Vedant Lamba, a streetwear and sneaker retailer based in the Indian city of Mumbai, was 17 when he bought his first pair of limited edition shoes – the infamous Adidas NMDs – for £ 120 using his pocket money .
“I wore them and felt like god,” Lamba, now 22 and founder of streetwear store Mainstreet Marketplace, told VICE. “When I found out that these shoes were sold out everywhere, I searched on Google if they were available. [outside official stores]. It was then that I learned the resale value of shoes.
The sneaker resale industry, which is basically buying limited edition shoes (a practice known as “copping”) at retail and then reselling them at a higher price, is expected to achieve a valuation global value of $ 30 billion by 2030.
India is the world’s second largest consumer of footwear. Here, the idea of buying shoes for collectors or for investment purposes, rather than just pragmatic shoes, is only taking off.
“Indians love status displays, like gold or property,” Lamba said. “Shoes are the same.”
One of the first on the scene, he attributed the growth of the Indian dealer industry to a subculture based on flexibility and exclusivity. For a country that enjoys its displays of wealth, status and power – Indians even travel to show off – the “hyped” sneaker collection culture finds a natural home, despite a cultural chasm.
“The Indian sneaker scene is very celebrity-driven,” Likhit Sreenivas, a 17-year-old college student who started his sneaker resale and exchange business at the age of 13, told VICE. “For example, people paid up to Rs 800,000 ($ 10,000) [after seeing Bollywood celebrities wear] the Air Jordan Dior, although most buyers did not know anything about Jordan, but because of the name Dior.
Sneakers like Nike Air Jordan or Adidas Yeezy are often marketed through “drops”, where a limited number of pairs are only available at retail for a short period of time. Often, resellers have access to exclusive kicks at retail price using “plugs” – connections with people working in official Nike or Adidas stores in countries like the United States or Dubai. Others rely on friends and family who come from countries that have inventory available at retail prices to avoid paying tariffs.
“Ninety percent of [limited edition] The sneaker versions are now available in India, but not for the general public, ”Anchit Kapil, 34, co-founder of hypewear clothing retailer CrepDog Crew, told VICE. Kapil explained that this is because resellers often make direct contact with retailers, which is usually not possible for an ordinary buyer. “The real probability that an end user will obtain a [limited edition] shoe is like 0.1%, even if you spend two days in a queue or five hours in front of your computer.
To increase their chances of getting into that 0.1%, new kids strategically invest in systems like bots, an automated and often controversial tool that alerts them and increases their chances of branding shoes at retail.
These robots automate the checkout process, recording the user’s shoe preferences, size, and credit card payment information. This way, users can speed up the checkout process right out of a sneaker.
“I had to buy Nike robots for my business,” admitted Ishan Chauhan, an 18-year-old reseller from Delhi who started an Instagram business called Kicks4Value. “They don’t guarantee the shoes, but increase your chances.”
Many smaller dealers who are just starting to get into the game also participate in regular raffles, where older dealers or sneakerheads host a bingo-style event and each participant buys a ticket for a fraction of the shoe’s sum. .
Take stock of the situation
Limited access to exclusive sneakers has in turn created a situation similar to the stock market, with shoes transcending fashion claims to become an asset for Gen Z.
“Each shoe is a stock, but the only difference is that once sold, they are consumed, and with each rotation, there is a depletion of the stock which [drives up] the rate very fast, ”Kapil said. “If 200 pairs are sold today, 180 could come back to market, but 10% is off the table. Stocks therefore fell and prices rose.
Although stock trading has itself become a side activity for young people, industry insiders have pointed out that the sneaker game, which relies heavily on its cultural aspects, is more accessible. Plus, in this case, you can actually wear and show off your stock.
The result of all this hype and the value it commands is that thousands of aspiring teenage dealers are trying to find their way into the game in the hopes of making their way onto the scene, although many don’t. are just learning the ropes.
“So many kids going into it clearly show that the market is very hot and everyone wants a part of it,” Kapil said. “They heard their friends make money out of it, so they want to get started too. But without experience, they are hit hard by reality and may find themselves in difficulty. “
While the sneaker resale industry has helped many young dealers make a name for themselves on the scene and even win big, it also has a dark side. The lack of access and information available to relatively new resellers makes the industry ripe for everything from counterfeits to Ponzi schemes.
Kabir Singh, a young reseller who started his business last year at the age of 17, has learned this the hard way.
Last October, the aspiring sneakerhead decided to create an exclusive members-only WhatsApp group called Grailed, where people paid a subscription of Rs 10,000 ($ 134) to take advantage of exclusive sneaker deals.
Through this group, Singh got closer to Sanchit Gupta, a 27-year-old dealer, and began to see him as a mentor. Months after starting the business, Singh, impressed with Gupta’s enviable sneaker collection, decided to allow her to use her cat to make drops, and even paid her a premium as a commission. Boasting insanely low and lucrative prices for limited edition pairs, Gupta was quickly able to establish a palpable presence on the scene.
“Initially, he was able to deliver the drops he promised, and that helped him build confidence,” Singh told VICE.
“But while I was preparing [for a school exam], Gupta bought back 10 million rupees ($ 134,000) from the chat participants for the shoes. However, most of them did not receive the shoes that were promised to them, ”he alleged.
According to Singh, Gupta not only ran away with the money, but also publicly accused Singh of scamming the buyers.
“He told everyone that I was responsible for what had happened, and people started threatening to hurt me if I didn’t pay him. [Gupta]”Singh said.” It got so bad that I couldn’t sleep at night. My parents had to get involved and give him Rs 1.5 million ($ 20,000) to stop [spreading lies]. “
Besides the financial blow, Singh is concerned that his name is now inextricably linked to a scam, putting his potential future in the industry at risk.
A 20-year-old New Delhi-based dealer who requested anonymity told VICE he was friends with Gupta and also paid him for his exclusive kicks. “A dealer told me he had Rs 650,000 ($ 8,738) stuck with Sanchit since 2019, which he has only recovered now,” he said. “So that means Sanchit used the money that I and other band members paid him, to pay off his old dues. I was so stressed that I couldn’t focus on my own resale business.
Gupta did not immediately respond to VICE’s request for comment.
Pretend until you do
Another common method of scamming young dealers is by using Instagram pages that sell fake versions of exclusive shoes, which many young people buy at lower prices for a net profit.
“A lot of young dealers who get into the game will get Instagram subscriptions or DMs from these pages trying to sell them fake shoes,” Prabal Baghla, 25, co-founder of the platform, told VICE. aggregation of Sole Search sneakers. He added that in some cases these shoes turn out to be “genuine unauthorized,” a term for export rejects, making them difficult to verify.
“I received a fake pair because I was on a budget, but luckily I was able to verify it before sending it to the customer, which [taught me the] the importance of verifying authenticity, ”Kavya Garg, an 18-year-old retailer who launched his Instagram business Mercury Kicks, told VICE in June.
For others, an oversaturated market threatens to cause losses, despite their deep interest in the industry.
“I got into this business because I love the hype around sneakers,” said Chauhan, who started selling sneakers at the age of 17. He bought a pair of Nike Jordan Lows for Rs 10,000 ($ 133), but because so many other dealers had stocked it too, demand was low and he couldn’t make a profit.
“My motivation is to grow my business right now, but I’m not sure if it will be more than a side activity,” Chauhan told VICE.
In fact, most young retailers feel that the volatility of the trendy sneaker industry does not give them a stable enough base for a secure future.
“I’ve never seen reselling as a sustainable business,” said Rishubh SV, a 20-year-old reseller from Bengaluru who runs Hypeblr. “I know the money is good, and it could be good even 5 to 10 years later. But I don’t see this going on forever. “
Older gamers are also concerned about how the entry of Gen Z might affect their business.
“A lot of these new kids coming in have taken money from their parents for the initial funding, and they’re freaking out. [when shoes don’t sell fast] and bring the prices down, bringing the whole market down, ”said Aryan Ahuja, a 19-year-old fashion student who has been a dealer for 5 years.
Kapil suggests getting into the business “if you have the money to support it,” which for many young people often results in parents willing to help them recover from any potential loss. Lamba also emphasizes knowing his ability to take risks and only take “as much risk as you can afford.”
Despite all the daunting challenges, India’s flourishing sneaker scene puts the country on the global map.
“For many of us, it’s more about community and culture than about money,” Baghla said. “When we entered this game the sneaker scene had a lot of control, but as more and more people get involved, access to sneakers for everyone is slowly opening up.”
Follow Shamani and Shubhanjana on Instagram.