HT Brunch Cover Story: No Company Looks Like a Shoe Company
It is no coincidence that India is home to the second largest footwear industry in the world. ivory pearl mojariAs far north as the chappals of Kolhapuri in western India, we take our footwear very seriously. It is therefore no surprise that sneakers are also becoming a growing passion in India. And not just any sneakers – some of them are collectibles that could cost more than most people’s monthly salary. Buying and reselling limited-edition sneakers is also something many do, which means keeping an eye out for deals and thefts, and sometimes tracking the pair you want for months. Primarily American, the sneakerhead subculture is still an amateur passion for many Millennials and Gen Z Indians, who now understand the dynamics of sneaker collecting and can tell us a lot about the fact that what is “precious” will not always be gold.
When I meet 31-year-old actor Harshvardhan Kapoor, who recently starred in Tar– with the young founder of multi-brand sneaker and apparel resale store, Mainstreet Marketplace, Vedant Lamba, and YouTuber Karan Khatri, who creates content about all things sneaker, the collective energy in d ‘Aram Nagar in Mumbai is contagious.
To my fanatic mind, the free-flowing conversations between the three are a whirlwind of all things cool – the outlandish world of Air Jordan Diors where each pair rises to ₹8 lakh, what the new Off White sneaker collection means to the global community, the secret world of commerce and resale, why Kanye West’s Yeezy sneakers still make the cut, the contacts who will get you access to the hottest tracks inaccessible…
To an outsider, the sneaker subculture seems intimidating. Who is authorized? Is it just a bunch of rich kids who have money for it?
In a famous 1990 article for Sports Illustrated magazine, American sports journalist Rick Telander wrote a scathing account of the fatal effects of sneakers.
“Something is seriously wrong with a society that has created an underclass that is sliding into economic and moral oblivion, an underclass in which pieces of rubber and plastic held together by laces are sometimes worth more than human life,” Telander said.
Our three Indian sneakerheads have nothing but scathing things to say about Telander’s remarks.
“I don’t think it’s pointless,” says Karan Khatri (age withheld by request), refusing to admit that maybe being a sneakerhead is just another form of vanity. “It’s the same as asking people why they spend so much money on food or travel.”
Harshvardhan Kapoor thinks that judging subculture in such a one-dimensional way takes away its personal and intimate aspects.
“I remember when Bhavesh Joshi (2018) did not fare well. I had attended its screening at a film festival in an obscure little town in Switzerland,” he says. “I watched the movie with a bunch of people who had no idea what it was about, but I remember exactly the sneakers I was wearing. Just like sensory memory, it throws you right into those memories.
If you ask 23-year-old Vedant Lamba, whose Mainstreet Marketplace is the mecca where all the cool kids go, the appeal of the sneakers can be summed up in three big markers.
“Every pair of sneakers has three things attached to it: the story of its origin; the hype of how it is perceived by others because we are a status-seeking species; and the price,” says Lamba.
But there is an inherent contrast in how Lamba, Khatri and Kapoor relate to the sneakers. Thus, Khatri shamelessly and openly loves the good life and its luxury. “I’m a spendthrift,” he says. “If I could, I would become a professional luxury consultant.” Meanwhile, Kapoor is drawn to the efforts and stories leading up to sneaker ownership, revealing, “I bought a pair of Supreme Dunk bottoms for ₹1.12,000 despite watching them for three years but still thinking the price was too unreasonable. Lamba himself prefers the minimal route. “My job is pure opulence, but does that mean I have to subscribe to that lifestyle?” he questions. “I do not think so.”
The one question every sneaker collector often asks is: how many do you have? Harshvardhan and Karan think that’s not the point.
“I’d rather take a vacation in two years and use my money to buy sneakers,” Kapoor says. “I hunt and stalk things to get every piece of clothing and every shoe in my collection. This is not the attitude of dekh liya, khareed liya, bas khatam [saw it, bought it, that’s it]. A lot of things have to fall into place. »
Karan Khatri’s transition from being a “finance guy” in the world of chartered accountancy to being a sneaker influencer was anything but predictable.
“I was supposed to carry on my father’s legacy as a chartered accountant, but his death meant I no longer had that duty,” he says. “Little by little I started making sneaker videos and my account exploded.” A key aspect of this subculture is that of resale, i.e. buying limited-edition shoes (a practice known as “copping”) at retail price and then reselling them. at a higher price.
In most cases, people are constantly buying and reselling sneakers just so they can save enough money to buy that super expensive shoe.
“Sneakers are like gold and real estate; they hold value and provide status at the same time,” says Lamba. “Every family spends a large portion of their savings on real estate expecting huge returns in one form or another. Harshvardhan, who has the most ridiculous collection in the country, his collection is now worth five times what he originally paid. It is therefore possible to evolve in this way at each stage and India has a huge appetite for this. We are only scratching the surface.
united we stand
According to Kapoor, being a sneakerhead is all about associating a unique story and memory with each pair.
“You don’t have to own the most expensive sneakers to be called a sneakerhead,” he says. “Even if you own a few pairs of Vans but really cherish them, that’s all that matters.”
And yet, the collector aspect of the sneaker subculture takes many forms. Khatri says there are certain shoes like “grails” (expensive limited-edition sneakers) that he will never wear but only keep in his collection as trophies. For Kapoor, it’s all about expressing yourself through style.
“You see a lot of actors wearing the same clothes from the same designers sourcing from the same places,” he says. “Despite the money for it, it’s very unoriginal and shows a lack of interest.”
Lamba chimes in, saying that even beyond the neighborhood’s cool kids, sneakerhead culture is slowly finding an unlikely ally: politicians.
“It’s great fun to see politicians coming out to campaign in Off White face masks, Yeezy slides and Travis Scott or Jordan stockings – it’s permeated every part of our lives,” laughs Lamba.
Ultimately, it’s the sense of community that unites sneakerheads across different spaces. Khatri says even wearing them “relieves and sets you free”, while Lamba adds that just watching someone put on a pair of sneakers is sometimes the only reason you have to connect with them in surprising ways.
“When you meet someone wearing sneakers, it’s like you instantly know you speak a different language,” Lamba says.
From HT Brunch, May 28, 2022
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