A red rectangle embossed with the word, ‘Supreme,’ in clear white font, has made its way to the upper echelons of ‘cool.’ A company started in 1994 by James Jebbia, Supreme originally began as a store in Lower Manhattan that catered to the skateboarding, hip hop, and youth culture. Now the brand has had multiple collaborations with storied luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton who dropped a collection with the brand in 2017, Tiffany & Co. and Burberry, the latter of which released a collaboration with the streetwear brand in March 2022. The Burberry x Supreme collection drop saw lines snaking outside stores in New York, London and Tokyo. These exclusive collections also have skyrocketing resale values. For instance, a £70 retail price skateboard reportedly sold for £1,500 outside the store.
This is just another sign of Supreme’s hold on luxury collectors, and on the uber-cool 18-25-year-old aged street culture enthusiasts. Even big names like Gucci are making young consumers feel heard, with Creative Director Alessandro Michele’s genius contributing to the must-have aesthetic. It is not just the global market that is experiencing this fascination.
Even homegrown brands and streetwear retail platforms are seeing a rise in consumers. Names such as Kanika Goyal, the designer of her eponymous label showcased her streetwear-heavy, neo-luxury designs at New York Fashion Week this year, in an instance of streetwear culture from India being represented at the global stage. 2022’s FDCI X Lakmé Fashion Week announced a collaboration between NBA 75 and designer Ananya Modi Jain to create a sporty street-smart line. Even streetwear label HUEMN is set to strut their latest creations on the LFW’s runway.
“The only rule to streetwear is that there are no rules,” says Nishika Bhagat, co-founder and CEO of Osè Studios, a romantic streetwear label.
Originally streetwear emerged from skate, surf, hip-hop, and Japanese street culture in addition to sportswear. This subculture became extremely popular in the 1990s and early 2000s and has taken a turn into the avant-garde luxury sector. Now gaining momentum amongst all genders and ages, streetwear is defined by Anchit Kapil, the co-founder of CrepDog Crew, a sneaker and streetwear platform, as wearing your opinion. “Everyone’s opinion is different, so, for someone that might manifest itself in a loose hoodie, for another it can be a co-ord set, or a shirt. Whatever brings out the best in you – that’s streetwear for me,” explains Anchit. Simply put, streetwear is fashionable casualwear. T-shirts, hoodies and sneakers, bomber jackets, oversized pants, vests and sweaters can be construed as streetwear. Early pioneers of the trend in India were Jaywalking, Biskit, NoughtOne and HUEMN, the earliest of these being unisex, ready-to-wear fashion label, HUEMN founded in 2012. From then to now, streetwear has transformed from a trend into a category.
The origin of ‘cool’
This transformation can be credited to the influence of western culture, via social media, pop culture, and global celebrity influencers. Globally in the 1990s, the culture grew as New York’s hip-hop scene and Californian skate-and-surf culture came into the limelight. The Indian hip-hop scene also contributed to this, as has its depiction in Bollywood. Ranveer Singh-led Gully Boy embraced the streetwear aesthetic in not only the film, but also in its on-ground promotions.
Celebrities like Ranveer Singh, who was also an early supporter of Jaywalking, Diljit Dosanjh, Badshah, and influencers like Komal Pandey, Ahaana Sharma, Ruhanee Hiran have been flirting with the subculture, which in turn prompts their followers, who reside in every part of the country, to sit up and take notice. This gives streetwear an aspirational quality, especially amongst the North-Indian music community where Punjabi hip-hop and rap artists have adopted global culture and brands such as Balenciaga, Vetements, Louis Vuitton are a regular part of their wardrobes.
While most streetwear labels in the country barely 5-10 years old, the wave of new designers, sneaker culture, rappers and in-person streetwear pop-ups in different cities featuring artists and designers is helping the category evolve in India. Exciting talent on CrepDog Crew’s platform such as Natty Garb, Odd Mood, Drippin’Moncky, Aesthetics of Resistance and Toffle are part of the new Indian revolution of streetwear.
Shibani Bhagat, the founder of sneaker design house 7-10, believes that India is defining its own streetwear style that’s separate from the West. “It is very interesting to see how people are redefining street culture of the West in their own quirky way.” Giving the trend of sneakers worn under sarees or lehengas as an example, she explains this as a fun way of making a trend our own. Sneakers or sports shoes worn with Indian wear is now a common one. Even Anand Ahuja, actress Sonam Kapoor’s husband wore grey trainers with a black bandhgala for his own wedding reception. A sartorial option that turned into a great photo op for Ahuja’s own sneaker and streetwear multi-brand platform, VegNonVeg. Shibani has also given 7-10’s sneakers an Indian tweak, keeping in mind the average stature of most Indian women lies at around 5 feet 3 inches, the founder made sure her shoes had at least 2-inch stacks. Homegrown Osé Studios also gives their clothes a desi touch, and creates contemporary womenswear inspired by legendary Bollywood characters such as Poo from Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham. Trying to redefine the streetwear aesthetic for women, who according to founder of Osé, Nishika Bhagat were always treated as an afterthought in streetwear. Osé Studios looks at streetwear with a female-gaze, with designs that are inspired by lingerie details like bra-straps and lace.
Cultivating a community
Indian platforms and brands are not only trying to establish their presence in the market, but also trying to establish a community. Superkicks is a platform for a curated collection of sneakers and apparel focuses on experience building, through curated events at their stores in Mumbai, Delhi, and Bengaluru or in-store activations for products that deserve the spotlight. Superkicks’ founder Sangeet Paryani says, “We have been throwing it back to the early days of sneaker-related events by putting together in-store camp outs and live sneaker raffles, in order to create memorable moments for our beloved community.”
Another such platform is CrepDog Crew (CDC), whose motto is CrewLove. “From community-building events like Sneaker Sundays to fantastic giveaways and collaborations to raise money for noble causes, our community is front and centre,” says Anchit of CDC. The brand just opened a 6,000-sq ft concept store, called CDC Experience in New Delhi, where a large sneaker wall holds court. Brisk, a craft coffee bar and patisserie, a half-court outdoor basketball space share space with a curated selection of international and Indian streetwear, and lifestyle accessories like jewellery and rugs. CDC curates a collection of popular international collections and labels including, the Travis Scott collaborations, Supreme, Drewhouse, Essentials, Yeezy and more.
Both Superkicks and CrepDog Crew were established as solutions to the growing gap in the Indian sneaker and streetwear market. An avid sneakerhead himself, Sangeet of Superkicks established the platform as a way for Indians to have access to the most exclusive limited edition global sneaker drops. The idea behind the brand was to look at not only consumer trends, but also the global climate in terms of product releases and people’s reaction to them. The Superkicks team then deliberates, crunches numbers and curates a selection of special items for the stores and websites. Now Superkicks has even ventured into the clothing side of things, launching their own apparel line called Superkicks Core, whose second collection drop is currently being planned. In the process of expansion, Sangeet also noticed a demand from other areas of the country, leading him to organise a Superkicks pop-up store in Guwahati.
This demand from other areas in India has not gone unnoticed by other brands. Osé Studios’ co-founder and CEO, Nishika Bhagat clarifies that while majority of the label’s customer base is from Tier 1 cities, they are slowly seeing a rise in purchases from tier 2 cities like Surat, Lucknow, and Bhopal. Even 7-10 sees potential buying power in Tier 2 cities, and the brand has even had orders from Jammu and Kashmir. Anchit of CrepDog Crew concurs and also shares his insights on best-performing categories in-store and on the website. “While sneakers are the most popular category due to the hype culture surrounding them, unique items like rugs and jewellery are also performing well.” Brands like Cloud Botany, that makes hand tufted rugs using pop culture as reference points and Noble Sculptor, a luxury jeweller that creates pieces like Takashi Murakami inspired smiling flowers set with crystals, contribute to the eclectic range at CDC. The platform originally started out as a sneaker resale platform, a category that is still seeing a 25% month on month growth.
At 7-10 brand drivers have been the chunky holographic sneakers and high-tops that the brand has reinvented, using a rear lacing style. “I think women are looking for something different, more avant-garde, we were surprised to see them buy more experimental sneakers,” says Shibani. While 7-10 is barely two months old, the products have been getting positive feedback from customers. Since sneakers like the ones Shibani designs are instantly Instagrammable, and 7-10 has been seeing unprompted user generated content and reviews on social media.
Social media has become a repository of inspiration for those looking to embrace streetwear. Looks that are dressed up for a night out in town, or dressed down for a casual matinee movie, millennials have embraced all aspects of the trend and are content to flaunt it on social media. Streetwear has become more high fashion, nearing the luxury segment, says Shibani Bhagat of 7-10. While the brand itself is not entirely inspired by luxury streetwear design, it does take inspiration from cult names like Supreme and Off-White’s brand strategy. Shibani herself wanted to understand the hype behind these labels, and before establishing 7-10, she undertook an analysis to understand their consumers’ psyche, brand identity and how they rose to their peak success. “They [Supreme and Off-White] basically found a balance between luxury and casual street wear and created their own genre,” she explained. 7-10 too wanted to create that same luxurious user experience for its consumers, which is why Shibani paid attention to every small detail. The sneaker’s box bears a simple 7-10 logo, and each show is wrapped in butter paper with the brand’s logo, to create an unboxing experience for each buyer. “The experience of the first time you hold the product is very important in the creation of the journey of the brand and in the minds of the consumers because how else do you leave an impression in today’s crowded marketplace?” says the entrepreneur.
Style predictions for 2022
After the sweatpants-led boom during the pandemic, Nishika of Osé Studios foresees an excitement for bright colours. The rise of genderless clothing has added to the popularity of streetwear. Miniskirts, anything with cut-outs, minimal silhouettes, sandals and slides worn with socks, and trekking-wear inspired styles are making their way to carts, according to the founder of Superkicks. At 7-10, 2022 signifies three collection drops, the first one will launch in May and is inspired by wearable art made with lighter fabrics like canvas for the summer. An apparel drop that’s cohesive with Shibani’s sneaker line is also on cards, as the brand’s long-term aim is to dress a customer up in 7-10, from head-to-toe.
Shibani credits the role of ‘comfort’ in the fashion journey, as a factor that’s contributing to streetwear’s rise. Especially during the pandemic, where loungewear took priority. Now that people are heading out looking stylish and feeling comfortable has prompted investments in fuss-free choices like hoodies, joggers and oversized t-shirts from streetwear brands. “If comfort is going to have that importance in anyone’s wardrobe, then streetwear goes hand-in-hand,” says the founder of 7-10. “The trend is definitely here to stay.”
For those starting their streetwear journey, Nishika Bhagat of Osé Studios says, “I’d suggest investing in oversized tee shirts, wide leg pants, bucket hat and sneakers. But if you really want to indulge in and make it your own, buy pieces you fall in love with and style them with comfortable pieces. Experiment with proportions, colours and pieces. Have fun and pair pieces together unconventionally.”