Foot soldiers: Sneaker resellers are levelling up, becoming collectors
Has your sneaker collection become your sole purpose? AnilSadarangani maps how sneakerheads are lacing up across India
Two years ago, 18-year-old Mumbai-based BMS student Saahil Hassanandani borrowed ₹8,300 from cousins and then camped overnight for 14 hours on the street outside the boutique sneaker store Veg Non Veg, in Bandra, Mumbai, to buy a pair of Nike Dunk High Syracuse just as it released. He was not quite a sneakerhead yet.
He was a reseller. He sold those coveted sneakers to someone else for ₹14,000, then refunded his cousins, then did the same thing again and again.
Today, though, Hassanandani has a sneaker collection of his own—the outcome of the profits he made as a reseller. His 40 pairs of sneakers include a Travis Scott Reverse Mocha lows and an Air Jordan 1 High Chicago “Lost and Found”. He can call himself a hardcore sneakerhead with pride. And just like him, hundreds of young people across the country are upgrading from reselling to collector.
In the beginning, a mere 8-10 years ago, the sneakerhead community in India was small, comprising a privileged few who could either afford to buy coveted limited edition sneakers for the love of the kicks or knew an ‘insider’ who helped them buy new releases before they dropped.
Now, stories of young people stalking shoe drops on social media, camping all night on pavements, some even going to extreme lengths to acquire coveted sneakers to either resell, put on a pedestal, or wear to flex, are commonplace.
“The community has grown significantly thanks to social media and yet it’s still at a nascent stage,” says Sangeet Paryani, a sneakerhead and the founder of the Super Kicks sneaker store chain.
Most college kids looking to build their own collections take to reselling to fund their project. “It’s like a business for us. It’s like a stock market for shoes,” says Ethan Dueman. Abhineet Singh, one of the OGs of the sneakerhead community in India and co-founder of Veg Non Veg, sees it differently.
“If a lot of kids today are getting into the sneakerhead culture to be resellers, what it tells you is that at the moment, it’s hype driven,” Singh says. “In the West, it’s more evolved. People are not just following brands, they’re following a particular type of sneaker. There are trailheads, who buy shoes made just for running trails. Every brand, Nike, Reebok, Adidas or Solomon, makes very specific trail sneakers. It’s the same with the hip hop heads, for whom Jordans and the Air Force 1 are iconic and culturally relevant. Others chase a certain collaborator or colour. We’re still evolving.”
For Paryani, the evolution of the culture also means a certain Indianising of it. “Stories from the West have, no doubt, led to the culture’s tremendous growth in India. But we’re trying to find the connection closer to home through our street culture, gully gangs and the local hip hop culture, with an insane journey to go,” he says.
Soles for the soul
Bengaluru-based sneakerhead and fashion consultant Allen Claudius believes that the scene is evolving from hype to discerning buyers and collectors. “Numbers don’t make a sneakerhead. You can have just two pairs and be a sneakerhead,” he says.
That’s because a genuine sneakerhead is one who loves the stories the sneakers represent.
“My points of reference have always been hip hop, art, street art,” Singh says. “I’m always looking for relevance in my sneakers and I encourage people to look at their sneakers from their own lens. What do you care about? If you care about art, or if you’re into Japanese denim, you can find enough shoes that celebrate them. Or if you’re part of the LGBTQ+ community, there are people telling their queer stories via shoes. Don’t chase sneakers, chase stories. Know why you’re wearing those sneakers, don’t do it because everyone else is.”
As with art collecting, it will help build a richer collection. “We’re not changing the world and I know that. Young people are dealing with anxiety and our community gives you a little bit of confidence,” Paryani says. “The dark side is peer pressure, so don’t fall into that trap.”
Playing the game
Most established collectors believe that Indian sneakerheads are headed in the right direction, even if the going is slow. Paryani adds, “Young people are learning to deep dive into the culture. They’re realising that sneakers are conversation starters and ice breakers and that if you don’t know the stories, you lose the game.”
Allen recommends going beyond the predictable Dunks, Jordans and Yeezys. “Seek out alternate silhouettes from brands like Asics. Most have some great colourways, amazing materials, and a lot of cultural significance,” he says.
That Saahil Hassanandani has truly arrived in the universe of sneakerheads becomes apparent when he shows off his collection. Talking excitedly about material, colour blocking and the collaborations behind sneakers like his Travis Scott, he tells you: “Every sneaker has a story and history.”
From HT Brunch, February 18, 2023
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