Mandeep Chopra© HelloIndia

Dissecting The Evolution Of Sneaker Culture In India

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Ananya Shankar

We step into a realm where sneakers aren’t just a fashion statement; they’re a cultural phenomenon, weaving tales of heritage, personal journeys and the ever-changing landscape of style in modern India. And what once raised eyebrows a mere five years ago, is a billion-dollar juggernaut today — with Indians leading the charge.

Mandeep Chopra, scion of a Singapore-based legacy sporting goods business and the brains behind Limited Edt’s Indian venture, delves into his pivotal role in sculpting the dynamic sneaker scene, globally. Enter Bhavisha Dave, co-founder of Capsul and a seasoned sneaker enthusiast, brings a unique perspective, having navigated the landscape as a woman in what was once known to be a male-dominated domain.

As we explore their personal collections, from cherished classics to the latest drops, we uncover the evolving definition of luxury in the sneaker world. From coveted collaborations to sustainability concerns in 2024, Mandeep and Bhavisha offer a glimpse into the delicate balance between passion, fashion and responsible consumption. Lace up and embark on a journey from sole to soul with HELLO!

Mandeep Chopra

Personal Sneaker Count: 20-30 Pairs

HELLO!: Mandeep, tell us about your earliest memory involving a pair of sneakers.

Mandeep Chopra: “Since I was born into a family with a business in sporting goods I was exposed to it at a very early age. I played sports so it was amazing to wear the shoes that my favourite stars were wearing; so when we talk about these retro sneakers, I grew up with them. It’s very close to my heart.”

Mandeep Chopra©$credits

H!: Walk us through your personal collection. How do you grow and curate it?

Mandeep Chopra: “I don’t have a formula about how I curate it, it’s just things that hold special meaning for me. I have so many favourites, but I really like Dunk SBs and wear a lot of Ultraboost too. I have too many shoes, but I don’t have a collection that I keep in pristine condition. I just wear them around. Of course, we have a vault for our extensive range of archival pieces but that’s not mine personally.”

H!: How do you think sneakers have become the new luxe items?

Mandeep Chopra: “Do you have a brand you covet? Even luxury brands collaborate with sneakers today — youth culture is so important that everyone wants a piece of it. I love all the heritage brands I grew up with but some brands like New Balance are doing an amazing job. One thing about this industry is that things can change so fast — like the Adidas Samba trend! It caught me by surprise.”

H!: How would you define your personal style? How do you style sneakers for a formal occasion or with ethnic wear?

Mandeep Chopra: “When I was younger, I would wear soccer jerseys and matching sneakers — which is funnily in trend right now! Even luxury brands are doing soccer jersey inspired products… I hope to bring this to the Indian market — elevated streetwear, apparel, toys, books, speakers — a lifestyle store. We’re starting with Limited Edt but over time we aim to do more. My style now is more mature and fashion-driven.”

H!: Speaking of which, congratulations on the launch of Limited Edt in India! Take us through your journey.

Mandeep Chopra: “Thanks, I hope it all goes well (smiles). In my family, I’m the third generation in the sporting goods business, which was started by my grandfather in 1949 when he moved from India to Singapore. I started working in the business in 2000. I saw the potential of a sneaker boutique owing to my travels, seeing all these cool stores and of course, at our own store that had a lifestyle element. We were probably the first in Southeast Asia.”

H!: You’re an integral part of the sneaker culture in Singapore, but how do you see it evolve in India and envision your role in the same?

Mandeep Chopra: “Today, everyone has their smartphones, so the younger generation is quite knowledgeable. It all feels very exciting, almost like it did when I was starting out in Singapore. We’re going to build that community and considering how important India is in the trend-scape globally, there should be more options than there are right now. The local stores are doing a great job but there’s so much potential — I hope we can be the catalyst to nudge the brands to look at India as an important market.”

H!: Sneakerheads are often chasing the latest drop — but in light of overconsumption and sustainability in 2024, how does one strike a balance?

Mandeep Chopra: “There’s no escaping wastage, no matter how much I claim otherwise. But if everyone needs to do their part — and we do too — be it our donation drives, the neighbourhood cleanup. Even just donating your shoes after you use them! What makes me optimistic is that I see the new generation making it a part of their lifestyle. I think brands also realise that and the ones that don’t make it a part of their ethos will not attract the consumers.”

H!: For aspiring sneakerheads, what advice would you give them in terms of navigating the somewhat competitive world of sneaker collecting in India?

Mandeep Chopra: “My cousin’s husband recently asked me what he should get — I said, get what means something to you and learn the history behind it. Not just because it has a high price tag. Unfortunately, this overshadows a lot of things for today’s customers. I hope we can play a role in storytelling and educating people so they know the significance behind certain shoes — lend our years of experience to add to the Indian market.”

H!: As the co-founder of India’s first multi- brand streetwear store, what is your take on the sneaker culture in India?

Mandeep Chopra: “In 2017, hype culture took off with the release of the Adidas Yeezy Boost 700 at Khar Social in Mumbai. Since it was sold out in other parts of Asia, there were even people from Thailand standing in line. I wasn’t in the country then, but the stories I heard were so interesting — It was a raffle system so people thought they would win the shoe — they didn’t know that it was just to get a chance to buy it! Today, there are more than 500 sneaker resellers — It’s a big shift.”

H!: It’s lovely seeing women thrive in what used to be a mostly male-dominated industry. Did you face any challenges along the way?

Mandeep Chopra: “Capsul is a streetwear brand and that by nature is gender-agnostic. Yes, category wise it is technically menswear, but 25-30% of our customers are women, who shop from this curation. But we are seeing a very fascinating trend — a lot of streetwear brands have lines for women (smaller sizing with slightly different silhouettes), though we see men buying them! And I’ve worked with so many female designers in the sneaker industry both in India and abroad. I must give credit to the fashion journalists and the media for ensuring that they regularly cover ‘female’ sneakerheads as well. One pet peeve many women have is sneakers not being available in their size, but I think that’s changing now.”

Bhavisha Dave

Personal Sneaker Count: 80-90 Pairs

H!: Bhavisha, when did your love for sneakers begin?

Bhavisha Dave: “I’ve always been fond of sneakers because I was a sportsperson when I was younger — I played basketball and did speed skating. When I used to go for my skating championships I had to have Adidas Tearaway track pants, socks, floaters and a bucket hat — that was my look. Even when I was in junior college, I wore the Adidas Gazelle and I called them the Jamiroquai shoes! I was a part of that hip-hop culture. When I was doing my MBA and everyone would talk about their dream jobs, mine wasn’t sports marketing for a big sneaker brand, though I was lucky enough to land a job at Puma. Life came full circle. From there I moved on to set up my streetwear brand, Capsul.”

Meenakshi Singh and Bhavisha Dave©HelloIndia

H!: Given your love for sneakers, are you into the streetwear aesthetic in general?

Bhavisha Dave: “I always have. Comfort is the first element of style for me. If I’m comfortable and able to look different from everybody else, it adds to my confidence. If I have to go to a wedding and wear a saree, I’ll wear it with a top or jewellery from our store; or even with leggings and sneakers. We live in a very great time if someone can wear sneakers to the US presidential inauguration!”

H!: Sneakerheads are often chasing the latest drop — but in light of overconsumption and sustainability in 2024, take us through your personal collection.

Bhavisha Dave: “I haven’t bought a pair consciously for the past year, because looking at my sneaker wall made me realise that I have too many. So I decided that until I wear everything, I won’t buy anything new. But my collection would be very different from everybody else’s — It’s possible that I’m the only one in the country with many of the pairs I own. By virtue of working at Puma, I have all these underground shoes of emerging designers from various countries. I’ve given quite a few away though, only holding on to the ones that hold a lot of meaning for me. A lot of collectors start off wanting every pair, but after a while they realise which shoes really matter. True sneakerheads enjoy the hunt, tracking someone across geographies, making a connection and negotiating. Earlier, people would even take a flight to find the right sneaker!”

H!: How do you think sneakers have become the new luxe items? Do you have a brand you covet?

Bhavisha Dave: “This is well documented with the rise of hip-hop and NBA. It’s the intersection of fashion, sports and celebrities. Athletes have a sense of style and Micheal Jordan was the quintessential one! Rap culture and social media have also played a huge role. Today, even Indians want to dress like Travis Scott, A$AP Rocky and Kanye West and behemoths like Nike understand that and collaborate with them, making sneakers a coveted luxury item. There’s also the entire sneaker reselling market. I don’t focus on the brand though, rather the story that the sneaker stands for.”

This interview is from HELLO! India’s January 2024 issue. Check out the latest issue right here.