How a Collector Archives His Milestones Through Sneakers

by Runi Cholid
2nd November 2023
Sneaker collector Ruli Nauli Hutabarat has over 200 pairs of sneakers in his collection, each one linked to a memory he would gladly share with those interested to listen in.

“I’m quite helpless,” said Ruli Nauli Hutabarat repeatedly in reflection of his over 200 pairs of sneakers collection. He was only half joking. 

The 40-year-old father of two, who is currently serving as the Chief Operations Officer at MANUAL, is one of the hideaway figures in the city’s sneaker scene. A casual enthusiast wouldn’t have recognised him as a collector the way they would sneaker influencers such as Anugrah Aditya of Adityalogi, for one, but among his peers, his collection room has earned the infamous title of ‘the black hole’, because “once a pair of sneakers come in, it’s very unlikely for them to come back out and get sold away.”

Access into the room itself is almost as difficult; only Ruli and a few of his trusted staff members (from his many business ventures) knew what the inside looked like. Tucked on the third floor of his childhood home in Benhil, up steep stairs and past rows of equipment used for his mother’s catering business, the room presented itself more like a shopping outlet’s storage room rather than a sneakers closet that stores a $1000 Air Jordan.

It’s air-conditioned 24/7 and equipped with dehumidifying kits, but the typical sneaker collector’s pristine setup is otherwise absent. Boxes of New Balance, Nike, Keds, Saucony, Reebok, Adidas and, most prominently, Vans form small mountains inside the three square metres room. Many of the sneakers are beaten and well-worn, while some still have their tags attached years after the purchase, semi-forgotten in their boxes. In between, there are collectable action figures, gaming consoles, a Star Wars lightsaber still with its yellowing price sticker attached and also a small container of his daughters’ sneakers collection stashed into the mix. 

If it sounds like an overgrown childhood bedroom, that’s because it was. “My mother got sick of the stuff piling up in my old room, so she had the idea to build this floor just for storage,” explained Ruli, who had moved out of the house in 2012, but would occasionally return once a month to see his mother and check in on his library of sneakers. “I see it as an archive. There’s a certain personal satisfaction just from owning [these shoes].”

There is a genuineness about his process that makes even the pairs that have less obvious nostalgic value hold a personal weight.

From 2023 releases such as the Compass x Fxxking Rabbits Gazelle sneakers to those bought in the early 2000s, including a pair of Adidas Italia made of vegetable-tanned leather, the brands and models of his collection vary greatly. Some might even call the selection random, which Ruli wouldn’t deny.

“It’s hard for me to describe my curation process, I just follow my mood,” shrugged the spectacled man. “When I was in high school in the late ’90s, I was really into Nike running shoes like the Air Rift and the Alpha Project. But I also skated, so I had Vans and Airwalk sneakers. Vans in particular became a longtime favourite because I went on to play in a band and got really into the street culture and lifestyle.”

One of his prized pairs is, in fact, a Vans general release, bought by his then-girlfriend (and now wife). Black and blue with a touch of white in the stripe, they would easily get lost amidst the smorgasbord of other footwear with popping colours and sometimes offbeat designs. But in the early 2000s, finding a pair of genuine Vans in Indonesia was like finding a needle in a haystack due to replicas.

His other collection follows this same personal and sentimental thread. There’s the Keds and Mark McNairy collab, a blue-coloured wingtip with red soles that Ruli wore to one of the events in his wedding procession, and also Packer Shoes’ blue, red and yellow version of the Reebok Classic Leather (CL), which is a first wedding anniversary gift from his wife.

At this point, one would understand why hardly anything ever leaves Ruli’s sneaker collection. Unmoved by momentary trends and only following his personal taste and life phases, there is a genuineness about his process that makes even the pairs that have less obvious nostalgic value hold a personal weight. “If [the sneakers] age and break then so be it, they are inanimate objects after all. But I’d rather keep them with me than have someone else resell them for excessive prices.”

Ruli has a wide enough network to acquire most sneakers he desires, even those not released to the public.

One principle that guides Ruli’s collecting process is his distaste for buying anything above retail rates. “Throughout my years of collecting, you can count on one hand the sneakers that I bought at a resale price,” he affirmed. “These days, there’s a new release every week, it actually gets tiring. So if I don’t get the pair that I want, then I’m not going to force it. Of course, I’ll chase down the ones that I really want, but not to the point where I would have to exert myself.”

That doesn’t mean his collection is lacking rare gems—on the contrary, Ruli has a wide enough network to acquire most sneakers he desires, even those not released to the public, including a factory reject of the Fragment Design x Nike Tennis Classic collab. Among the rarest in his collection, and one of the first he would save in case of a fire, is a pair of The Hundreds x Reebok Classic Nylon, which has a patterned inner lining in the style of a bandana. 

“When Bobby Hundreds, co-founder of The Hundreds, saw me with the pair during the USS (Urban Sneaker Society) event last year, he was so surprised,” Ruli recalled gleefully. “Even he didn’t have the sneakers in his archive.”

Sometimes, rare sneakers just fall into his lap by fate (and a bit of manoeuvring). A case in point is the midnight navy Jordan x Eric Koston SB Air Jordan 1 Low—the only Air Jordan in his collection—which came into his possession after a fruitful switch with his best friend (who’s not exactly a ‘sneakerhead’). There is also the Adidas Superstar 35th Consortium No.1 Adi Dassler, one of the most limited releases from the brand’s 35th-anniversary lineup, that was left behind in his apartment when a friend-slash-renter skipped out on rent and abandoned a lot of his belongings.

The luckiest of all, though, is perhaps his discovery of the 1999 reissue of the cult-following Nike Dunk ‘Be True To Your School’ Georgetown. “I found them at a thrift store in Japan, complete with the original red and black box. Can you guess how much I got them for? Only 3000 yen! (equivalent to IDR 316,000),” he exclaimed excitedly.

“I don’t like that the culture now is dominated by those who buy and wear sneakers for social status.” – Ruli Nauli Hutabarat

In an era of resellers, hype and exorbitant price tags that come with them, this unfussy outlook on collecting sneakers that is seemingly unbothered by public opinion is a refreshing one. There’s genuine enthusiasm here that is clearly exhibited with every pair of sneakers he pulled out from the shelf, as he recalled the memories behind each one with automatic ease.

“I don’t like that the culture now is dominated by those who buy and wear sneakers for social status. It makes me sad when people don’t understand why a particular collaboration is so interesting beyond the buzz,” said Ruli. “Some would even brag about the amount of money they pay to the reseller—it’s like, why would you be proud about that? There’s an entire world behind [these sneakers] if you would just explore it, and I wish more people would do that.”