Sneaker noob enters the world of mesh, laces, and rubber
What is this sneaker obsession?
It’s not every day that you find sneakerheads across the city assembling in one place, but a recent raffle at SuperKicks, Bangalore made it possible. As someone who neither owns nor understands sneaker culture, I felt pretty misplaced at a place where people obsess over shoes.
What is it about sneakers (in particular) that attract these people wearing baggy tees and loosely-fitted joggers with flashy chains? It is mesh, laces, and rubber after all so what is so special about it, and is the craze worth it?
Veronese Jayanthan or Vicky, a sneaker specialist at Bangalore’s SuperKicks Store sat for a quick chat on sneaker obsession in general and the growing culture in India. He shared how his first pair was a basketball shoe, Reebok Pumps. He recalled the time he was in Singapore with his family and he purchased the inflatable shoe back in 2003. He had my attention as he explained how the shoe works.
It is pretty simple actually. As the name suggests, you inflate the shoe with a pump to fit your foot properly and provide stability and support. He had just told me that he saw the advertisement for this shoe as a child and wanted to buy it since. At first, I was feeling lost at the store filled with pairs that a sneakerhead would die for. But after hearing him, I wanted the Reebok Pumps myself. I guess this is essentially what sneaker culture is all about.
It’s the high-end technology, the never-seen-before design, and the hype by celebrities, and sportsmen that makes sneakers so special to the community that would pay the retail price (and sometimes not) to own a pair they will refuse to wear because God bless creasing!
Speaking in particular about the wear and tear of sneakers, lately, thanks to the Instagram culture, you see many refusing to crease their shoe. They would be proposing to their ladylove but not letting their precious pair wrinkle. While Vicky shared he likes his knicks beaten up, SuperKicks Marketing Head (India) Omran Hamza explained what this tear and wear craze is all about.
He quoted the example of leather bags, saying, “The more it (the bag) is worn, the better the leather gets.” And while some like to wear the sneakers they purchase, Omran explained there is a community of people who genuinely just like to preserve their shoes like Gollum and his ring.
Omran gave the example of Shaun Das, who goes by the name f17starscream on Instagram, and said how the sneaker enthusiast loves his sneakers a little too much. Shaun uses his sneakers as a muse and holds a professional-level shoot for the pair. He brings in props and designs the quirkiest sets to display his sneakers. The community is filled with people like Shaun, Omran, and Vicky who are genuinely passionate about sneakers.
About Sneaker Community
Speaking further about the sneaker community, Vicky and Omran explain that these mesh, lace, and rubber enthusiasts are quite inclusive if you connect with the right people. As someone from outside the community, I can vouch that these folks made me feel at ease. None trolled my flat chappals.
Instead, all they wanted to talk about was the pair they own, what was special about it and what price I can find them at. The sneaker community, I believe, is quite self-involved that way.
Vicky explains that much like the gym community, in the sneaker community, there is no looking down upon. You won’t be judged and if they are judging you, they aren’t the real sneakerheads, I have been told.
“No one is going to stop you at the gate and ask how many collections are you wearing. Even if a guy just wears a pair of Vans or Powerphase, actual sneakerheads are not going to make fun of you. They will not judge you,” Omran said.
People you find in the community
As Omran and Vicky put it, the sneaker community hosts different sets of kick fans. You have your true-blue folks who wear classic sneakers like Air Max 1s and prefer to buy them at retail price. You have your collectors who preserve the sneakers they buy like it’s a Sorcerer’s ring. Omran himself owns 150 pairs of sneakers which he jokingly (or not) revealed he plans to add to his will.
Apart from the passionate purchasers and preservers, you have those who want to be friends with the first two. These are people who got introduced to the sneaker culture with the rise of Instagram.
They may not be well-versed with the history and may still call New Balance dad shoes, but they know when a new shoe is getting launched and they will find a way to get their hands on a pair. You also have those who are brand loyalists (Yeezy Babies) and are called the purists.
“Purists are people who are passionate about one silhouette or one brand, but if you diss their brand, they will come at you all heads blazing,” Omran informs.
Sneaker customisers also hold a small yet significant portion in the community and you often find them lost in a trance when they are detailing a pair for their client. Then there are also resellers who are dissed at times, but they are sweet guys after they are done selling a shoe retailed at Rs 17,000 for 50,000 bucks.
On being asked about his take on the resale market, Vicky explains that he has a strict policy where he only buys retail. He shared how he starts saving up when there is a pair in the market he really wants to add to his collection. “I am not going to buy all the shoes; I pick only one or two. I know the history behind the shoe. If it is a historical pair, I want it. I am very stubborn about that,” he says while establishing thoroughly that discipline binds the community together.
Is the craze for sneakers here to stay?
Vicky elaborates that at the moment, the sneaker community in India is driven by the Instagram culture. Its growing demand owes to influencers and sooner or later, the trend is likely to die, or as he puts it “the bubble will pop.” He also shares how with the increase in GST, the retail price of the sneakers will shoot up, and eventually, only the passionate few will make the purchase.
The main question still remains unanswered - where and when did this trend make its way to India?
As per a report by Story Board 18, the Indian sneakers business saw tremendous growth with the streetwear industry and combined, these two industries now hold a market value of over $3 billion and are growing at 12-15 per cent year-on-year.
When did the craze hit Indian markets?
The sneaker boom in India dates back to 2015 when there was a rise in social media, as per Omran’s knowledge. He took us back to the day, somewhere in 2015, when coveted shoes like Air Jordan Breds and Air Max 1 were sitting on shelves and were even available on the e-commerce platform Myntra.
“But suddenly, one fine day, the shoes started to disappear from the marketplaces,” says Omran, and a pair of Yeezy 350 which had five buyers five years ago, witnessed a shooting demand.
“At the Adidas store, 15 people flew from Thailand to buy this shoe and we used to see them recurring because they used to find it difficult to buy it in Thailand. And then after that, 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018 before the pandemic, I saw a soar in this.”
He further credited one of the first street fashion festivals by Homegrown for the emergence of the sneaker community in India. The craze soared so high that sneakerheads were willing to cash out 16,000 rupees for Air Jordan 1 retailed at 12,000 rupees. It is interesting to note that now the MRP itself is 15,995 rupees and the resell price goes as high as 30,000 rupees (based on the model).
But is it all here to stay? Will people still be obsessing over sneakers five years down the line and paying additional prices for products like laces, insoles, spray protectors, and more?
As Vicky explains, in the coming years, only real sneakerheads will stay and keep the community going. One of the main reasons, he feels the trend will continue to rule is because of the fusion between luxury and street fashion and also celebrity collaborations by brands like Nike, Adidas, and even New Balance now.
You may not have noticed this yet but New Balance is no more a dad shoe. It is a shoe that Gen Z approves and desperately wants in their collection. "Each brand has collaborations, right? The moment you hit the right collaborator; your brand starts shining. Currently, everyone wants to buy the New Balance 2002R, 550s,” says Omran.
Folks at SuperKicks share how collaborations like these, communities in metropolitans like Delhi, Bangalore, and Mumbai, and the general love for mesh, lace, and rubber are what makes sneakers a booming social commodity; something even sneaker noobs like you and I want to own.
SuperKicks Bangalore recently held a raffle for the release of Nike’s Air Jordan 1 High “Lost and Found” line. The sneaker was the latest version of the original “Chicago” colourway, which debuted back in 1985. The shoe had a “mouldy” look with a cracked leather effect on the tongue.