What I discovered about the sneaker culture in India at the Delhi Kicks Xchange
As much a cultural craze as business, the sneaker revolution in India is getting bigger every day
South Delhi’s elite locality of Hauz Khas attracts the crème de la crème of the city to its swanky clubs and bars, but it’s definitely not my Sunday haunt on a forbidding winter evening. But, I found myself in the rooftop of one such snazzy bar alongside people clad in streetwear and rakish sneakers, making it visibly obvious that the event they (and I) were headed to was Delhi Kicks Xchange, India’s most important sneakerheads’ meet, where attendees swarm in from all over the country. And as I looked around the venue, I realised that I am heavily underdressed (or under-shoed, rather) in my humble Vans Old Skools.
Delhi Kicks Xchange
Making his way between the buzzing crowd at the meet, Atul Sharma, the host of the meet and the founder of Sneaker Talk India, greets me and proudly shows me around the event that he launched three years ago. “In 2017, we had 40 people show up. And now we are more than 8K and growing,” shares Sharma.
Shoe-spotting at Delhi Kicks Xchange
The sneaker culture in India has indeed snowballed from a handful of people who essentially ignited and fuelled the community. But, is it homegrown? As Aryan Ahuja shares, “We didn’t really have something (in India) that we associated with. We are influenced by the west and hip hop right now and driven by the hype of whatever’s popular.” So, what brought about this rightward-shift in the sneaker culture, initially only an offshoot of the street fashion ecology? Ayush Suneja, creative director of DKX observes that it is “a mix of many things: industry influencers, fast fashion, the runways going all street, social media penetration, rise of Indian hip hop, K-Pop, skate culture and other subcultures.”
Limited edition sneakers for sale at Delhi Kicks Xchange
DKX also doubles up as a platform for streetwear brands like Hindigo and Capsul, alongside makeshift stalls by sneakerheads, opening up suitcases full of their years-old collections of limited edition sneakers for re-sale. One of them is 14 year-old Zareb Vardhan whose two year-old collection now raises him a fair share of profits from re-selling limited edition pairs: “The highest profit I’ve made by re-selling a single pair (the Off White Menta) is INR 49,000.”
The re-sale market in the sneaker culture around the world revealed itself like a coal mine to me. This after-sale demand is thanks to the buzz and the hype created around the collection which goes out of stock within minutes of the drop, and even more so if it’s a collaboration. The tighter the control on the supply of a certain limited edition collection, the higher the hype, and consequently, the higher its price. The “hype”, a slang in the sneaker community, is also what keeps the ball rolling for limited edition kicks, their sales, and the re-sale.
In fact, if the global sneaker community had its own currency, it’d be high-end collaborations. Travis Scott x Jordan Brand, Chuck Taylor x Converse, Adidas x Stan Smith, Supreme x Vans, Kanye West’s Yeezies, Off White x Nike, Vans x Led Zeppelin, Reebok x Kendrick Lamar, Nike x Dior, and most recently Pyer Moss x Reebok are only some of the most coveted collaborations of all time.
But let’s not forget, where there are high-end luxury items, there are fakes. But the sneakerheads at DKX seem to have that covered with their in-house authenticator—17 year-old Aryan Ahuja, who prides himself in being the only one to hold that title in the country. “If you are going to spend ₹50,000-₹3,00,000 or more on a pair, it is a wise decision to get it checked before putting your money on the line,” says Ahuja.
While absorbing all this brand new information, the visible gender ratio gap in the crowd intrigues me. There are people from all ages and backgrounds, but mostly all men. Shortly after, I found and chased the only female in the crowd, street style blogger Shivani Boruah who is quick to answer, “Isn’t it obvious? Indian parents choose to give a shoe to the male child while they think a pair of pumps or sandals will be apt for the female child. This is how we have been brought up. Moreover, the options for women were also quite limited in India. Brands have only recently started bringing interesting silhouettes for women.”
At DKX, the music grew louder, the crowd grew bigger and the stalls emptied out as evening fell, making unprecedented sales of now-extinct kicks. And I came back with an overload of information about sneaker stock markets, limited edition collections, most coveted collaborations, and not to mention, a newfound interest in sneakers.
Photographs: Parth Sharma, Atul Sharma