Bubble Koppe

Meet connoisseur, curator and custodian of Nike Air Max, Justin Ronné

Words: Dylan Muhlenberg | Photography + video: Nick Gordon

“I guarantee that nobody loves Nike more than I do,” says Justin Ronné, a self-described Bubble Kop who invited The Way of Us into his private Nike museum.

Having recently moved, the first thing Justin did in his new space was dedicate a room to the Swoosh and put his most prized possessions on permanent display. Even though the majority of Justin’s hoard is still in storage (he also collects G-Shock watches, die-cast model cars, comic books, basketball cards and other brands of sneaker), his Nikes are on a pedestal. 

 “I have memories of my dad taking me down the road to Mr. Chen’s in Woodstock in the mid-90s, I remember doubling up on certain Nike Ndestrukts back then. The passion for Nike has been with me since a kid.”

Justin's Nike museum features a framed poster with every Nike Logo ever designed up to 2011, a Nike accessories cabinet from 1995 housing collectables and vintage watches, a Hunting for Kicks x Air Max Day directors chair with “Bubble Koppe” on it, Nike poster boards from 1991 and 1993 featuring Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley, The Book of Air, various vintage Nike salesman shoe benches, shop front signage, neon signage, buying catalogues, stickers, laces, various air units and deconstructed shoes that were used to train Nike staff on the different Nike technologies from Flyknit and Lunarlon to Tuned Air. 

Then there's the vault where Justin keeps his grails behind bars and under lock and key. 

“The name started out as bit of a joke,” says Justin, who thought it sounded funny and it somehow stuck. “Bubble Koppe are people who actively seek out visible Air, normally the more visible air the better, the majority of these are mid-90s basketball silhouettes, Griffey’s and obscure models like the Ubiquitous Max, Muscle Max and Total Air Bus Max.” 

Justin started Bubble Koppe as a way to educate others on Air Max, as there's more to it than the Air Max 1, Air Max 90 and Air Max 95 that most of us know. Sharing his knowledge and finds on the groups he started on Facebook and Instagram, Justin also sources Air Maxes from overseas for people living here.

 But why the focus on this particular piece of shoe technology when there’s so much else going on in the sneaker game?

“What Nike did with Air Max was insane. It was rebellious and ahead of its time - It had never been done before. To replace part of the sole with just air, well that’s something else. They’re iconic shoes designed by mad scientists. They were designed to have an extreme aesthetic. There have been some amazing technological advancements in Nike’s history, but for me, I’ve stuck with Air Max from the mid-to-late 90s because that’s what I lived and have always gravitated to.”

Status and nostalgia also play a role where a lot of Bubble Koppe are after the shoes that they could’ve only dreamed of copping as kids. 

“I had a couple of pairs of Nike as a kid, but never the ones that I really wanted. I remember watching matriculants playing basketball as a kid and just dreaming about owning the Pippens and the Barkleys they used to wear. The coolest kids at school wore Air Max. Back then, a grand or two was a lot of money for a pair of shoes – it was really out of reach for a ten-year-old kid. As soon as I started making some money I decided to actively seek out the models that I loved as a kid."

Justin’s done a pretty decent job of that, amassing a collection that not only features hundreds of pairs, the majority of which are Air Max, but seeking out limited edition and difficult-to-source memorabilia that ties into Air Max culture, too. 

Justin wouldn’t allow us to photograph parts of his collection, and insisted that certain information was strictly off the record, and while this behaviour seems pretty weird it shows just how seriously he takes this. Don't call it a game. This is that sneaker life. 

And even though Nike is a global brand speaking to an extremely wide audience, Justin has zoomed in on what moves him and then used social media to share his particular passion with the world and connect with like-minded people. Sneaker culture’s ability to go granular and form sub-cultures proves how deep it runs, and with those embedded in the scene able to change the game, influence what’s trending via their own groups, hashtags and tags, it’s led to a democratisation of sneakers.

“The influence of Air Max on the world today is colossal, it’s a symbol of excellence and innovation for heads and athletes alike. This year I’m especially excited for Air Max Day because 30 years is quite an achievement. The fact that we’re still copping shoes with the same technology 30 years on is amazing. Air Max has made history. It's truly iconic."