The Sneaker Game: Where Fashion Followed Function

By Manya Bagla

In the world of ever-changing trends, sneakers are here to stay. A once niche market of sports shoes or sneakers has now become a fashion staple. Globally, the sneaker industry is valued at around $95 billion and is exponentially rising every year. This success is primarily owed to the hype built around it by millennials and who see the industry as a catalyst for self-expression, choice and opinion. Among the hustle of keeping up with trends, sneakers changed from mere footwear to a legitimate statement piece. The thriving market made sneakers an integral part of people’s wardrobes.

The Indian society is highly status-driven, and the ostentation plays right into it. There are, of course, niche areas, but the potential consumer market is much larger than it looks, given how hyped products work as price-volatile stocks. This space has grown substantially over the last three years. The resale market has evolved into a multi-billion dollar industry over the last decade, and Indian digital playgrounds have proven to be conducive of this sneaker culture. Nike, an American Multinational Sportswear Corporation is one of the biggest players in the market for sneakers, the upcoming trend that has enveloped the millennial age has led to an Increase in Nike’s YoY revenue by 19.08% in 2021 to a whopping $44.538 Billion. 

The sneaker game is also deeply intertwined with sports culture. The global rise of basketball, celebrity culture and technology has created the perfect platform for the sneaker market to grow exponentially following the launch of Michael Jordan’s 1985 Air Jordans “the first and most collectible sneaker.” It slowly permeated mainstream and pop culture, creating a breed of new collectors: Sneakerheads. Popular athletes have their own brand of sneakers, not just basketball. Famous musicians and hip-hop artists like Kanye West are deeply involved in similar deals, regularly dropping modern and sleek kicks. 

There is no doubt that sneakers grow faster than shoes. The shoe market is expected to grow by 3%, while the sneaker market is expected to augment at double the pace of 7%. The second-hand market is growing tremendously almost to a point where sneakers have proven to be a better investment than gold. An interesting example is the Off-White Air Jordan 1. It launched in 2018 at a retail price of $190 and is worth $2,000 to $3,000 in less than three years.

The industry also got a boost from several Bollywood actors and sports personalities. The trendsetters, once photographed with a pair of sneakers on their feet, rekindle the craze. Fans are very keen to know what sneakers their favorite stars and idols wear and then that becomes the seed to make a lasting interest in sneakers.

Popular limited edition sneakers get people waiting in line for hours. Unique kicks especially those of collaborations are no longer just collectibles, they are increasingly recognized as a form of art. Such collaborations are by far the most successful releases in the country, a detail that did not go unnoticed to the brands of the sector, which are redesigning the maps of their drops.

However, it’s not only the sportswear giants who benefit from the sneaker boom in India, but also brands originating in the country. Young and emerging labels like the Indian online shopping portal, Ajio, introduced a new section on its website, Sneakerhood. In addition to hosting the official calendar of the FW, it is a platform where international and Indian footwear brands are present, and where exclusive and limited edition releases are launched. This is possibly the first step towards even more widespread expansion of the Indian sneaker game. 

There are, nevertheless, a few companies completely committed to the sneaker culture. An example of this is Anand Ahuja’s VegNonVeg, the Mainstreet Marketplace and Superkicks boutiques, which have opened in cities like Mumbai and Delhi. People are forced to turn to independent resellers due to problems in every other avenue.

Many websites like Crep Dog Crew, Cop Underdog in addition to those above that have also emerged to tackle the same problem. Like official Nike websites, they have a system of offers and rewards. During drops of new sneakers, raffles take place on these sites, a sort of a lucky draw for shoes. A nominal entry amount is charged for the same whereas winners are given the shoe of their size at retail prices.

Sneakers sold on official websites of Nike, Adidas etc. sell out minutes after launching. The market is saturated with buyers however, the mechanism of getting the sneaker of your choice is still flawed. There exists a discrepancy among the interest of a transversal target market of sneaker enthusiasts. They vary in terms of demographics and origins, locations with availability of sneakers etc. 

Indians may have more access to shopping than ever, but buying hyped kicks in India is still difficult due to both a lack of availability and higher pricing. Sneakers like the NMD, UltraBoost and YEEZY Boosts are priced 33% higher on sites like StockX and GOAT compared to American and EU markets because of import duties. Kicks launched abroad are mostly unavailable in India.

Indian sneaker consumers have complained about bots being used by resellers during exclusive drops which makes buying the desired sneakers even tougher for the average Indian consumer. Bots allow users to access the front-end of the store, run an automated add-to-cart command and then simply check out all before any stalling or technical problems occur. Bots certainly aren’t cheap, and those who can afford them will always have the edge when it comes to purchasing (much sought-after) sneakers.

There also exists a prominent segment of counterfeit sneakers or first copy sneakers. Some are so well made that one really needs to look close to find the differences. The major problem remains that the demand is in excess of the supply, which continues to be minimal. This becomes a huge obstacle for potential buyers. The market, although booming, might face a slow downfall in the near future contingent on the fading trend. This is majorly owed to the scarce supply of sneakers and price hikes by resellers. 

Some are also skeptical that India holds a true sneakerhead community, but is instead simply following a global trend. “I believe the sneaker culture in India today is based purely on hype, rather than knowledge,” says Jerry Sebastian, a former Marketing Manager of Adidas Originals India. 

In the global sneaker and fashion conversation, India isn’t exactly seen as a big player. However, that may change soon. Shifting political dynamics, more widespread exposure to new trends owing to social media, and growing disposable incomes across the country means Indian consumers are more connected to fashion and footwear than ever before. The sneaker game in India has started out pretty strong. However, it would be exciting to see what lies ahead. India is on the road to become one of the biggest fashion sneaker markets, although the road still has its share of obstacles.