Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

India is 'sneaking' in a billion-dollar industry in shoe boxes

Untouched by the pandemic, the sneaker culture in India is on a rapid growth trajectory. From customising sneakers to reselling limited pairs at a 10X mark up, the sneaker business in the country is picking up pace

Published: Apr 25, 2022 02:57:38 PM IST
Updated: Apr 25, 2022 05:42:16 PM IST

India is 'sneaking' in a billion-dollar industry in shoe boxesThe revenue in the sneakers segment in India amounts to $2.60 billion in 2022, and the market is expected to grow annually by 11.58 percent according to Statista. Image: Shutterstock 

An HNI bride flew from Dubai to meet multimedia artist Param Sahib Singh in New Delhi this wedding season. She didn’t fly down to buy her bridal lehenga. She flew in to get customised wedding shoes which were an exclusive pair of suede high boots. Singh, who is known for his street fashion line and eclectic art on sneakers, had to sign an NDA [non-disclosure agreement] to keep the bride’s identity hidden and the image of the shoe away from social media. The said bride spent Rs 2 lakh on her boots. 

Singh takes customisation orders that go up to a lakh, and some of these orders can take more than two months to implement. He says, “Customising your sneaker is like getting a tattoo. It's personal and it reflects your style.”

Customisation, however, is just one part of the sneaker boom in the country. The Indian sneaker market is literally going places. As per market and consumer data experts Statista, the Indian sneakers market revenue is $2.60 billion in 2022, and the market is expected to grow annually by 11.58 percent.

Interestingly, a major chunk of the money generated in the segment doesn’t come from the retail business.

Cop and drop

Alongside the regular retail sales, what is pushing the numbers in the sneaker business out of the park is the resale market where it is all about ‘cop’ and ‘drop’. In sneaker lingo, ‘drop’ is when popular labels such as Nike, Adidas, Jordan, and others, announce new launches, and ‘copping’ is the act of successfully buying a pair of sneakers.

Explaining how it all works, Danish Chawla, co-founder of Find Your Kicks India, says, “Brands announce their launches at a fixed time. Nike, for instance, drops its collection at 7.30 am IST and the entire collection is sold out within a minute. Sometimes, collections also sell out in less than 10 seconds. This is when marketplaces like us get in touch with resellers and stock up the limited edition pairs for sneakerheads.”

Interestingly, according to Chawla, the sneaker business wasn’t hit by the pandemic at all.
The brands didn’t miss a single drop and it was business as usual. In fact, Chawla’s business also started during the pandemic, in October 2020.

Valued at Rs 4 crore, Find Your Kicks India works with close to 3,000 resellers who pay the platform a monthly subscription fee between Rs 1,500 and Rs 6,000. The platform sells anywhere between 300 and 500 sneakers a month.

Chawla also mentions that not every sneaker goes on to become a rage. Marketplaces have a proper analysis system in place that identifies sneakers that may have the potential to become a rare asset that can be sold at a remarkable price.

A sneaker by a Nike or an Adidas with a retail price of Rs 20,000, approximately, can be sold for as high as Rs 2 lakh in the resale market, says Chawla.

The Air Jordan 1 Mocha, for instance, that retailed at Rs 15,000 is now priced at Rs 50,000, approximately, in the resale market, and The Air Jordan I High Travis Scott that also retailed at the same price, now costs above Rs 1.5 lakh. The markup is usually charged on the basis of hype and availability because most of these pairs are released as limited edition merchandise by the brands.

Talking of availability, a reseller, 20-year-old Ayush Chawla, says, until some time back, people engaged bots to cop since it was not just impossible for individuals to get their hands on a pair of sneakers when they were released but difficult for resellers too.

“Brands now have a lucky draw process where resellers like us can easily cop. For individuals though it can take at least 10-15 attempts to buy a single pair,” he says.

But what makes the effort worth it for sneakerheads?

Dhruv Sheth, COO at OML Entertainment Private Limited, who is also a sneakerhead and owns about 60 pairs of sneakers himself, says, today sneakers are like rare commodities, a fashion statement with no size discrimination.

“StockX and Goat, both unicorns, now buy and sell shoes and trade them like rare commodities, and that is exactly what the sneaker culture is all about. It is about the hype and it is about copping a rare pair. The entry of luxe brands in the segment and collaborations like the Dior-Nike collab is making it more interesting,” he says.

According to Seth, sneakerheads are ready to pay prices as high as Rs 4 lakh on a sneaker that retailed at Rs 15,000 and may be very rare to find.

Who’s buying? Experts suggest that the space is dominated by millennials in the age group of 14- to 30-year-olds.

Marketplaces galore

While there are only two big retailers in the segment, VegNonVeg and Supekicks, there are umpteen market places in India where sneakerheads can source their latest pairs.

Param Minhas is the founder and CEO of one of the most popular sneaker marketplaces in the country, SoleSearch. He says, about a year and a half back, Instagram saw an avalanche of resellers in India, all of them selling hype sneakers. “This is where marketplaces like us and a few others come in. We organised the business and started categorising each and every pair as per size, style, availability,” he adds.

After operating through Instagram, SoleSearch launched its website this January and, since then, it has been clocking in sales to the tune of a crore monthly, where the average ticket size of the nearly 100 pairs sold a month is about Rs 25,000.

According to Minhas, there is a new market place player entering the segment every day because of the demand and the sheer volume of business being done in the country.

Conventions and brand collabs

“The sneaker culture like we see in a lot of brand collaborations is not just about a pair of shoes, it is also about art, artists, expressions, innovations and above all creativity. Hence creating a platform for stakeholders is very important,” Minhas says.

SoleSearch has created a convention for sneaker enthusiasts, both buyers and sellers, and has already put together eight editions of it in the last six months across India, including Mumbai, New Delhi, Chandigarh, Goa, and others. The convention sees each vendor selling products worth Rs 4-5 lakh daily.

Brands that are not in the fashion space have also taken interest in the segment due to the growing hype of the community. Last week, Tinder, for instance, released a limited-edition, capsule collection of 10 sneakers with FILA, hand-illustrated by artists across India, highlighting the theme of identity, authenticity and diversity.

‘Sneaker’ as one of the interests grew by 2.5X in 2021 on Tinder, which is a clear testament of Gen-Z’s affinity in using sneakers to let a potential match know what their ‘vibe’ is. Sneakers are a gender-neutral streetwear symbol that are non-conforming to traditional fashion, rules, and regulations,” says Aahana Dhar, director-communications, Tinder India, adding that it is exactly the beliefs that their Gen-Z members embody.