GOT ‘EM: How Air Jordan Paved the Way for India's Own Sneaker Revolution

GOT ‘EM: How Air Jordan Paved the Way for India's Own Sneaker Revolution

From local basketball courts to exclusive nightclubs, sneaker culture in India has taken the country by storm. As omnipresent as they are now, sneakers weren’t always the in-trend footwear. They were once seen as purely functional, marketed as athletic shoes that could provide comfort whether you were running a marathon or just running some errands.

However, in 1984, the sneaker game changed forever when NBA’s freshly drafted rising star Michael Jordan signed the first ever exclusive signature shoe deal with Nike to birth the iconic Air Jordan 1. An upcoming movie ‘Air’, starring Ben Affleck, Matt Damon and Viola Davis explores Nike’s pursuit for their collaboration with Michael Jordan, and the impact that this partnership had on the sneaker industry and popular culture. As the basketball star went on to become the undisputed G.O.A.T. and retired with a total of six championships for his team Chicago Bulls, the hype around his brand grew even more. The AJ1s changed the game on and off the court, and has become the blueprint for all sneakers since. They were no longer just basketball shoes; they came to represent self-expression and culture and were often cloesely associated with hip-hop and basketball. Sneakers had now become collectibles, and each new release expanded the market even more.

The first ever Air Jordan sneakers, worn by MJ.
The first ever Air Jordan sneakers, worn by MJ.The Guardian

As the Internet became more accessible, streetwear and sneakers became even more commercially viable in the early 2010s. Going by the blueprint that Air Jordans had laid out, sneaker brands were collaborating with celebrities, rappers, and prominent sports persons to create exclusive kicks and generate hype. Suddenly, there was a worldwide demand for sneakers. Around the same time, e-commerce well and truly kicked off, and the sneaker resale market evolved.

So, how did all of that translate into the sneaker industry boom in India? It's simple: conspicuous consumption or, in Gen-Z jargon, the rise of 'hype' and exclusivity. As demand for sneakers rose, the supply dwindled, leading to a sharp increase in prices. For sneakerheads, this meant eagerly waiting for 'sneaker drops' to get their hands on the latest releases at retail prices. Alternatively, they could buy from the resale market, but this came with a catch of its own. Resellers often hiked up the prices, with some sneakers going for more than double their original cost. The urgency to buy sneakers increased manifold, leading to the sneaker game taking over India.

India's sneaker market remained largely undiscovered until the emergence of resale markets on Instagram. This led to a snowballing trend of buying, selling, and trading of sneakers across the country, igniting a passion for sneaker culture that soon spread like wildfire. In response, homegrown sneaker platforms such as Superkicks, VegNonVeg, Crepdog Crew, Mainstreet Marketplace, and Solesearch flourished. These platforms have played a significant role in building a vibrant sneaker community in India, hosting sneaker conventions in various cities throughout the country. They have gone onto take their sneaker markets offline, created an ecosystem where sneakerheads can connect, share their passion, and keep up with the latest trends in street fashion.

The Crepdog Crew store.
The Crepdog Crew store.India Today

The upcoming movie Air brings back the nostalgia of the 80s and how it gave rise to a cultural phenomenon that still holds its own. It highlights how Nike took a chance on Michael Jordan and his unique sense of style to create something that transcended sports. This is a story that resonates not just with sneakerheads but with everyone who loves sports, fashion, and popular culture. The movie is a reminder of how a single shoe deal between Nike and Michael Jordan changed the game forever and led to the rise of sneaker culture around the world, including in India.

'Air' is set to release on the 12th of May on Prime Video.