sports-related items. Additionally, you can look to have the pair photo-matched to help confirm its authenticity.

Learn How to Take Care of Your Collection

Once you’ve started collecting, you’ll want to make sure you know how to properly care for and store your items. Again, this may vary depending on the types of items you are collecting. It’s important to keep most items of value in a cool, dry environment to avoid moisture, decay and any other type of unwanted aging. Keep this in mind when building or setting up a display.

In relation to his game-worn sneaker collection, Tebele shared that he does keep a few pairs on display, but most of his collection is kept in a climate-controlled storage vault. “I’m not overly worried about crumbling (which can often happen when shoes are not properly taken care of or stored) because I like to resole and restore pairs in my collection. But if you are someone who wants the original shoe in its original condition, taking proper care of them from the start is the right way to go.”

Additionally, you’ll want to be aware of any specific cleaning techniques, products or tools that can help you keep your collection in its best possible condition.

Remember to Have Fun

Collecting is a hobby — it should bring you joy. Don’t worry about outside influences, or get caught up on trying to keep up with others. Enjoy learning, curating, buying what speaks to you and remember to have fun above all else.

“Passion is what has kept this collection alive. Although it isn’t easy, it’s all about the hunt for me,” Elliot said. “Without passion, I would have given this up a long time ago.”

Elliot Tebele and his game-worn sneaker collection were recently featured in Sneaker Freaker, a magazine that reports on sneakers, sneaker culture and streetwear. Preview the issue here.

— Composed by a Staff Writer with insights from Elliot Tebele.

To learn more about how Elliot is combining his passion for collecting game-worn sneakers with his philanthropic efforts, check out Elliot Tebele Partners with Soles4Souls.