Vintage Nike Collector: Lindy Darrell as told to Nick Santora
Originally Published on Sneaker News SELECT – April 2016
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?
Lindy Darrell: 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. It just grew from there. 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. That’s where I am today. 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.
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.
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.
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.
This interview was originally part of an amazing piece on four different vintage Nike collectors for Sneaker News SELECT. I assisted Zack Schlemmer and highly recommend clicking THIS LINK to read about the other guys featured and see some really insane basketball styles from the late 1970s and early 1980s.