From several streetwear labels showcasing at the recently concluded Lakmé fashion week in Delhi and Dhruv Kapoor presenting earlier this year at the Milan Fashion Week runway, to 20-something-olds running Instagram-only shopping pages in the country, the love and demand for streetwear fashion, be it garments, accessories and sneakers, seems to be growing.
But what's the reason behind the growing popularity?
The Indian market for the streetwear category is popping, the scene is growing and many cool streetwear brands are emerging, says Emilia Bergmans, co-founder and creative director of the label VegNonVeg. “People are also dressing with a lot more intention and use fashion as a means for self-expression,” says Bergmans.
VegNonVeg was perhaps the first multi-brand sneaker and streetwear store to bring highly sought-after kicks in India in 2016. In the next two years, the sneaker culture gained traction worldwide, with more collabs between celebraties and brands, and limited-edition releases. “Yeezy became really big. Streetwear and athleisure grew, and in 2020 during the pandemic, it boomed further as people wanted to be comfortable. India has also not had access to this kind of product for a long time so there is a lot of appetite, which you see reflected in the resale market as well,” says Bergmans about the rise in the market.
Keeping the demand in mind, VegNonVeg has diversified to include garments and other accessories. Its Project23, the Fall/Winter 2023 apparel collection, for instance, included denim, Madras checks, block-print T-shirts and even pieces made from blankets inspired by the textiles and craft techniques of India.
“We’re also a relatively young market that is going from wearing largely unbranded apparel and footwear to wearing branded apparel and footwear, so we’re adding new consumers to the fold every day,” explains Bergmans.
Small wonder more players are entering the Indian market. In September this year, brothers Ankur and Nick Amin brought their lifestyle and streetwear brand Extra Butter New York (founded in 2007) to Mumbai. Their New York store is a combination of the brothers’ passion for film and culture, which is why the Bollywood city of Mumbai was the first choice for a India store. They plan to open stores in other cities soon.
“India is an exciting market. Major markets in the world have a strong representation already, and we'd be one of many in those areas. But India is a white space for us. We wanted to pitch our tent in the Indian market before anybody else from the West,” says Ankur. Bernie Gross, their creative director adds, “The sneaker market in the US is getting oversaturated and uninspiring. Consumers aren’t compelled by weekly releases the way it used to be 15 years ago. Whereas here, it is what it used to be like, people are still enthusiastic and joyful, it's still new.”
For the Mumbai store, Gross’ curation is a mix of sneakers, apparel, books, and even décor. In addition to popular sneaker brands, the store includes names like Dhruv Kapoor, and labels like Thug Club from Korea, A Bathing Ape, Carhartt WIP, Drôle De Monsieur, Gramicci, John Elliott, Marni, Neighborhood, and local artist collaborations. The price range starts below ₹5,000. “It's not spending that we're after. It's aspiration, it’s culture, art and those who consume these together,” says Ankur. “Hip-hop shed light on a whole different fashion sense. Today we've got athletes that want to be rappers, rappers that want to be athletes, here you have movie stars who love cricket, it's not so boxed,” says Ankur. Coincidentally, hip-hop completes 50 years this year, a genre that emerged in Bronx, New York, in the 1970s as a response to economic disparity, corruption and injustice.
Streetwear is not just a trend but a fashion movement, says Param Minhas, co-founder and chief executive of sneaker and streetwear platform Solesearch. “The customer likes to indulge in the world of street culture and feel a sense of community,” he says.
A couple of years ago, while searching for a few Air Jordans, Minhas and now Solesearch co-founder Prabal Baghla found no trusted online marketplaces/platforms for select limited edition/hype sneakers or streetwear, of multiple different brands, all under one roof. So, they decided to establish Solesearch.
“There was no go-to source for learning about this culture. So we decided to start as an Instagram page that curated listings from hundreds of different sellers and at the same time we started educating people about the industry at large,” says Minhas. Today, they have three stores, an app and a website. Baghla says the Indian market for this category has been booming over the past three-four years.
Physical and online stores are important for this category, adds Minhas. “It is crucial in today's world to be available wherever the consumer feels most comfortable engaging. A significant part of our business still comes from digital,” says Minhas.
Hype drives the sneaker and streetwear market in India, Bergmans says. “It is not just about the value of the product but also about being in the know,” she says.