‘Why I am a sneakerhead’
There’s a void only a shoe can fill, say Atul Sharma, who’s spent lakhs on his sneaker collection over the past 15 years.Updated: Sep 18, 2020, 19:19 IST
It’s a compulsion I can’t quite explain, says Atul Sharma, a software engineer in Delhi. But hang on, he can.
“Somewhere in me, there is a void only a shoe can fill,” he says. The 40-year-old owns 150 pairs of sneakers (and another 40 pairs of leather shoes). Over 15 years, he’s spent lakhs on this collection. One room in his rented 3BHK in Noida is dedicated to these soles.
Around the world, sneakerheads — people who spend lakhs on limited-edition sneakers that they may not ever wear — now exist in such large numbers that companies are making larger and larger batches of limited-edition kicks just to cater to them. A prime example is the Adidas Yeezy Boost series designed in collaboration with rapper Kanye West; new versions have been released every year since 2015. In India, prices for these start at Rs 20,000.
Sneakerhead-edness is the triumph of want over need. But where does that come from? And why kicks?
Going back to that void that only a shoe can fill, Sharma talks about how, as a young man growing up in Meerut, he dreamed of someday making it. And the people around him who had made it invariably had really good shoes.
“If someone was wearing a nice pair of shoes that would always catch my attention. I wanted to be on the other side of that,” he says. This feeling intensified when work took him to New York State in 2006.
“It’s exactly like the stock market, value based on perception. And when you have the right shoes, you feel like you belong,” Sharma says.
That feeling led Sharma to set up Instagram page Sneaker Talk India, and a meet-up called Delhi Kicks Xchange in 2017, both platforms on which sneakerheads meet, flaunt their shoes and sometimes swap. Sharma says he would never swap; his shoes mean too much to him, he says, are too much a part of his identity, to just hand over.
“And when something becomes part of your identity, how do you stop? That’s why no collector ever arrives at the point where their collection is complete. When people tell me I’m obsessed, I tell them I’ve gone from buying 25 pairs a year to 11 so I’m definitely slowing down.”
It’s affected his savings and even caused credit-card debt, Sharma admits. But now he well and truly is on the other side of the divide. He’s worked to become one of the haves. The soles have given him such confidence that when Sharma’s boss asked him, a few years ago, to wear leather shoes to a meeting, he refused. “‘This is me’ I told him.”