On the Rise: India's Burgeoning Sneaker Scene
India is known for its abundance of bright clothing and intricate textiles, but when it comes to sneakers, it’s a different story. Though the members of the budding sneaker scene only make up a fraction of India’s 1.3 billion people, they have recently been making international waves. Major cities Mumbai, New Delhi, and Bangalore are sneaker hotspots, and have become home to many sneakerheads, as well as India’s two major multi-brand sneaker stores: VegNonVeg and Superkicks.
As the community develops, the number of collaborations, brands, influencers and fanatics increases, yet gaping holes in the community have also become apparent. So, we’ve tracked down some of the founding members of the strong but powerful Indian sneaker scene to share their experiences, hopes, complaints, suggestions, habits, and more.
Cause for Celebration
As pioneers in the Indian sneaker game, the VegNonVeg team have a lot of control in shaping the future of this community. Perhaps the epitome of all the excitement around the nascent Indian sneaker community was VegNonVeg’s release of the Nike Air Jordan 4 ‘What The’ in late 2019. Local sneakerheads camped out for two nights prior to the release – a tradition painfully familiar to Western sneaker communities.
On the Saturday morning of the drop, with tired punters waiting in line, out of nowhere appeared a marching band decked out in custom VegNonVeg x ‘What The 4’ uniforms to announce and celebrate the sneaker’s arrival. A huge bowl of fresh samosas was then presented to share with the hungry and dedicated fans, as everyone took photos with the band. Attention sneaker stores: try to top that fanfare at your next big release!
A Road Full of Obstacles
Many of India’s most prominent sneakerheads fell in love with sneaker culture during their time abroad in places like Melbourne, Berlin, Japan, Qatar, Singapore, and the UK. They’ve brought their passion back to India, but countless obstacles make it more difficult than they had imagined.
Indian sneakerheads face two main issues that Western heads often take for granted: import taxes, and accessibility. Footwear import duties and taxes implemented by the Indian government are outrageously high, and can clock in at up to 40 per cent of the MSRP! That means your Yeezy V2s that retail in the US at $220 start at $308 in India. Jordans jump from $120 to $168, and so on. With the retail price already marked up to resale levels, individuals can’t purchase many shoes before they break the bank – especially in a society with less overall disposable income.
If you can clear that hurdle, there’s the other major obstacle: availability. Of course, there are the usual issues that plague the scene globally: stock levels, line-ups, WiFi speed, website crashes, raffles, and so on. But beneath these problems are issues that many sneakerheads take for granted. While Yeezy and Jordan drops are becoming more frequent, Indian sneakerheads are still waiting for more coveted Travis Scotts, Off-White, and Fear of God colabs to reach their local stores. If a rare release does make it to India, there are often only a few pairs. For example, according to a Superkicks employee, there were only about 10 pairs of reflective Yeezys for Mumbai’s population of approximately 12 million people! ‘26 pairs is nothing,’ sneaker blogger Aman Parmar said in reference to a recent drop, ‘but on the flip side, 26 pairs is everything’.
Of course, there are more sneakerheads in New York City than in Mumbai, but fewer pairs also means less size diversity. And if you’re a half size you’ll either have to double-sock it or squeeze your foot in, because half sizes are few and far between. ‘From a retail perspective, we don’t get half sizes because the mainland consumer simply does not understand,’ says menswear blogger Uday Shanker, who also works in franchising for Nike.
When you have tough luck copping in-store, your next bet is ordering online. But many websites don’t ship to India, so that rules out your weekly Supreme drops, unless you pay up for a pricey (and sketchy) VPN. Shaun Das, an avid collector of James Harden adidas basketball sneakers, G-Shock watches, and action figures, gets his kicks when he travels to places like Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore, where ‘there are a lot of colourways that don’t come [to India]’.
Sneakers are also often released in India much later than in America or Europe, and in the age of social media where people know what’s going on around the world 24/7, this frustrates local sneakerheads even more. ‘If you are watching Godzilla today, I want to watch Godzilla today,’ Aman exclaims. ‘I don’t want to watch it after three months!’
While sneaker influencers and ‘shoetubers’ are a staple of international sneaker markets, in India there are just a few bloggers in this subtle influencer community. Female sneakerhead and Head of Content at VegNonVeg, Shivani Boruah, and her daily fit-pics have amassed 14K followers on Instagram, making her one of India’s most prominent sneaker influencers. Additionally, many Bollywood stars have increasingly been spotted wearing the coolest kicks (sneakerstarsindia is an Instagram page dedicated to this).
Bollywood fashion trends often inform the trends followed by the masses, but these celebrities regularly take sneaker advice from fashion and streetwear bloggers like Shivani Boruah, Aditya Bhalla, Uday Shanker, Shaun Das, Henry Vinoth (who also runs sneakernewsindia), and Aman Parmar. Superkicks use their Instagram page to connect with ‘sneaker seekers’: people who are on the fringes of the sneaker scene but not yet fully into it. Sangeet wants people to know that ‘it’s a very inclusive culture. People tend to get intimidated by sneakerheads and sneaker culture, they think “if I don’t wear that kind of cool shoe I’m not a part of it,” but that’s not the case.’
Reusing Over Reselling
As you can imagine, reselling is not very prominent in India due to the aforementioned obstacles. There are a few resellers in the game, but some Indian sneakerheads feel that limited edition sneakers would actually get more use and appreciation in India through a cycle of reuse. In many countries, we don’t hesitate to resell our ‘lightly worn, PADS’ sneakers, but it’s quite possible that instead of reselling sneakers, Indian sneakerheads will be more likely to donate or giveaway their used sneakers. Parth Sharma, a photographer with an affinity for sneakers, brought up the point that many families who purchase higher-end sneakers also have an in-house staff. After a year or so of wearing clothing or sneakers, it’s not uncommon for them to pass these down to the workers in your house or neighbourhood.
However, from a brand’s perspective, it is kind of understandable that there are limited releases and availability in India. After all, basketball, skateboarding, and hip hop are all ‘import cultures’ in India, and they’re relatively new. ‘Where do Jordans come from?’ Uday asks. ‘Basketball. We don’t have that… We don’t have any of this culture, so it’s what we’ve taken and made our own.’
Making It Their Own
And make it their own they have. Sneakerhead and designer Nishant Fogaat has found a way to mesh his skills with India’s forte for fabrics by creating bespoke sneakers. And what goes into these customs? Hours at Nehru Place Market, a treasure trove in New Delhi with more textiles than you can imagine, seeking out the exact fabric and materials to match the vision. With readily available material and high quality craftsmanship and tailoring, it is no wonder that custom sneakers make so much sense in India. Sneaker culture is, after all, a way to express yourself, so Nishant would rather ‘design something bespoke that makes sense to [the individual] rather than wear a hype sneaker from a brand’.
Along with Superkicks and VegNonVeg, e-commerce platform Capsul is making a mark on the up-and-coming streetwear scene. Founders Meenakshi Singh and Bhavisha Dave stock classic brands like Chinatown Market, Odd Future, Reshoevn8r, and Stussy, with the goal ‘to introduce streetwear brands to the Indian audience because… these brands have tribes here in India as well’. As they expand, they hope to channel current momentum to ‘see Indian cultural powerhouses erupt and get their due on a global stage’.
Foundation for the Future
While there are still many obstacles to be faced by Indian sneakerheads on the daily, there’s also plenty of room for improvement. Thankfully, in the face of these obstacles, the existing sneakerheads are managing to remain positive. ‘I mean, we sound frustrated – we’re not’ Parth assures. ‘It’s a growing market, it’s gonna take time, but I think it will get there eventually.’While nobody can accurately predict exactly where ‘there’ is, the sneaker community in India has the potential to expand exponentially.
Brands like PUMA and adidas have already recognised the growing market and initiated partnerships. Increasing numbers of brands and shoes are entering the market. Collection launches and sneaker releases are well-attended. Stories about sneakerheads are popping up in the local news. Who knows what could happen next. Once it gets ‘there’, it may just blow the rest of us out of the water.
In addition to those previously mentioned, thanks to Atul Sharma, Gaurav Karki, Mayank Thappa, and Rajiv Raori for their help on this piece.