The Sneaker Mania
How we went from plain white PT shoes to exuberant Jordans
Sneakers, in India, were not an obsession for a very long time, but thanks to social media and hip-hop culture, it is now a booming business around the country.
Metropolitan cities have become hotspots for sneakerheads, with home-grown major multi-brand sneaker stores like ‘VegNonVeg’ and ‘Superkicks’ taking the country by storm.
But where can we trace the inception of sneakers to ?
These shoes were nicknamed Plimsolls in the 1870s because they resembled the plimsoll line on a ship's hull, which was inspired by Nicholette Jones' book "The Plimsoll Sensation." Plimsolls were frequently worn by tourists and, for their comfort, came to be adopted by athletes on tennis and croquet courts. Specialised soles with engraved patterns were created to improve the surface grip of the shoe, and were ordered in large quantities for use by the British Army.
Plimsolls were widely worn by students in physical education classes in the United Kingdom from the 1950s to the early 1970s. Competing athletes used athletic shoes during the Olympics, which helped popularise athletic shoes among the general public. Spring Court, a French company, launched the first canvas tennis shoe with distinctive eight ventilation holes on a vulcanised natural rubber sole in 1936.
The 1936 Olympics saw Adolf "Adi" Dassler, a craftsman who began making shoes in his mother's wash kitchen in Bavaria, rise to fame by creating shoes that won four gold medals in the competition. He went on to sell two lakh pairs that year, and establish one of the best shoe manufacturing companies in the world - Adidas.
Big worldwide companies took control, removing the sneaker from conventional sports and giving it a hip-hop makeover. Once associated with comfort and usefulness, the modest sneaker had now made frequent appearances in NBA games and rappers' closets.
Adidas’ introduction of The Samba shoe and Nike’s partnership with Micheal Jordan endorsing Air Jordans brought a revolution to the sneaker game.
Adidas and Nike's rise to the top of the global sportswear industry required more than athlete endorsements and effective production. The competing brands all had one thing in common: they focused on image and style rather than functionality and performance.
From Kanye West's famed YEEZYs for Adidas to Nike's rebuilt Air Jordan 4 with colour pops and unique tweaks from rapper and producer Travis Scott, the objective was to widen their customer markets by changing people's perceptions about shoes.
These endorsements and sponsorships come from celebrities in the entertainment and beauty industries, rather than the athletes who were originally meant for the footwear. Nonetheless, they are the reason why most individuals continue to fall for the obsession. Sneaker culture is inextricably linked to North American identity: the sneaker encourages individual expression while also allowing the common man to identify with the names they look up to.
India's fashion sector is recognised for its handcrafted, traditional clothing designs, methods, and materials. However, the rapid growth of foreign streetwear and sneaker companies in the region reflect shifting client tastes, implying that local designers and merchants must extend their horizons or risk falling out of trend.
Running shoes and branded sneakers were the most searched goods on Walmart-owned Indian e-commerce platform Flipkart, during the 2020 lockdown that spanned months. According to the National Investment Promotion and Facilitation Agency of India, India is the world's second-largest footwear industry after China, with a market value of $10.6 billion in 2019 and a projected value of $15.5 billion by 2024. According to a 2017 India Brand Equity Foundation report, the country boasts the world's fifth largest retail industry.
Affluent Indians, meanwhile, are purchasing Western-style attire, which the majority of the population views as aspirational. Numerous Bollywood stars like Rannvijay Singha and Dilijit Dosanjh have influenced the Indian youth and have revamped the outlook of sneakers from being in a sportsperson’s arsenal, to a legitimate statement piece.
One of the biggest issues that sneakerheads face in India is the high import duties and taxes that are levied on their footwear purchases. Taxes may amount to up to 40% of the MRP, which means that Yeezy V2s, which retail for $220 in the US, start at $308 in India. Individuals can't buy many shoes before breaking the bank, since the retail price has already been marked up to resale levels - especially in a society with less total discretionary money.
There has yet to be a large-scale sneaker festival, comparable to Sneakerness or Sneaker Con, in India. Although a localised version of a "Sneaker Con" mixing sneaker companies and domestic streetwear labels was staged in March 2018, there have been no repetitions thereafter.
The sneaker revolution in India is just getting started. It will be intriguing to watch what the future holds for us and shoes, as well as if internationally renowned companies will be able to capitalise on this quickly increasing industry. But one thing is certain: India's obsession with shoes is here to stay.
~ Ashhar Hassan
Sneaker Freaker, MensXP, Elle, Vogue Business, Hypebeast, Western Gazette