Indian Sneakerheads (n.) A once endangered species with a dedicated knowledge of limited edition, flat-out OG kicks. Usually found swinging off the vines in India’s urban jungle, touching ground if only to pick up another pair. Very likely to trade food for sneakers.
It’s an intriguing thought, that of having befriended a culture since its birth and traversing through the maze together, documenting its every step. We’ve watched sneaker culture hit puberty in India, just as we have a wave of subcultures making their way into the Indian matrix - hip-hop, drum and bass, skate and ball. And whether we’re cheering them on from the sidelines or throwing ourselves into the thick of it, one thing we’ve learned for sure is that each in their own right is a testament to the streets - their eternal playground. For most sneakerheads in the country, it was one of these subcultures or the other that acted as a gateway to sneakers.
Take the NBA for instance. Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan have been heralded as some of the greatest sportsmen world over, and while it wasn’t as visible as it was in the west, people here definitely found inspiration in them. Sneakers have come to stand for the utmost celebration of innovation and individuality. A blurring of lines so to speak. Rules didn’t apply to them (read: that time when Jordan wore his shoes that didn’t match weren’t his jersey colours onto the court, and got fined again and again and again.) And each time, Nike paid his fine. Because they are rebels. Sneakers are bold. They’re the very definition of daring to be authentic in a world that pushes for codification.
This is a culture that is still growing with us though, and as we change, it changes. The sudden wide prominence of sneakers as a part of people’s daily armour has to do with a shift from sneakers being solely for performance to being an integral part of our personal style. Standing true to the meaning of its name, these shoes have crept into the arena of style, functionality and a means through which one mobs through daily life. From being deemed unfit for formal occasions and nothing short of a violation against high-fashion, sneakers have made their way to every fashion week across the world today. In a way, they’ve become the ultimate tool used in the democratization of fashion. One that stands highly protected by a personal army of knights in shiny kicks, even right here in India.
Ask any sneakerhead from anywhere in the world and they’ll tell you that no sneaker collection is anywhere near complete without a Nike Air Max - their visible air cushioning will forever remain their magnum opus. With #AirMaxDay right around the corner, we couldn’t think of a better occasion to profile five homegrown sneakerheads who have always been ahead of the curve. This is an ode to the journeys of their personal collections.
Born and raised in Delhi, Ardy refers to himself as a ‘sneaker connoisseur’ and is not afraid to admit that without his collection, life would be boring. “I don’t socialise much, so for me, sneakers are a medium through which I’ve made a lot of great friends globally,” he says. Ardy grew up watching the NBA and that is where his love for sneakers stems from. “Seeing all the players wearing amazing sneakers, I would dream of the day I could get those sneakers so I could ball in them. That wasn’t going to happen at that time because back then you only had one pair for the whole year, until you beat them to death” he reminisces. His first Air Max was the AM90 Infrared which he copped from ebay. His favourite, however, stands to be the AM90 ID Pony Hair. “I customised it the way I wanted so it’s all about sentimental value.”
With an impressive collection of 140 sneakers, sheer volume cements Dharmesh’s spot as a bonafide sneakerhead. His intrigue was stirred by watching Eminem videos back in 2007-2008, where he sported Jordans and pretty much the entire Air Max collection at one point or another. “That’s when I decided that I really wanted a pair. When I fell in love with the Air Max range, it was very tough to find them in India. Nike hardly sold them at the stores. So most of them always just stayed on my wishlist. Over the years, once Nike and Myntra started selling the line at stores / online here, it just became easier to purchase the shoes that I wanted. It is still very tough me for to find a Size 13 shoe here. So I pick up as many shoes as I can when I travel. Air Maxes, Jordans, everything!”
And if size doesn’t mean much to you, Dharmesh even had an entire folder on his computer dedicated to shoes. From different Air Max silhouettes, to the neon Air Max 95’s and almost anything Eminem used to wear. Upon pondering on what life would be like without sneakers, he admits that “it’s pretty much the only thing I spend money on apart from food, so I guess I would be really fat. Fatter, rather.” His pursuit for sneakers is only as extensive as the pursuit for ways to express his individuality, and this is one that traverses a whole lifetime.
In Indian hip-hop circles, SA’s put skin in the game and has very little left to prove. The A hip-hop DJ from Mumbai who has played alongside the likes of Snoop Dogg, T-Pain, Akon and Macklemore to name a few, he’s just as proud of his love for cooking, eating and shopping. He was gifted his first Air Max in 2000, the Air Max classic black and white to be specific, and he fell instantly in love. “It was especially so because of the ‘transparent bubble’ as I like to call it that is in the cushion of the heel,” he explains. He goes so far as to call this pair his lucky charm, a pair that once worn, makes any gig a good one. “They keep me in a good mood, knowing I will look good in them, which in turn shows in my music while playing” he playfully admits.
Loving sneakers is one thing, but the way SA feels about them is something entirely different, and he recounts an incident where this feeling came to be. “For a whole year after I saw a post of these neon orange air max 90s online, I have been searching for them but couldn’t find them anywhere. 14 months later while walking around the whole of Amsterdam as I lectured myself about how I would not be spending anymore of sneakers (I spend….a lot), I see a Nike store. I walk out with 2 pairs of Air Max 90s, but the look on my manager’s face post my shopping spree was priceless.” According to him, every sneaker is it’s own form of expression - it tells the world what mood you’re in, your need for comfort and they are what some might call your ‘ride or die’ - day or night, they’ve got your back.
Hailing from Toronto, the duo are amongst the few set of people who actually witnessed the rise of sneaker culture in its most unadulterated form. They merged their love for hip-hop and 90’s RnB with Indian craftsmanship to create NorBlack NorWhite, a brand that’s been making waves in independent fashion scenes around the globe, not least of all our own. Unlike most Indian sneakerheads, the spectrum of sneaker culture presented itself to them early on. For Mriga, the Air Max is reminiscent of fun summer dance sessions in Toronto & Trinidad, with a Soca & Dancehall soundtrack playing as the background score. She got her first pair when she was at Trinidad carnival, when all and what she needed to sail through was a “cute, floaty pair of kicks.” Her love for sneakers comes from a love for pure functionality. She explains “I move a lot and love to be super comfortable and still look fresh. Sneakers usually complete so many different looks which means one less decision to make.”
Amrit’s journey began earlier still. She got her first pair of Air Max’s when she was in the 8th grade back in 1995. She says, “I grew up in an area in Toronto where sneakers were a vital component of your overall style - they basically made your style. You could wear whatever you wanted but your sneakers always needed to be fresh. My love for them started in the 2nd grade with my first pair of Air Jordans and hasn’t stopped since - I’ve done them all, high tops, low tops, lights, pumps, leather, suede and all that jazz.” Sneakers to her are nothing but purely essential. “Sneakers just make sense and have been essential for my everyday movements and my overall style since I can remember. Since I was kid, if I was wearing my track pants or a cute dress, they would usually be paired with a pair of kicks. And now as an adult, they are still a large part of my life and look. They’ve kind of just always been an extension of me and who I am, don’t see that changing,” she signs off.
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Photographers: GAURAV SAWN and Vibhor Yadav.
Brand Lead (Homegrown): Hiral Vasa
Brand Assistant (Homegrown): Nikita Mishra
Location Courtesy Summer House Cafe and Raasta