Did you know that women are buying as many sneakers as men? In fact, there is not much of a gender divide in designs too. “Men love to wear pieces from the women’s section and vice versa,” says Param Minhas, co- founder and CEO at SoleSearch, a sneaker marketplace. Minhas also says that the sneaker craze is not exclusive to Tier 1 cities. The sale of sneakers beyond the metros is just as much and sometimes more.
The age group of buyers according to Minhas ranges from those who have a lot of pocket money to those who have enough disposable income. The common factor between the age groups which starts from 15 and goes up to 40 is the fact that they are all 'sneakerheads'. The average ticket size for sneaker purchase in India is presently between Rs 15,000 and Rs 20,000 a pair.
Sneaker culture in India is at an all-time high. As per Statista, the revenue in the sneakers segment amounts to US$2.46bn in 2022 and the market is expected to grow annually by 8.93% (CAGR 2022-2027).
In an exclusive interview with Storyboard18, Minhas talks about the growing sneaker culture in India, their sneaker festival SneakinOut, the business in India and more.
How did all the "sole" searching start and when did SoleSearch come into being?
My business partner and I are both sneaker heads so even before starting as an Instagram page, we were always on the lookout for good quality sneakers that were unfortunately not available in India. We had our eyes on pieces that were available only in the US or Canada back then. We were dependent on friends or cousins who lived there or travelled to those places to get us the sneakers we wanted. Two years back we wanted some new Jordans and we started doing a little bit of research. What we found out was there were only like a handful of Instagram pages where you can buy these sneakers and they’d get sold out very fast. Not as fast as 30 seconds like it is now but soon enough. We had to follow 30-40 pages to find something our size. Sometimes we’d like something and not find the size and sometimes we’d get our size but not like the pages.
We knew we weren't the only people facing the issue so we started a page where we could aggregate all of this information on sneakers (size, designs, release dates etc) that were available on Instagram in a very haphazard manner. We wanted the page to be a one stop shop for sneaker information in India and that’s how SoleSearch started in June 2020.
How has the sneaker craze grown in India? Is this just a fad or is the whole sneaker culture here to stay?
It is anything but a fad. The sneaker culture has been around for a while and is becoming a lot more mainstream these days. Sneakers are sort of a social currency and are a part of one's self-expression. Finding a rare pair is also a part of the craze. While retail sales of sneakers are also quite high, finding a pair that is not available in shops or at malls is something for which sneaker heads can to any extent.
The streetwear culture is also growing in India alongside the sneaker culture. Sneakers are sort of a conversation among sneaker heads. Ye can look at a person and figure out what he or she is all about from the pair of sneakers they are wearing. It is all about expression in the world of sneakers. In fact, we met with a dating app company that wants to build a feature where they match people by the kind of sneakers they have.
Season 1 of SneakinOut saw a total event sales of Rs 40-50 lakh. Most expensive pair on display this season was the Dior X Air Jordan 1 High priced at about Rs 7 lakh. The maximum spending we saw so far this season from an individual was Rs3 lakh for 3 pairs of shoes.
Tell us about the sneaker festival you started. How different is SneakinOut season one and two?
SoleSearch had been in business for a little over a year and we had managed to have a lot of followers online. This is when SteppinOut approached us to understand our interest in a sneaker festival. At that point there was no sneaker festival in the country. Neither were there any standalone events or touring IPs. Some individual brands would do events but there wasn’t a single event where brands would come together. This is when SneakinOut started. The first season took off in October last year, and went on till April this year. So yeah, like I said, we started sneaking out last October and it sort of went on till April of this year. We went to eight cities with the festival. We were not following any schedule or plan. It was more of an ad hoc plan. 6000 to 7000 people visited the festival in the eight cities. We had hip hop artists and a lot of local talents and groups who were part of the festival. There was Gully Gang, there was MC Altaf and many more.
The response was great and we realized what the potential of this industry in the country is. Based on this understanding we launched our marketplace. The marketplace was always in the works but the response we got from the event pushed us to do it sooner.
Then competition came into the picture. They also started doing these events. A lot of it was modeled after what we had done, but I guess those are sort of the things that come with having the first mover advantage. So we decided to turn up the heat multiple notches for SneakinOut 2.0 which is the current season. We planned a nine city tour, we brought in sponsors and SoleSearch and SteppinOut in association with Royal Enfield was an instant hit.
SneakinOut Season 1 - Chandigarh, organized by SoleSearch India
What is the expected growth in revenue? What are the channels of revenue other than sales?
From season 1 to season 2 we’ve seen an overall 2-3X increase in revenue across event sales, stall sales and ticket sales each. There 3 channels of revenue for our events are stall sales, ticket sales and sponsorship.
Talking of sales, what was the total sale revenue last season? What is the most expensive pair on display this time around? What is the maximum spending you’ve seen so far this season?
Overall, season 1 saw a total event sales of Rs 40-50 lakh. Most expensive pair on display this season was the Dior X Air Jordan 1 High priced at about Rs 7 lakh. The maximum spending we saw so far this season from an individual was Rs3 lakh for 3 pairs of shoes.
The Indian sneakers and streetwear industry are estimated to be at over $3 billion in market value and growing at 12-15 percent YoY
An event like this is a crowd puller especially the millennials and genZ- brands love opportunities like this. What is your experience? What brands other than Royal Enfield collaborated with you and can you describe the nature of collaboration with Royal Enfield?
Close to 85 percent of our event patrons and visitors are millennials and gen Z. Having said that, we’ve had a good number of children visiting the events with their parents and older adults as well who are sneakerheads themselves. For the SneakinOut tour, besides Royal Enfield, we also have on-board Casa Bacardi, Budweiser, Jimmy’s Cocktails and Experience Entertainment who are also associate sponsors and partners.
Royal Enfield is the title and powered by partners this year for SneakinOut. The brand saw what we’ve built, the potential in the IP and its connection to young people across India today. For the same reason they also decided to launch their new street-focused motorcycle Hunter 350, for the first time in India with our IP. As value adds to this fantastic relationship, we also decided to bring in street focused collaborations with them. We worked with Santanu Hazarika, one of the most popular young artists in India today to customize 5 1 helmets for the Hunter 350 range. We also worked with 10 of the top
Indian sneaker customizers to customize and create 10 Royal Enfield Boots for Hunter 350 range as well. All of these pieces have been showcased in different capacities throughout the tour.
What is the future of the business? What are the biggest trends to look out for? What are the top three priority areas for your company this fiscal?
The future of the business is looking good! The Indian sneakers and streetwear industry are estimated to be at over $3 billion in market value and growing at 12-15 percent YoY and we want a significant part of the pie. As this market and its audience is maturing, some of the biggest trends to look out for would be the rise of Indian streetwear labels, real-time availability and awareness of international labels and their collections, omni-channel presence of marketplaces and always on customer support and experience. For us as SoleSearch the top 3 priority areas this year will be scaling our presence all around, building strategic partnerships brands and introducing new products and services in the market.