How we see each other and ourselves influences many aspects of our life. It affects our image, identity, emotions, and relationships, to name a few. Some consider themselves above materialistic tendencies, but many of us are awed by status and money, especially through our possessions. In a mass of people, we want to stand out and simultaneously fit in. It is in this dichotomy that ‘hype culture’ thrives. “We are built like this: to want to fit in”, Vedant Lamba says, the founder of Mainstreet Marketplace, a hype culture resale store in India that makes limited-edition high-end sneakers and apparel available to the public. Hype culture is the procurement of the exclusive– it is the want for the “next best thing”. A brand sells a limited amount of a product due to which they get sold out extremely fast and are resold at a higher price by other resellers. It also consists of collaborations, such as the basketball player Michael Jordan’s collaboration with Nike that resulted in Air Jordan, that are basketball shoes and clothing. The hype lies in wanting this limited product, that can be sneakers, hoodies, t-shirts, bags, mostly streetwear, that is casual clothing worn by followers of popular culture. Hype relies on the niche status of being a rival product, that is, a product that everyone wants but only a few can get – and it links back to conspicuous consumption, that is, consumers’ spending on exorbitant goods because of their high prices and not despite it.
“It’s not supposed to be”, Mr. Lamba says, when asked whether hype products are meant to be accessible. On his store, Mainstreet Marketplace, most of the sneakers, such as Jordans, sell for upwards of 15,000 rupees. Some of the products even go up to lakhs. So there is a fiscal divide, where only those who have a considerable amount of money and are willing to spend it on sneakers or other hype products are able to access it.
Mr. Lamba mentions the risk factor of hype and how it is perceived as an investment. “It’s just like gold and property”, he states, and he believes that is why his business model has worked in India — because it mirrors the risk and investment of other desirable products.. Moreover, Mainstreet runs on reselling sneakers that are meant for exercise or casual walking. Since these sneakers are inherently meant for use and utility, they also suffer wear and tear. So it can either be used and worn down every day or be maintained with the utmost care, in the way one would treat a gold necklace. So hype products are not only exclusionary but also require a lot of effort to maintain. That is, only if one actually cares whether their 60,000 rupee sneaker gets dirt on it — which it probably inevitably will.
This is not a criticism of hype culture, but rather a component of it, since it relies on being exclusionary so that the hype or the obsession increases. Its accessibility is curbed so that the brand value will increase, and more people will vie for the same thing. When asked whether hype culture is turning into a luxury product, Mr. Lamba says, “Luxury is staying luxury. Luxury’s purpose is different, it’s produced with a different intent”. Yes, both are expensive, but hype feeds on the adrenaline that one gets in that clock down to get what very few others have. One cannot blame the culture for the privileged people that sustain it, because it is those people with money and the need for the “next best thing” that let hype culture survive.
Apart from access and finances, Mr. Lamba believes that identity is a key component of Hype Culture. Clothing has always been a way for some to express themselves. Whether it is one’s gender, sexuality, economic bracket or identity. Sneakers, and hype culture, work in much of the same way. “You want what other people have. It’s about identity.”, Mr. Lamba says, when asked why he thinks people are willing to pay such an exorbitant amount on a pair of shoes. They can walk around in their sneakers, and people would be able to recognise their status through their shoes, and their identity is thus defined. So, money ties into status and identity, and they are interdependent, perpetuating one another. Your money depends on your identity and status (and vice-versa), which then propagates into hype products. With an incredulous laugh, Mr. Lamba exclaims, “An eight-year-old bought a four and a half lakh hoodie off of us!”. The obvious question would be, who is giving this child so much money? Are the parents so hyped at the prospect of their child owning an insanely expensive – but rare – hoodie? However, there is also the aspect of identity that comes into play here. Do the parents or the child feel the need to define their identity through this product? Hype culture may be about identity, but not everyone can define their identity through hype. Is identity a product that one has to now be able to afford?
To one who is removed from this culture, or cannot afford to be a part of this culture, all of these questions may seem inane and inconsequential. Perhaps, that is what hype culture is. It is a culture that is purely a business rather than an inclusive and thriving community, especially in India. Vedant Lamba has taken this culture by storm and has produced a profitable business out of it. Start-ups that have emerged due to hype culture in India are possibly one of the only propitious futures for this culture. Yes, it is about identity, status, and exclusivity, which makes it a profitable business, but not necessarily a prosperous culture.
Shree Bhattacharyya is a student of English literature and Media Studies at Ashoka University.
Picture Credits: Sneaker News
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