Tracing The Evolution Of The Sneaker Culture In India


The first pair of sneakers always comes with a statutory warning. A conspicuous caution that says, you might be converted. Mine came in 9th grade when I forced my mum into buying me a pair of the classics—the Converse All-Star high-top sneakers! Back then, little did I know that my shoe cabinet harboured a piece from the inception of the sneaker culture. The first creation of the whole hype originated in 1917, with basketball player Chuck Taylor’s brand—Converse placing itself as a cult favourite in the market. To refresh your memory, the first pair looked like this.

Sneaker Culture
Photograph: Jaizer Capangpangan

What followed was the takeover of prominent, global brands pulling the shoe out of traditional sports and giving it a hip-hop makeover. Once running parallel with comfort and utility, the humble sneaker transcended into making frequent appearances in the NBA games and the closet of rappers. The year 1950 saw the launch of The Samba shoe by Adidas, which went on to garner much public attention for its trademark tan coloured gum-soles. While on the other hand, Nike created its iconic Air Jordan fanbase with the first launch in 1984. Manufactured for the unbeatable basketball player Michael Jordan, the Nike Air Jordan 1 became the star of the hour and one of the most memorable creations for the brand.

Sneaker Culture
Nike Air Jodan 1 Low-Top Sneakers

Sahil Nandal, an ardent sneakerhead who helms @franklystreet, recalls his first pair as the high-top Puma sneakers, which introduced him to the importance of colourways and silhouettes of certain pieces. “The first sneaker I ever bought and which made me fall in love with the sneaker culture was the Nike Jordan 3 True Blue in 2009. This was my entrance to Jordans, and I never looked back. Now, with over 175 Jordans and 500 sneakers in my collection, I’m still excited with every new release, and 2021 seems ever more promising,” he shares.

Sneaker Culture
Sahil Nandal

No longer dorky and redundant, sneakers have taken the form of gender-fluid iterations. Whether it’s a prairie summer dress paired with chunky, white trainers, or a fluid pantsuit with dad sneakers, the notion of sneaker fashion has been altered for good. And with luxury brands acting as catalysts (for instance, Gucci releasing its Flashtrek sneakers with removable crystals), the affinity for sneaker culture and ‘ugly fashion’ has gotten a solid push. And here’s a fact, street style has pushed the trend even further. Sneakers have now gone on to become a trend so colossal, that it’s forged its own global community—meet the hype-beasts.

Photograph: Mike Von

Typically defining a trend-driven and adrenaline-seeking generation, the hype-beasts form that part of the youth who are on the lookout for the latest in street style and shoes. Weighing in on this sneaker and hype culture is Fashion Consultant and staunch sneakerhead, Allen Claudius, who shares,”While sneakers evolved alongside basketball, skateboarding, and hip-hop overseas, it rode the ‘hype’ wave to India. By that, I mean association by design or celebrity co-sign. It all began with Kanye West’s collaboration with Adidas. For the first time, the Indian consumer had access to the most coveted silhouettes in lifestyle sneakers—something no other brand had done before in the Indian market. These pairs were extremely limited in number and sold for 10X their retail value in the aftermarket, which drove people to them, apart from the old school sneakerheads. It became something to brag about.”

Following this hype culture, there was no stopping to the sneaker movement which ran parallel with popular culture. “Subsequently, other sneaker brands caught on, with Nike dropping retro Jordans back-to-back. But these buyers or this segment is still tiny in comparison to the wider market and the potential it holds. And that is where the culture actually is at. A community who purchases, wears and trades sneakers for the love of it, and not just to make some coin. From this supposedly bleak situation, the community is now growing towards the inclusion of sneakers, within the things they do. The existing subcultures in India, are taking in sneakers and making them an integral part,” he adds further.

Sneaker Culture
Allen Claudius

Where are we currently with the whole sneaker scene? There’s just one answer. Customisation. Personalising sneakers for prominent names like Ranbir Kapoor, customisation scene’s favourite Chaitanya Dixit has resolute opinions on today’s market. “The sneaker customisation scene in India has drastically changed in the past two years. And the customisation requests have matured along with it. At the start of my customisation journey, I used to get many customisation requests that were usually for a pattern or something inspired by streetwear brands like BAPE and Off-White. But recently, the requests that I’ve been getting are more evolved and clearer than before. People now want their shoes to scream more than something that a brand shows and want more art-related customisations. Recently, custom requests for new and non-existent colourways have also started coming along because people have finally understood that customs are a great concept when you need a sneaker with a lot of specifications,” he explains.

Chaitanya Dixit

Dixit goes on to open up about the weirdest and the most shocking customisation requests he’s received. “Someone wanted a calendar of three months to be designed on the shoe with dates marked on them for an occasion. The specifications that he sent me was easily in about 500 words. Funniest part? The shoe was a UK 4, which was super tiny to incorporate the design. Another instance was when an elderly woman wanted me to make a pair of sneakers for her husband with some cheesy, erotic stuff written on it. It was hands down one of the weirdest renders I’ve made and most uncomfortable conversations I’ve had with a client,” he laughs.

Sneaker Culture
Nike Air Force 1 sneakers customised by Chaitanya Dixit

While India is relatively new to sneaker culture with about two years underway, it’s safe to say that it might be the next big market for sneakers. Where will it go from here in the years to come? Allen hazards a guess, “The future of the sneaker community in India would ride on the backs of people that buy sneakers as an emotion. Rather than those that needed the newest or the hottest pairs to boost their self-worth. It’s dancers, who upgrade from their unbranded sneakers to maybe something that is at the entry-level of Adidas, Reebok or Nike. Or perhaps shop when the sneakers go on clearance sales. The future is people in subcultures, preferring to buy sneakers and giving them their own association. Like how skateboarders adopted the Dunk (a basketball sneaker), likewise, I see actual torchbearers of the various subcultures in India, doing so with different sneaker silhouettes.”


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