Bhavisha Dave and Meenakshi Singh are streetwear lovers from the bottom of their hearts. Both have a strong background in the sector and pursued their dreams by opening a streetwear webstore, Capsul together. We talked with them about the streetwear culture in India, prejudices they face and what Indian Gen Z’s and millenials are crazy about.
Bhavisha: I am a former National Speed Skating Champion and was into street culture thanks to my skating. I’ve spent nine years at Puma across diverse markets like India, Turkey, Russia and Ukraine, during which I’ve worked with youth culture creators in all these markets and on a Russian sneaker collab for Puma Suede’s 50th year.
Meenakshi: I am a small town girl; brought up in Samastipur, Bihar, India. To me it’s a juxtaposition of ancient roots and modernity. Through Capsul, I’m exploring a connection to my cultural roots, inspired by streetwear stories and street culture, made relevant to a global audience. I spent four years as the creative head at Puma India followed by a three-year stint with the EEMEA regional team–getting exposed to not just European street culture but also emerging progressive cultures in Africa, Middle East and India. Bhavisha and I met at Puma in 2011 and have worked together for a decade! Both of us love streetwear, sneakers and what they represent. Streetwear for us is the intersection of culture, sports, music and fashion. Our past experience with Puma, in India and outside, exposed us to amazing projects with streetwear brands and culture leaders. Simultaneously we saw interesting youth collectives making their presence felt in India and hip-hop was on the rise. As marketers, we always worked with subcultures and love connecting with different tribes of people and how different tribes wear their affinities. We saw an opportunity to introduce streetwear brands to the Indian audience because we realized these brands have tribes here in India as well. And that’s how Capsul came about. (The following answers are from both)
You opened the webstore in 2017. Which brands did you start with? Which others have been added since then?
We incorporated our company Capsul Collective put. Ltd. in 2017 but the webstore as a platform offering multiple brands, styles and quantities only came about in March 2019. During the initial months, we had about eight brands, such as The Hundreds, Thrasher, Staple, Chinatown Market, Carrots, RIPnDIP and Reshoven8r. Since then we’ve expanded to reach about 20 brands including Stüssy, Daily Paper, Les Benjamins, Rastaclat, to name some. We have a mix of skate brands, art-inspired brands, brands that are at the intersection of art, music, action sports and design, and street luxe brands in our portfolio. Since all brands operate on drops, products we have are limited-edition and often include fun products like basketballs, sunglasses, hip flasks, blankets etc.
The biggest challenge so far has been setting up a proper process to bring products into India. It took us a few months to crack that especially since our volumes aren’t too huge. But we were able to set that up thanks to our background in retail and with the guidance of people from the industry.
Licenses are the other challenge we face. Quite a few drops and brands are not licensed to be sold in India and that’s a bummer. And the fact that not too many people in the VC/investment space understand what streetwear is, has been a challenge. What we’re trying to do is encourage people to buy well, wear even better and allow pieces to grow into vintage gems. We should add that these challenges make this journey exciting for us because we can only go onwards and upwards from here.
From a European point of view we hardly know anything about Indian streetwear culture. Can you tell us more about it?
The streetwear space is nascent in India. At this point in time, everyone involved is helping build the market. The streetwear landscape in India currently has Capsul, which is the only platform offering streetwear at retail prices, from brands that are credited with being the front runners of streetwear such as Stüssy, Carhartt, The Hundreds, Thrasher, to name some.
The landscape also includes VegNonVeg, India’s first sneaker boutique that also has its own branded streetwear drops and Superkicks. There are also amazing Indian labels with their take on streetwear and street luxe such as Space Biskit, Jaywalking, NorBlackNorWhite, Huemn and NoughtOne and bloggers like Bowties and Bones and Shivani Boruah. We’re also regularly seeing new brands popping up, inspired by Indian streets and Indian culture. And then there are over 50 resellers who curate hype brands and resell them to various communities, spread across India.
When was the growing momentum of streetwear in India?
Skateboarding was almost nonexistent in India until 2003. The first park came up in Goa in 2003 and by 2009 India had three skate parks. A Bangalore-based skate collective Holystoked and some of India’s earliest skateboarding pioneers like Gautam Kamat can be credited with spreading the stoke in the country.
Simultaneously Indian hip-hop burst on to the scene with rappers Divine and Naezy’s “Meri Gully Mein” (In my gully / street) in 2015. Prior to that hip-hop in India was an imitation of the American scene. But 2015 saw rappers releasing verses in their own languages, and over 20 languages at that and India’s hip-hop revolution truly began.
The first Yeezy drop came to India in August 2015. And with it the floodgates opened. The first sneaker store opened up in 2016 and Puma started bringing collab drops to India. 2018 saw India’s first street culture festivals. Sneaker Pimps, the world’s first ever sneaker festival came to India, in partnership with us (Capsul), sponsored by Puma in 2018. HG Street and Sole Edition were two other sneaker and streetwear festivals that took place in early 2018. 2015 to 2019 was clearly filled with many firsts!
The big sneaker brands realized the potential of the Indian market and started offering some of their popular drops through curated experiential events. Sole DXB, the premier fashion, lifestyle and sneaker festival in our region started seeing a lot of visitors from India. In October 2018, we collaborated with Beautiful Destinations and Air Canada to create the first hypecourt. In 2019 Budweiser India collaborated with us to launch their foray into streetwear through BudX. And finally, 2019 culminated in Mumbai hosting India’s first ever NBA game.
These are some of the pivotal moments in India’s street culture journey. At the same time, it is important to remember the contribution of OG hip-hop artists like Apache Indian, Baba Sehgal and the Noble Savages who created a uniquely Indian hip-hop sound. As well as the original sneaker collectors and sneakerheads who either went to college abroad or consumed a lot of American culture and have been collecting since the early 2000’s. They are considered sneaker historians from Indian shores. A seminal dance show called “Boogie Woogie” must also be credited with giving a platform to multiple generations of b-boys and b-girls.
An almost universal sense of style among Gen Z and millennials, the proliferation of Instagram and the gradual acceptance of comfortable, functional clothing, including tees, hoodies and cargos, as workwear have catalyzed the streetwear movement.
Sometimes we hear that India doesn’t have the buying power for streetwear and luxury. The truth is that India is a giant market. Even 10% of India translates to almost double the size of some European countries. Indian Gen Z and millennials are as up-to-date as their global counterparts when it comes to fashion and music and aspire to lead and showcase that lifestyle. And this audience is thirsty to show their influence. Not all Indians wear traditional clothes and people all over the country do their best to be dressed to the nines. While India is very colorful, there might be some idea that things put together maybe a riot of color or “kitsch.” The truth is that there is no homogenous India. Tastes, food, habits change every 100 kilometers! Sometimes, brands we stock are stunned that people in India even know of them.