The manner in which sneakers have come to rule the zeitgeist of Indian menis, simply put, uncanny.
In the last two decades, our affinity and love for the footwear have grown leaps and bounds. So much so, that pick any typical Indian millennial who has the spending, and you will see them in some basic pair of sneakers or the other.
Even our celebrities, actors and cricketers alike, are massive hypebeasts, and can often be seen wearing some zany pairor the other.
However, this was not always the case.
For a rather long time, we had no concept of sneakers or them actually being a fashionable piece of footwear. Long before our fascination with sneakers, we had the concept of sports shoes. They differed from the white canvas PT shoes in the sense that they had a chunkier silhouette and had more stylised, but ultimately functional design cues.
For a long time, sports shoes were considered to be the shoes of the lower-middle-class working man. Not to sound too reductive, but for a long time, sports shoes were not a part of the arsenal of a man in a respectable position.
You would never see a manager or a senior clerk in the '80s wear a pair of sports shoes to the office. Instead, sports shoes were always a part of a young clerical office worker or someone who has just started with his first job.
Or, as Bollywood would have it, sports shoes or sneakers at this juncture, would be the choice of footwear for the well to do, but ultimately unemployed youth. Take Anil Kapoors portrayal of Sunil Sharma from the 1985 film, Saaheb.
The transition between sneakers and sports shoes is murky at best. The same can be said for our fascination with sneakers, as in when exactly did we start thinking of sneakers, as not mere footwear, but a legitimate fashionable statement piece.
To answer that question, we turned to Rahul Anand, the founder of Sneaker Stars India, one of the most widely followed sneaker pages on Instagram.
Globally, sneaker culture started developing around the 80s with basketball and hip hop playing a major role. In India however, both those factors didn't make that big an impact for it to translate into developing a sneaker culture. However, over the past couple of years, the two big drivers for the movement have been the Indian film industry and to some extent cricketers and sporting personalities. That's what we have clearly seen through our page as well. Fans are very keen to know what sneakers their favourite stars and idols wear and then that becomes the seed to make a lasting interest in sneakers, he says.
So, where does Indias sneaker culture stand today? Well, although we have finally arrived onto the scene, we are still a long away from being labelled as thriving and kicking. Says Rahul, The sneakerhead community in India is a small one at the moment but steadily growing.
From the perspective of popular brands though, the sneaker culturehere is still at its nascent stages. That is the reason why, most notable athleisure brands, be it Adidas or Nike have very limited drops of collectable pairs.
This is where outlets like Anand Ahujas VegNonVeg come into play. For Indian sneakerheads, outlets like VegNonVeg are fulfilling a very important gap. Says Rachit Arora, a first-year Economics student from the University of Delhi, It is not always possible for me to get my cousins to send me a pair of sneakers. Unfortunately, for a long time, brands brought the really good stuff (collectable, special edition sneakers) to India very late, if ever. Although this is changing, we still don't get as many pieces as we would ideally like to have. Availability is also a major issue at times. Thanks to multi-brand outlets like VegNonVeg, we have easy access to these pairs.
Most celebrities can actually afford to buy these pieces, well before they show up in India. Sneaker makers too work closely with them, especially if they have been signed as their brand ambassadors. Celebrities would often be given special editions and one-off sneakers to build hype before a new drop is set to arrive.
Furthermore, most celebrities, even if they dont buy the sneakers that they are spotted wearing, have a very strong team of stylists and PR professionals who help their client to get their hands on some rare and zany pairs.
For the common sneakerhead, this rarity and issue with availability have led to two bizarre situations. First, there is the entire segment of counterfeit sneakers or first copy sneakers. We have come across knock offs quite often. Some are really good knock offs and you really need to look close to find the differences, says Rahul.
Interestingly, even celebrities have fallen for them. When we asked Rahul if he has ever seen celebrities wear knock offs, he said, Oh yes, we have seen quite a few, although, we wont be taking names.
The second situation that has come up, are sneaker trades, wherein people trade or sell off their sneakers at a markup. However, not all sneakers are tradeable. Sneaker trades work in case rare or "hyped" sneakers, the ones that are really difficult to get one's hands on. The other kind of sneakers that trade well are the ones that are not in production anymore, says Rahul.
Instagram/sneakertalkindia; Sneaker Talk India organise the DKX, Delhis largest sneakerhead meetup
Depending on the sneaker that is being dealt in, the markups can be exorbitant at times. as Rachit says, We as a community often have meetups, where we exchange sneakers or buy and sell them.
There have often been instances where a pair that would originally for about Rs 30,000-40,000 would resell for double or even triple the price. One guy who I often see in these meetups once bought a pair of Off White Vapormaxs for over Rs 1.25 lakhs, adds Rachit.
This begs the question when people dole out an amount as big as that for a pair of shoes, are they not afraid that they may end up taking a pair of counterfeits? Well, we have experts who inspect the pairs very closely to see if they are genuine or not before the transaction is made, says Rachit, who considers himself as well the guy who bought the Vapormaxs as quintessential Indian sneakerheads.
But how would one describe a sneakerhead today? We again turn to Rahul for answers. He says, It is hard to describe the average sneakerhead today because the segment is growing and evolving through various sections of society and people. For a while, Indian sneakerheads were looked at as people who would skateboard or dress a specific way or play ball etc. But now it has moved passed to encompass a larger audience. This could be attributed to the fashion trend that has evolved to be more functional and focuses on athleisure or street clothing which incorporate sneakers really well. But overall we are thrilled that it is reaching out to a wider audience!
Clearly, Indias sneaker revolution is just getting started. It will be rather interesting to see what is in store for us, and sneakers, and whether internationally-acclaimed brands will be able to capitalise on this rapidly expanding market. But one thing is certain - Indias fascination with sneakers is here to stay for long.
Photo: Instagram/sneakertalkindia (Main Image)
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