Sneaker Culture Steps Up

Go to any corner of the Earth and you will always find a pair of sneakers staring at you, the sneaker culture in India is growing at an unprecedented rate

Sneaker hype is no laughing matter. Sneakers are the new currency of lifestyle with a touch of investment value. India’s fashion and pop culture is undergoing a dynamic shift, with a growing emphasis on streetwear and a thriving sneaker culture at its core. While sneakers have always held practicality, their transformation into coveted collector’s items and fashion statements is a recent phenomenon adapted regardless of gender and age. Jaws dropped to the floor when a charming MC Sher (Siddhant Chaturvedi) in Gully Boy opened his ‘tijori’ of shoes. One would think it’s an exaggeration, but it is not.

According to Statista, the Indian sneakers market revenue was $2.60 billion in 2022, and the market is expected to grow annually by 11.58%. Arundhati Ketan Padgaonkar, a marketing manager and a sneaker-lover has over 40 pairs of sneakers ranging from Nike, Jordans, Adidas, Puma to New Balance in her collection. Reminiscing about her first sneaker purchase she says, “I think it was Nike Jordan Heritage. I woke up at 7 am and luckily, I got them at the retail price (₹ 12,000).”

Sneaker Trail

Sneakers ‘quietly’ carry with them a trail of history and personal stories, enticing pop culture aficionados to venture into a realm beyond mere footwear. From the inception of Chuck Taylor’s brand Converse in 1917 to the iconic Air Jordan line first launched in 1984 for basketball legend Michael Jordan, sneakers soon became a staple in NBA games and the wardrobes of rappers. Suhana Sethi creates digital content around sneakers and has around 50 pairs. She says, “The sneaker culture is highly influenced by the western culture, especially with the Michael Jordan line of sneakers. Because of his legacy, people were so crazy about him that everyone wanted to wear a piece of him. Wearing Jordan makes people feel like we can be him. It is quite inspirational and motivational.” The seeds of sneaker culture in India started to sow thereon in the 1980s. However, widespread accessibility to international brands and limited-edition releases only arrived in the 2010s, limited to the HNIs. But the current surge of sneaker purchases in India is primarily fashion-driven and a gift from the influencer culture. Suhana says, “In India, the rise of sneaker culture was in the pandemic. The shift from fully dressing up to athleisure became prominent, with streetwear and athleisure promoted by Gen-Z driving the hype around sneaker culture. More than the celebrities,

influencers were seen flaunting their sneakers, making it more accessible in the eyes of people watching them." The release of Michael Jordan's documentary The Last Dance further fueled interest in both sports and pop culture.

Style & Comfort

Beyond athleisure, sneakers have become larger than just lifestyle. It drives its community along with other tightly-knit pop culture communities. Limited-edition releases and collaborations with high-end fashion houses and streetwear labels are the holy grail. These drops boast unique designs, premium materials, and cultural cache, transforming them into coveted collector's items. The thrill of the hunt adds another layer of excitement. Harsh Varrdhan Kapoor owns 1985 Jordan 1 metallic red and metallic navy pairs that are 39 years old. They are fully wearable and aged to perfection. Sneakerheads endure long queues or online raffles to secure these limited kicks within a window of seconds or minutes, making owning a pair an honour badge and dedication to the culture. This limited availability fuels a thriving resale market, where some see "flipping" sneakers for profit as a business opportunity.

The Resale Hustle

The month of March 2024 saw the release of The Trophy Room x Air Jordan 1 Retro Low OG SP ‘Rookie Card - Away’, a colour-flipped take on the iconic ‘Black Toe’ AJ1 . It costs ₹ 12,795 and is reselling at a skyrocketing price of ₹ 60,000. In 2020, sneaker resales were a $1-billion industry and this number is expected to jump to $5 billion by 2025. The limited availability of some sneakers has carved a thriving resale market in India. Prabal Baghla, co-founder of Sole Search says, “When companies like Nike release limited editions and the demand surpasses the stock then the resale industry becomes a companion to allow people’s aspiration to wear these sneakers come true.” Platforms like local Facebook groups and companies like Sole Search, Mainstream Marketplace, VegNonVeg, Hype Fly India, etc have become battlegrounds for reselling sneakers at inflated prices. The resellers buy the limited, hype edition sneakers (copping) at retail prices and sell them at a premium price. Prabal says, “Apart from limited editions at retail or premium price, we sell other sneakers at a discounted price. This gives an entry point to the masses to be a part of this culture.” While the resale market is unregulated and non-uniformed, the industry is at a nascent stage and the growth is exponential.

Sense of Self-Expression

From exclusivity and cultural significance to investment potential and artistic merit, the reasons for the Indian sneaker hype are as diverse as the collections themselves. A growing trend is sneaker customisation, from intricate hand-painted designs, doodles to complete deconstructions and rebuilds, the possibilities are endless. This allows sneakerheads to personalise their footwear, reflecting their personal style and artistic preferences. Santanu Hazarika had customised a pair of sneakers for Badshah, inspired by his Paagal tour. Arundhati was pulled into the world of sneakers when she was gifted a pair of Jordan 1 lows ‘funky patterns’ by Vineet Mhatre, a well-known sneakerhead in the community. “Since then, I haven't looked back. It's like an addiction to me now. Sometimes, Vineet even tells me to take a break from browsing sneaker sites as I'm in a committed relationship with sneakers and have to remind myself that my savings account needs love too.”

India’s homegrown sneaker brands like Gully Labs and Comet are also creating their fanbase for a targeted and niche community. The sneaker culture in India is creating an ecosystem where fashion, community, and self-expression converge in vibrancy.


• Ranvijay Singha, Anand Ahuja, Harsh Varrdhan Kapoor are some of the biggest sneakerheads

• Singers like Diljit Dosanjh and Badshah have a huge collection of sneakers, flaunting it on their concerts

• A new trend of women wearing sneakers with saree, dhoti or lehenga is picking up in India

• India's sneakers market revenue touched $2.60 billion in 2022 (Statista)

• India's sneakers market is expected to grow annually by 11.58% (Statista)

When companies like Nike release limited editions but the demand surpasses the stock then the resale industry becomes a companion to allow people's aspiration to wear these sneakers come true.” — Prabal Baghla, co-founder of Sole Search

Wearing Jordan makes people feel like we can be him. It is quite inspirational and motivational.” — Suhana Sethi, a digital content creator

I think it was Nike Jordan Heritage. I woke up at 7 AM and luckily, I got them at the retail price (₹ 12,000).” — Arundhati Ketan Padgaonkar, a marketing manager

( Source : Deccan Chronicle )
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