The sneaker culture in India is emerging only now. It all began a little over 24 months ago. Out of nowhere, all you could see around you were sneakers. What was once considered “sacrilege” to wear to a fashion week (I remember being scorned at because I turned up in Gazelle‘s and Air Max 90s for LFW Spring Summer 2015) is now sought after and appreciated.
Subsequent editions of the fashion weeks saw sneakers pop-up in Street Style images. I had covered LFW across seasons and you can see their images here : LFW Spring Summer 15, LFW Autumn Winter 15, LFW Spring Summer 16, LFW Autumn Winter 16.
The thing about sneakers is that it transcends gender, age and geography.
Shoes were always considered a woman’s preferred fashion “article” and never have people considered men to love (let alone be crazy bout) them. But Sneakers are going through a glorious moment right about now, in India. Although we lack the cultural significance or sensitisation of Basketball and Hip Hop music, like everything else, they are making an impact slowly but surely on the masses here.
What brought about the emergence of sneaker culture in India? Nike Sportswear and adidas Originals! Just like in the rest of the world, these 2 brands were critical to the sneaker culture’s widespread adoption here. Nike did it with a campaign, announcing the Air Max silhouette drop. There were people from different walks of life wearing their favourite Air Max kicks and posing for the camera. From models to actors, music producers to bloggers. All of this culminated at the Air Max Day event on the 20th of May. Close on the heels was adidas Originals who brought in the frenzy with Kanye West designed Yeezy boosts. These sneakers are always so limited in number that you need to win a raffle to qualify to buy a pair! And this has worked tremendously well for them with releases of NMDs, BAPE collaborations and other limited drop sneakers. The hype was finally here!
I have attended a bunch of workshops lately speaking about the emergence of the sneaker culture in India. And I get asked 2 questions always. How many sneakers do I own and what is the sneaker consumer like. The answer to the first question is much more than a straightforward number so we shall reserve that for some other time. As for the second question there is no correct answer. Sure, I can say the sneaker consumer in India is someone who is an artist, does not have a job with a dress code, listens to non-mainstream music, has considerable purchasing power, plays a sport, so on. But I would be painting the entire audience with the same brush and that is not the right approach. I don’t know what the right answer is, but sneakers are slowly gaining acceptance on a wider spectrum and more so for lifestyle rather than performance.
Look at the fashion influencer space for instance. There are very few true sneaker lovers in the fashion fraternity that I know of. I could literally count them on my fingers. There is Kayaan Contractor, Uday Shanker, Samir Rana all of who have been wearing some dope sneakers much before they became mainstream.
The rest, dare I say most of them, only took to sneakers in the last 10 – 12 months. What made that happen? Brand activations. They wouldn’t know the relevance of say a Superstar or an AirMax but claim to be “sneakerheads” because, obviously, it is a trend to adopt. But that is where they are mistaken. Sneakers are not a trend, they are a culture. And you don’t become a sneakerhead because you have 5 pairs in your wardrobe or 50 pairs, for that matter. Heck you could own just 1 pair and still be a sneakerhead. The point is to know the relevance, the significance, history of kicks and not just buying the latest drops! Same goes for people who count shoes made by a Zara or H&M as legit sneakers. No, they are not and they don’t count. If I threw a party for sneakerheads, these people would be checked at the door if they turned up in their fast-fashion brand kicks.
There are interesting developments in the Indian market, when it comes to sneakers. Like the store Veg Non Veg in Delhi. That place is a sneaker haven. They have had all the relevant drops of 2016 at their store, despite being in business for a little over 9 months. Everything from Yeezy‘s to Jordans. In fact, the first ever sneaker campout in India happened at Veg Non Veg for the 2016 Bred/Banned Jordan 1s. And right after, for the Yeezy Boosts. In Bangalore, a store called Sprynt is making strides in the same direction.
In the online space, Myntra.com has been doing a rather bang up job with exclusive releases like Air Jordan 1 BRED, Yeezy Boost 350s and the NMD OG recently. What gives them an edge is the fact that they bring sneakers within easy reach of people who don’t necessarily live in the metros where these kicks sell.
Everything considered, the sneaker market is all set to take off in India. 2016 was an extremely significant year for the Indian sneaker game. I began the year speaking about the Internationalist and NMD City Sock but ended it showing off my Jordan 1 Breds, Yeezy Boosts, and Kendrick Lamar Classics. That is a long way to come in a few months and there is no saying what 2017 has in store for us.
Recommended read : My Top 16 sneakers of 2016!
What do you make of the emerging sneaker culture in India? Leave your thoughts in the comments, I am eager to learn varied perspectives.
Read this interview with 3 of India’s sneakerheads on the Times of India.