Why sneaker culture in India has taken Gen Z and millennials by storm

27 September,2023 06:59 PM IST |  Mumbai  |  Aakanksha Ahire

Be it Jordans, Dunks, Yeezy or sneakers from any other brands, they have become the epitome of style. Giving a fresh twist to lifestyle and fashion, the sneaker culture in India has taken Gen Z and Millennials by storm in recent years. There is hardly anyone today who remains untouched by the influence of this culture

The fascination towards sneakers is infectious and continues to turn a majority of young Indians into sneakerheads. Photo Courtesy: iStock/Campus Activewear

Key Highlights

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Sneakers have become a billion-dollar industry in India. Gen Z and Millennials hail it as the best lifestyle commodity ever. According to Statista, a global data and business intelligence platform, the sneaker culture in India is forecasted to generate a revenue of US$2.63 billion by the end of 2023.

While globally, sneakers were mainly footwear for athletes, they gradually transcended into a lifestyle commodity soon becoming a global fashion trend. In the blink of an eye, the influence of this trend was felt in India with more youngsters investing heavily in a variety of sneaker brands.

This said, the fascination towards sneakers is infectious and continues to turn a majority of young Indians into sneakerheads. We dig deep to explore what led to this frenzy and why it is all absolutely worth it.

Inception of the sneaker fever
Fashion trends spread like wildfire. "Global fashion trends have played a very significant role. We Indians love to follow these trends. Sneakers have been an integral part of the global streetwear and athleisure fashion movement. Further, the media, our Bollywood celebrities, models and now even fashion influencers play a key role in introducing the Western trends to us," says Anchit Kapil, CEO, Crepdogcrew (CDC), one of India's sneaker-selling platforms.

Many global and Indian brands identified the rise in the popularity of sneakers and saw an opportunity to capitalise on it. "Brands began launching limited editions and sneaker collections having exclusive designs that further increased the hype among young Indians. This led to the sneaker culture flourishing in the country."

Today, almost every footwear brand in India has launched its own collection of sneakers, each catering to various customer demands and demographics. "The influence of global pop culture, streetwear and sports icons has played a pivotal role in popularising sneakers among the youth. This cross-cultural exchange has led to a heightened awareness and appreciation of sneaker culture in India," says Prerna Aggarwal, CMO, Campus Activewear. "Additionally," she says, "the fact that this footwear effortlessly blends style and comfort, allowing people to express themselves and make a unique fashion statement makes it a definite favourite of the young."

Community of Indian sneaker enthusiasts
Just like Harry Potter lovers call themselves Potter heads, sneaker enthusiasts proudly call themselves sneakerheads. These individuals are usually the ones who, despite having a massive collection, feel they can never have enough of it. They have a new pair of sneakers for every occasion be it a party, formal event, a date or even a festive occasion.

Sahil Nandal (31), CEO, Free Society (a sneaker community as well as a platform selling sneakers), who is on his way to building a strong sneaker and streetwear culture in India, is one such sneakerhead who has a collection of more than 400 sneakers that includes Dunks, Yeezys, New Balance, Jordans, Converse and many more.

Sahil was introduced to sneakers for the first time in Japan during his schooling. "Japanese culture focuses a lot on personal style and identity through fashion, so even during my early years, I noticed my classmates and friends wearing specific sneakers and one-of-one fashion pieces which caught my eye and made me delve deeper into the history of those sneakers and fashion pieces. Since then my love for sneakers has only grown."

According to Sahil, a sneakerhead is anyone who is interested in lifestyle shoes. "The sneaker community is like a friendly cult with sneakerheads sharing their mutual love and fascination towards sneakers, exchanging interesting facts, complementing each other's collection and just having a friendly banter."

Sharing an interesting fact about the amalgamation of lifestyle and sneakers, Sahil says, "Although there were brands manufacturing sneakers, they all catered majorly to the athletes. Jordans were the first real lifestyle sneakers."

He goes on to say, "When Nike launched Jordans, it estimated 3 million dollars worth of sales in the first year. Shockingly they actually ended up selling a whopping 126 million worth of Jordans in the first year."

"Sneakers," he says, "have infiltrated all aspects of our life because they are extremely comfortable and stylish. Sahil affirms that sneakers are here to stay and convert more young Indians into sneakerheads.

Sneakers are the king of the footwear world
Sneakers have emerged to be the king of the footwear world offering both maximum comfort and a unique style that amps up any simple look. With the coming of sneakers, there has been a paradigm shift in the Indian perspective towards shoes. Earlier, Indians had just one or two pairs of sports shoes for special activities. Now, most of us have a collection of at least four to five sneakers which we wear either daily or on special outfits.

Sneakers are being paired with casual, smart casuals, dresses, bridal outfits and formal attires making it the best fit for each attire. "However, it is essential to understand which sneakers to wear for which occasion. Sometimes, thoughtfully colour-coordinating your sneakers with your attire goes a long way in making a fashion statement and also turning a few eyes on you," says Aggarwal of Campus Activewear.

If you have recently developed a love for sneakers and are looking to up your sneaker game, Aggarwal shares some styling tips:

1. Pair white or black sneakers with casual jeans and a T-shirt. For a more defined look, wear a pair of high-top sneakers.

2. Try wearing white or patterned sneakers with flowy dresses. To complete the look, you can wear dainty jewellery.

3. Low-top sneakers paired with shorts and a polo shirt or tank top also look great for a casual outing.

4. For a formal look, opt for a monochromatic business suit with low-top sneakers. Ensure that the sneaker contrasts your suit.

Though initially, sneakers were considered a premium luxury product, their high demand has made them more accessible than ever. A number of brands selling the product at varied price ranges have contributed to the rise in its popularity. Today, a pair of sneakers can range anywhere from Rs 1,500 to Rs 800,000 or more depending on the brand.

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