Kanye West’s 2008 Grammys pairs for $1.8m signaled the dawn of an era in investment-grade trainers.

They look just like a pair or trainers to most people, but for Gerome Sapp, the Nike Air Yeezy 1 Prototypes are a landmark in design and commerce. Sapp says, “If you are a sneakerhead you know that sneaker.”

The art market is also paying attention. The shoes were co-designed and worn by Kanye West to the Grammys 2008 ceremony. They were purchased by Rares for $1.8 million. (PS1.28m) At Sotheby’s, in an April private sale.

It was the first time Nike collaborated with an artist, rather than an athlete. The artist also had a hand in designing it. Sapp says that there are many firsts with this sneaker.

Sapp believes that the Yeezy sale will herald a new era. One where sneakers are just as valuable as collectable art.

Flipping sneakers (buying retail and selling higher on the secondary market) can make traders thousands of pounds in minutes. Buyers are searching social media sites like Instagram for highly sought-after pairs.

One estimate predicts that the market for sneaker resale could reach $30bn by 2030 (PS21.3bn). Nicholas Smith, author of Kicks: The Great American Story of Sneakers, and host of Sneakernomics on BBC Radio 4, says that the auction market has seen an “exponential boost”. “Now they’re in the same place now as something collectible, like luxury watches or baseball cards.”

Some pairs are so rare that they can only be sold through lotteries. Traders attempt to avoid this by using specialist software. Bloomberg Businessweek recently published a pair Air Jordans, with the tag line “This isn’t a sneaker. It’s an asset class.”

There are clear signs that sneakers’ place in the art world is changing beyond what the headlines may suggest. The evolution of the footwear from functional item to collectable art is explored in the Design Museum’s Sneakers Unboxed: Studio to Street, which opens this week.

Smith says such exhibitions are a great way to show support for sneakers as art pieces. Smith says, “We’re entering a new chapter” in the world sneakers. While collecting has been around for decades, it has seen a surge in popularity over the past few years due to social media which makes it easy to locate a rare pair of sneakers.

Sapp, an ex-player for the Baltimore Ravens American Football team, now offers fractional ownership to rare sneakers through his company, Rares. A buyer can purchase a share of a sneaker and then trade it like a stock. The Nike Air Yeezy 1 Prototypes will therefore be broken down into 72,000 shares each selling for $25.

Sapp claims that the secondary market has been divided into two segments: the flipping market, where sneakers sell for about $500, and the “investment-grade sneakers”, which are shoes worth at least $5,000. Sapp says, “Now, Matisse is right, I don’t mean to disrespect them, but you know that if I can get my hand on that shoe, I will,” “Sneakers are the rage right now. It is visible every day. I can touch it and tangibly control it.”