Not just for kicks: India’s sneakerheads growing into huge community of collectors

The rapid rise of athleisure and the huge presence of international brands with their latest range is powering sneakerheads in the country
A sneaker-head at Guwahati’s SneakinOut festival
A sneaker-head at Guwahati’s SneakinOut festival

Earlier this month, the northeastern city of Guwahati played host to the county’s biggest sneaker festival, SneakinOut, an ultimate gathering for the sneaker and streetwear communities to celebrate their mutual love.

Along with the widest curation of sneakers and streetwear seen thus far, from premium global brands to fine homegrown ones, it showcased an elite line-up of over 100 exhibitors from around the country.

“The sneakers and streetwear trend has moved from being a fad to a community of serious sneakerheads that dresses feet first. Along with retail sales, it is the resale market that is pushing the numbers in the industry out of the park. Events like SneakinOut are not just a platform for these resellers, they are a celebration of sneaker culture, which has become an integral part of the community,” says Khusbu Mav, of SteppinOut which organised the festival.

Indeed, collectors abound. From celebs, Harshavardhan Kapoor and Rannvijay Singh to Shahid Kapoor, Anand Ahuja, Ranveer Singh and Ranbir Kapoor, a cross-section of fashion-forward filmi closets
are heaving with superkicks. Singer Badshah confessed to possessing 500 pairs.

Twenty-year-old Abhishek Gandhi, the co-founder of All You Can Street (a festival for street fashion, art, music and culture), too has become a leitmotif of the mushrooming sneakerhead culture fast lacing up India. He has 100 carefully picked pairs stashed away in his suburban apartment in Mumbai—in racks, closets and concealed storage above his bed and cupboards.

As does Hrushrabh Patel, 34, who owns 150 pairs. “My foot size turned 12 in school; since Bata couldn’t comply, my frequent-flier dad bought me Italian sneakers, and there hasn’t been any looking back since,” he says. His favourite? “Air Force 1.

My shoes are stored across my homes in the US, Pune and Mumbai. I did lose a few to humidity, and let go of pairs post-pandemic. But who wants to invest in clothes? A limited-edition pick like a Louis Vuitton Nike Air Force 1 is my investment,” adds Patel.

Besides collecting, Patel has also done a short course in customising sneakers in Los Angeles, US. “An expensive passion,” he confesses.

"This is the 28th pattern I am setting on a shoe to see if the stitch sits correctly. Customisation isn’t big here due to prohibitive costs as material needs to be imported. Exotic leather isn’t legally allowed in India,” he adds, slipping into his Air Jordan 3. All his soles are air-dried once a month, which means baked in the air and sun, and then stored carefully with silica gel packs. Some are vacuum-sealed and stored in the garage.

Similar is the case with Karan Jain, 36, CEO, Aloha International BrewPub, whose first pair was the Rs 60,000 Air Jordan 1 ‘LA to Chicago’, and has been spending Rs 5 lakh annually on sneakers ever since. On his wishlist? The Christian Dior sneaker for Rs 7 lakh.

“But then, I can get a Rolex for the same amount,” he grins, going back to his Nike X Supreme Air Force 1 with whom he can “relate so easily”. If there are collectors, there are sellers galore as well. Founder of The Mainstreet Marketplace (TMM), 23-year-old Vedant Lamba powers India’s foremost reselling platform.

His entrepreneurial quest began with a YouTube channel ‘Mainstreet TV’ in 2017 and has grown into India’s largest sneaker resale store. TMM enjoys a rich buyer base, with its offerings in Yeezy, Jordan, Adidas, Nike, and apparel from Essentials, Drewhouse, Supreme, Palm Angles and Off White.

“The idea is to make limited-edition, high-end streetwear accessible,” says Lamba. Personal fit? Neutral-toned Adidas skate shoes.

“The rise of athleisure is a global phenomenon, and sneakers are part and parcel of that,” says Saurabh
Sharma, head of marketing at sportswear brand ASICS India.

“The presence of international brands with their latest range is powering sneakerheads in India. When ASICS SportsStyle collaborated with Vivienne Westwood and ATMOS back in 2019, the pieces were brought here too. We are reinventing heritage styles to bring in exciting drops soon.”

Watch out, sneakerheads, there’s always something new and exciting to slip your foot into.

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