The newest person to want a piece of India’s sneaker market is Mukesh Ambani

Sneakin’ in on you.
Sneakin’ in on you.
Image: REUTERS/Tingshu Wang
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India’s burgeoning middle-class and young population is the perfect recipe for international fashion and lifestyle trends to take root. Sneakers are no exception. In fact, so hot are sneakers that India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani, wants a slice of them.

Ambani’s online fashion retail portal Ajio, in September, launched Sneakerhood, a dedicated page for lifestyle sneakers. Ajio, launched in 2016, has positioned itself as a destination for Gen Z and millennial shoppers.

“Ajio Sneakerhood has been devised as a repository of both the philosophy and style synonymous with rising global sneaker culture,” a company spokesperson told Quartz. This, according to the company, has been done keeping in mind the huge market potential of sneakers in India.

Though it is hard to put a size on the sneaker market in India there are clear indicators of growing interest in this niche segment. For instance, sneaker sales in India for sportswear brand Adidas grew three times over the past three years, according to a report in Business Insider.

Ajio’s hat-tip to this trend is particularly interesting given its overall brand image as an accessible platform. Its lineup will eventually include perennial favourites like Nike Air Jordan, Nike Air Max, Fila Disruptor, and Steve Madden. Sneakerhood will also host premium brands like Emporio Armani and Cole Haan in its roster. Currently, these international brands sell at a significant premium in India because of import duties and the unfavourable dollar-to-rupee exchange rate.

This also marks Ajio’s gradual shift to include luxury brands, which it has been doing for other apparel and accessory segments.

“The sneaker space, at the top of the pyramid, is a premium space. It is indeed a space where the product matters less and brand image matters more,” says brand strategy expert Harish Bijoor.

The sneaker craze in India, though, is largely driven by the Indian community of sneakerheads, who track latest launches and treat sneaker-buying as an investment. Would Sneakerhood appeal to such connoisseurs?

Sneakerheads and the art of buying sneakers in India

At the moment, sneaker enthusiasts are sceptical about Ajio’s offering. “Most of us either shop from Myntra [owned by Walmart], directly from the brand’s website, or from curated stores such as VegNonVeg or SuperKicks,” says Aditya Bhalla, a New Delhi-based sneaker collector. Other websites such as Tata Cliq, also offer luxury brands.

Such sneaker collectors are also worried about counterfeit products, a common problem with e-commerce in India. Ajio, though, says that it aims to combat this issue with strict verification processes and direct tie-ups with brands.

But the brands currently on Sneakerhood are themselves not what sneaker geeks consider “with it.”

“There are certain brands there that mainstream sneakerheads don’t really mess with like Skechers or Steve Madden. Brands like those are known to have stolen designs from Nike/Adidas/Puma and have been sued several times,” says Shaun Das, a sneakerhead and blogger based in Delhi. “Some of the stuff they are calling ‘new drops’ aren’t really new. Like that Ozweego (an Adidas sneaker), for example, is from last year. Most sneakerheads are up to date with what’s new or coming out, so putting old releases there isn’t really a good look,” Das adds.

So while it looks like sneakerheads would largely stick to curated, boutique stores, what could work in Ajio’s favour is the discounts. “I only really see myself using Ajio if they are offering more discounts than the brand websites,” Das says.

Discounts are right up the alley for Reliance, Ajio’s parent company. Whether it is telecom or groceries, Reliance has captured significant market shares by offering deep discounts, often forcing other competitors to play by its rules. This strategy, for instance, has helped Reliance Jio win over 50% of India’s telecom users in just about four years since its launch.