Deconstructing India’s Sneaker Culture

By Jade Crasto
A close look at the rise of the sneaker industry
What was bought for athletics and everyday wear is now being bought as a form of freedom and expression or societal status. The sneaker industry in India grows larger every minute. In 2022, the revenue in the sneakers segment amounts to nearly $2.46 Billion USD and is said to witness a volume growth of about 20.5 per cent in 2023. But before we go more into dissecting this growing industry, let’s take a quick peak into the history of sneaker culture and how it emerged into Indian markets.
The History of Sneaker Culture
The origin of the sneaker traces back to the late 18th century with the invention of the ‘plimsol’. They were somewhat rough, rubber-soled shoes that were relatively plain and straightforward utilitarian shoes with no “left” or “right” shoe and were initially offered by the Liverpool Rubber Company and advertised as beachwear. It wasn’t until nearly 60 years later, when the U.S. Rubber Company mass produced and created a more refined version of the plimsol, by turning them into canvas shoes with rubber soles under the brand name Keds. Because they were allegedly so silent, whoever was wearing them could simply sneak up on you, they acquired the colloquial moniker “sneakers.”
Later on in 1924, a man named Adi Dasler, created the first sports shoe in his mothers laundry room in Germany. Later, this business would develop into the globally renowned brand Adidas. When four-time Olympic gold medallist Jessie Owens was spotted wearing them during the 1936 Olympics, they shot to fame and became the first sport shoe brand to enjoy widespread popularity.
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Sneakers would continue to be seen as a solely sport shoe for the rest of the early 20th century, with companies producing and selling sneakers specifically for sports activities. During this time, the legendary Converse All-Stars were developed and were exclusively worn as basketball shoes. Teenagers wouldn’t start donning sneakers as a fashion statement rather than merely for sporting events until the early 1950s, when James Dean, an actor, was seen wearing them.
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In 1984, basketball star Michael Jordan had just been drafted into the NBA and was in search for an opportunity to make his name in the sports industry. Young Jordan made a deal of a lifetime with sports brand Nike as they signed a contract with the young basketball player and designed a shoe for him. Thus in 1984, the first iconic Air Jordan 1 also known as the grandfather of sneakers was introduced and paved the way for sneaker culture.
From streetwear to the runway
Air Jordan 1
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The high cost of luxury is one of the things that makes it exclusive. Luxury designs used to be the standard for only the wealthy few, but today’s fashion is accessible on a range of levels, something streetwear excels at. Due to their accessibility, sportswear companies like Converse, Vans, Nike, and Adidas became fundamental to the streetwear culture. The athleisure style is becoming more popular because of the informal nature of streetwear inspired by hip-hop, skater, or surf culture. Sneakers on the runway have the ability to introduce fresh, original styles. Fashion companies today are free to create distinctive forms, intriguing colour schemes with high-quality materials. The history of sneakers and their popularity in the fashion world have also inspired businesses like Supreme to work with Louis Vuitton or Nike and Anna Wintour/Vogue. As more companies work together to produce hyped-up and unique iterations of the shoe, this trend is likely to continue in the near future.
Sneaker Culture Today
Today the sneaker industry spends hundreds of millions of dollars in research, development and design. Consumers and sneakerheads wait in line for hours to get the newest and most exclusive sneakers available on the market. You may be wondering how the ‘hype’ for these sneakers is created.
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One of the main reasons is because celebrities and athletes sign multi-million dollar collaboration deals with brands, like Kanye West collaboration with Adidas made waves in the industry with the iconic Yeezys. The sneaker industry solely relies on hype. A new form of marketing called drop culture marketing was introduced which had brands releasing products with little or no warning, in limited quantities via limited retailers. This form of marketing was first introduced by Nike, and as the success of this technique grew, many luxury brands adopted it into their models as well. Drop marketing creates a hype around the product being sold which in turn makes the consumer believe that an ordinary product is a holy grail. Brands also build hype using social media platforms and working with influencers who resonate with the brand.
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Sneaker brands owe their success to millennials and gen z, who used the market as means of expression and choice. Status is the primary motivator in our society, and the hype fits in perfectly with this mentality. The Indian market is regarded as the second-largest footwear consumer in the world, which drives the increasing trend for the nation’s developing sneaker culture. Over the past ten years, the resale market has developed tremendously to become a multibillion-dollar sector, and India’s digital market has contributed to the hype. The occupation of selling shoes has grown in our culture, but the number of people who buy sneakers to wear them is much smaller in number compared to those who purchase them to resell them for a profit.
Growing sneaker community
A community brings together people with similar interest, thus the sneaker community brings together sneakerheads or people who are obsessed with sneakers. Communities usually tend to fade away over time, but the sneaker community never stops growing. The brand, exclusivity and originality bring together a large group of people who bond over their soles. There are online platforms and social media platforms that have been created for sneakerheads to interact with each other.
Photo Courtesy: Indian Street Convention
The Mainstreet Marketplace, a major-league hype platform and multi-brand sneakers and apparel destination, celebrated the enormous success of India’s First and the Biggest Sneaker Convention, which saw the largest Sneaker wall the country has ever seen. The one-of-a-kind event, held in Mumbai, celebrated India’s thriving sneaker culture and was a wholesome experience in and of itself. The Convention featured not only the largest sneaker wall India has ever seen, but also Indian homegrown streetwear fashion brands such as Almost Gods, Capsul, and Farak, Frostbite as well as Helios India, a one-step solution for sneaker grooming, and musical performances. The convention featured the country’s largest sneaker wall, with 3000 sneakers from major brands like Jordan, Off-White, Adidas Yeezy, and Nike-Travis Scott collaborations.
Vedant Lamba, Founder of The Mainstreet Marketplace, stated, “ISC was nothing short of spectacle for us as a team to witness. The event is truly a culmination of everything we have been working toward for the past 3 years – a announcement to the nation that sneaker culture is here, and here to stay. The impact it had was clear and extremely humbling overall. We are grateful to our community for supporting us through yet another big leap in the growth of our business and are already gearing up for the next edition. Bigger, better, brighter.” Lamba also stated that the convention was a place to connect the entire sneaker community in India.
Even while the culture is developing quickly, it has not yet permeated the entire nation, making it difficult for individuals to detect, value, and invest in the “sneaker” craze. As a result, this craze remains unchecked and is unquestionably seen as a valuable asset.
New sneaker trends
Sometimes you don’t have to be a member of sneakerhead groups to appreciate the fashion value a nice pair of sneakers can provide to your closet. The newest sneaker trends have made their way into popular culture thanks to celebrities who have switched from stilettos to fashionable runners. From famous basketball shoes to Balenciaga hype, here’s a breakdown of some of the hottest sneaker trends we’ve seen so far in 2022.
Nike Dunk Low
Photo Courtesy: Samuel Lopes, Unsplash
The Nike Dunk Low is evidence that a straightforward aesthetic and adaptable shape can lead to success. Although designed for skateboarders and basketball players in the early 1990s, the silhouette experienced a strong resurgence among the larger fashion world in 2020 and 2021, solidifying its status as a street style essential. The Nike Dunk Low is well-known to be a favourite of everyone, including Bella Hadid and Hailey Beiber.
Balenciaga Runner Trainers
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The French fashion label Balenciaga is renowned for its high-end hype and news-making releases. Following the brand’s earlier chunky-style releases under creative director Demna Gvasalia, Balenciaga’s Runner Trainers join the well-known “dad sneaker” trend pioneered by Asics and New Balance designs.
New Balance 990v5
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The New Balance 990v1, a high-performance running shoe that was first introduced in 1982, revolutionised the sneaker industry with its groundbreaking design and cushioning technologies. It didn’t take long for the fashion to blur the border between performance and lifestyle, becoming one of tech guru Steve Jobs’ prominent favourites.