Sneakerheads, your shoes are worth more than you think

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Festivals, custom designs and limited edition pieces fuel the sneaker subculture in India. How do you curate a sneaker collection that grows in value and reinforces your social currency?

Festivals, custom designs and limited edition pieces fuel the sneaker subculture in India. How do you curate a sneaker collection that grows in value and reinforces your social currency?

Sneakers are sports hobbies, and now they are an investment. Sneakerheads know that a carefully curated collection can increase in value and be remarkably effective social currency. The recently concluded nine-city Sneakerfest, SneakinOut, by popular retailer SoleSearch and SteppinOut proves that demand is at an all-time high. Prabal Paghla, co-founder of SoleSearch, said: “While we were looking to attend events such as SneakerCon (USA) or SoleDXB (Dubai), no such festival in India celebrated this culture: sneakers , streetwear, hiphop, b-boying, graffiti, etc. These festivals become a more accessible entry point to pop culture and encourage people to engage and experience new things.

Another pandemic trend

According to Statista (a German company specializing in market and consumer data), the demand for sneakers has increased over the past two years. The pandemic has fueled the trend, with people indulging in hands-on retail therapy, seeking products they can use repeatedly.

Simultaneously, visibility increased when celebrities such as Ranveer Singh, Deepika Padukone, Hrithik Roshan and Shahid Kapoor started wearing them at gala events, making sneakers aspirations. Prices usually start at around ₹20,000. As Statista reported in April 2021, auction house Sotheby’s sold Kanye West’s Nike Air Yeezy 1 prototype for $1.8 million, making them the most expensive sneakers ever sold at auction. Considered the rarest Yeezy sneakers released to date, the Nike Air Yeezy 1 was first seen during Kanye’s performance at the 2008 Grammy Awards before hitting the market.

Kanye West 'Grammy Worn' Nike Air Yeezy Sample

Kanye West’s Nike Air Yeezy ‘Grammy Worn’ Sample | Photo credit: Photo: sothebys.com

The fact that most serious collectors don’t seem to be bothered by Adidas’ breakup with Kanye West’s Yeezy shows that the sneaker market isn’t as volatile as one might expect, given that it pivots on fashion industry trends. Nandith Jaisimha, a Bengaluru-based collector and Yeezy fan, says, “Controversies only increase its value. Kanye’s first Red October with Nike (2014 edition) is now the most sought-after pair. The same will happen with the Yeezys. Nandith, owner of a film production house, adds, “When I first saw Yeezys, I thought they were the ugliest pair of shoes, but when I tried them on, I knew I had to get a pair, now I have five.

The independent market

“The most popular styles are undoubtedly Air Jordans, given their heritage status. Followed by brands like Yeezy, Supreme, New Balance, Nike SB Dunks, Off White and others. Currently, foam products are all the rage with the launches of Adidas, Yeezy and Crocs,” says Prabal. He says that while international brands are enjoying their status, local Indian brands have also taken center stage over the past few years.

Sneakers displayed at the SneakinOut event by SoleSearch

Sneakers on display at the SneakinOut event by SoleSearch

“Brands like Kobsook, Thaely, Jaywalking, Bluorng, Rising Above, Instinct First, Vibe the Hype and others have become very popular.” Indian brands, collectors as Nandith say do an impressive job and “can be reasonably priced in the range of ₹9,000”. Brands are also finding ways to Indianize their offerings to appeal to a wider market. In October, PUMA and Fizzy Goblet teamed up for a sneaker capsule collection, releasing 200 custom-made pairs. Launched by Kareena Kapoor Khan, PUMA X Fizzy Goblet featured on-trend sneakers that could be paired with sarees, lehengas and kurtas for Deepavali and wedding season.

Sneaker Festivals

Buyers, sellers and customizers now meet at sneaker festivals, which are thriving this year. Prabal says, “When we launched our SneakinOut Intellectual Property (IP) in August 2021, with Swiggy SteppinOut IP Partners, there was no such established or popular IP. We were the first touring IP in this space. We covered eight cities in seven months, with over 6,000 people in attendance, including India’s top hip-hop artists, and over 100 brands. They followed that up with Season 2, a nine-city tour over a three-month period. “This momentum we’ve created has been capitalized on by competitors in the sneaker and street culture scene, but that’s just the price to pay for being first,” he explains.

Based in Hyderabad, Dhruv Jain of Flashkicks, a reseller, the inventory should be updated every six months to keep up with the international market. “The budget pairs I stock are ₹15,000 and up. Since 85% of my customer base are women, I place great importance on stocking all sizes. I am one of those stockists who even stock a size 3 in the UK,” he says, adding that he buys them direct from the UK, US and Singapore.

Born from breakfast

The story goes that Billy Bowerman, co-founder of Nike and track coach at the University of Oregon, was trying to come up with a shoe that his athletes could train on surfaces other than the track. One summer morning in 1971, while eating waffles with his wife, Bowerman had a brilliant idea. He felt that the grooves in the waffle iron were suitable for the off-road soles he wanted to make. After several attempts to pour rubber onto different irons, he finally got the soles he wanted. This fortuitous breakfast then created a revolution in the footwear industry. Because, sneakers – as they were later called – became status symbols and an integral part of street style. One of these waffle makers used by Bowerman is at Nike headquarters in Oregon.

Wear your personality

Hyderabad-based Rahul Dev of Unhinged Customs, a sneaker customizer, says these shoes can define your personality. “A limited number of sneakers drop in each country and they become collector’s items. Not everyone can afford limited editions. Some are white, and to match the owner’s style, I design custom artwork,” he says, adding that he customizes sneakers from all brands, averaging more than ten pairs a month.

According to Abhishekh Bardia, Head of Marketing at Solesearch, the sneaker craze is a $2 billion industry in India and is expected to catch up with the $6 billion global sneaker market soon. “India and Southeast Asia are experiencing double-digit growth. Further growth of 12-15% is expected,” he says.

Custom rules

Personalization is a central pillar when it comes to the sneaker community. Abhishek Chaudhary, a visual artist, explores Indian prints, textures, patterns and design techniques while simultaneously juxtaposing them with elements and symbols from streetwear and global pop culture.

As part of the thriving subculture, Abhishek recently exhibited some of his collection at Sneak+Art in Delhi, organized by Shoevolution.

He says, “I love the sneakers and the process that goes into

design and customize them. There hasn’t been much innovation in the space with the Indian context in mind, be it our streets, our culture, our landscapes or our color palettes. For this series, I explored the texture and color palettes in several Indian cities and reimagined the iconic Air Jordans if made in an Indian context. The Air Jaipurs, the first in the series, combine the famous leatherwork of the Jaipuri juttis into the classic Air Jordan body.

The sneaker has a dominant rosy hue with the soft

brown leather, reminiscent of the emblematic pink city of India.

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