Streetwear India: State of the Culture

Streetwear India: State of the Culture

Moving back to India from the United States, I wondered what the streetwear game would look like here, in India. I really only picked up the streetwear game when I moved to America for University, and in my five years of living there, I become pretty obsessed with its uniqueness and its outlet for self-expression. However, were there others in India that cared for streetwear the way I did?

Streetwear culture in this discussion is the culture that started with its roots in Californian surf and skate culture. However, it soon outgrew its roots as it picked up different elements from various subcultures that embraced them such as sportswear, hip-hop, punk, Japanese street fashion, and modern-day Haute culture. The general consensus is that streetwear is more than just clothes-it is about being part of a community that believes in a certain lifestyle. It is a representation of people’s feelings, what they listen to, what they eat, and what they spend their money on. It is through this lens that I aim to view the streetwear culture in India and its current state.

Table of Contents:

Hip-Hop Influence

It seems to me that most people in India have found streetwear through the influence of Hip-hop. The growing subculture of Hip-hop is slowly finding itself into mainstream music. I was pleasantly surprised to come back to find that most of my friends from high-school were listening to Hip-hop. Many nightclubs, now, have a designated Hip-hop night, and even in clubs primarily playing Bollywood music, play the occasional song from Drake, Kendrick, and the Migos. Hip-hop from America is still largely underground. Indian artists such as Baadshah and Honey Singh have managed to infuse Hip-Hop with elements of Punjabi and Indian instrumentals, creating a new wave of music - Desi Hip-Hop. Desi Hip-hop in the form of Punjabi rap and Hindi rap have slowly made their way into mainstream Bollywood. I, personally, think one of the main reasons for this has been the mentality of the youth. India is largely a young country, and its youth appears to be angry. The anger stems from the suppression of ideas and expression, by the older conservative generations who are still in charge. There is a growing sense of people who no longer want to be restricted by what their uncles have to say. Punjabi and Hindi rap has connected with the youth because of how expressive it is. It talks about all of the things that have been historically taboo in the country-alcohol, partying, drugs, and sex. Young people are opening up, and becoming more expressive. As a result, fashion has been more expressive. More and more men have started wearing ripped jeans, colorful jackets, chains, and oversized clothes. This is great progress in a country where polo t-shirts were the norm.

Bollywood Influence

Bollywood has also traditionally taken a conservative approach towards content. Romantic comedies and action films have largely dominated the market. However, of late there has been a growing diversification of content because of its changing audience. The youth want something new, something representative of its generation and its emotions. This is why Zoya Akhtar’s new movie ‘Gully Boy’ starred by Ranveer Singh, comes at a great time. The trailer gave me goosebumps and within a few days already has millions of views. Its main soundtrack ‘Apna Time Ayega’, that translates to our time will come, is resonating with millions of young people all over the country. ‘Gully Boy’ is also the first movie in Bollywood that explores the country’s underground street rap culture. Based loosely on the lives of Divine and Naezy, the movie explores the journey of a young man in a ghetto in Bombay, who realizes his love to rap, chases his dream, and then inadvertently transcends his class. I believe this movie will really bring Hip-hop and its culture from its nascency to the forefront of the culture. The movie isn’t out, yet, its impact has been tremendous. This is not just giving a spotlight to a small cultural movement but it is a coming out party!

An equally big influence has been the acceptance of high-end luxury streetwear by Bollywood celebrities. Actors such as Diljit Dosanjh, Ranveer Singh, Ranbir Kapoor, Abhishek Bachchan, and Karan Johar have been pushing the boundaries of Indian fashion by introducing the audience to high-end streetwear pieces in shows and social media platforms. All of them have been seen in famous hype outfits and expressed their love for high street fashion. This has created a substantial talking point because of which there have been many adopters.

 

There is also a growing sneaker culture with celebrities such as Rannvijay Singha and Anuraag Kashyap opening up about their passion for sneakers. A new show started by Rannvijay explores the sneakerhead culture in India. According to their Rannvijay’s YouTube channel, Sneakerwars is a show that ‘pitches Sneakerheads against each other in a winner takes all sneaker battle.’ Personally, the format of having a Sneaker War feels counterintuitive. I would rather have these sneakerheads talk about why these shoes are special to them, and how they use those sneakers to represent themselves. However, it is progress. I personally don’t have a problem if anyone wears an item to feel better about themselves. However, I am concerned with the foundations of this movement. To question if such a foundation can withstand the test of time.

Another YouTube show called Mainstreet does a great job at interviewing different sneakerheads across the country. They go really deep with their questioning to really understand what the guests’ sneaker collections really mean to them. That kind of show is personally satisfying because it showcases one’s passion for something. Ain’t that beautiful?

Top Streetwear Influencers

Bollywood celebrities aren’t the only people that are influencing the culture. There are a few individuals that have become the go-to people for the culture. The first name that comes to mind is Allen Claudius, who creates content specifically for the Indian streetwear culture. His blog ‘Bowties and Bones’ is an amazing resource for streetwear styles, tips, and news on the streetwear culture. His passion and authenticity are evident in his writings, and I find myself regularly visiting his content to keep up with streetwear news in the country.

Another person that I have been following has been named ‘India’s largest Hypebeast’ by Highsnobiety. Having risen to prominence through his Instagram platform, Keshav has been inspiring people all over the world with his tasteful pictures of luxury streetwear. Although I personally am not a Hypebeast, I do like some of his content. My reason is that his content is more about the clothes and lifestyle than it is about himself.

 

Indian Streetwear Brands

Indian streetwear brands have been a source of excitement for me. I didn’t know most of them till I moved back but some of my favorites have been Haul Apparel, Strey, Haut De Gamme, and VegNonVeg.

Haul apparel is great because they create designs that fuse western and Indian elements of street culture to create a tasteful blend of unique products. They remain street while being desi. I also like that they try their best to make their items affordable for everyone, which is something I respect and admire about their brand.

Strey is passionate about keeping stray animals in Mumbai safe and healthy. They do this by giving a percentage of their profits to animal welfare centers around Mumbai. In particular, their clothes and designs follow their vision of a ‘CounterCulture’ along with quirky designs of stray animals in the form of cartoon empowerment. Their sense of culture and pride in what they do is what drew me to their brand.

Haut De Gamme has cool unique graphic t-shirts and quotes inspired by Indian and Western street cultures alike. Their hand-painted products are also very cool. 

VegNonVeg is a multibrand sneaker store that sells all the big brand sneaker shoes such as Nike, Vans, Adidas, New Balance, and Reebok to name a few.

There are other streetwear brands out there that deserve mention. They are Delhiwear, NorBlackNorWhite, and Almost Gods. I really like what the current crop of streetwear brands are doing because they are focusing on creating subcultures around their brands. This creates authentic, creative content that one resonates with.

The Future

I truly believe that this is an extremely exciting time for the streetwear culture in the country. Streetwear is going to play a massive role in providing creative and cultural context as the young Indian becomes more informed. The informed Indian will then become more selective with products that they want to engage with. As a result, subcultures will become more dominant and brands that do not prepare for the existence of subcultures will have to pivot or forced to die. Our time will come. Apna Time Ayega.

Rohan Agarwal

6th February, 2019


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