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HomeAfrica, Australia & NZAir Jordan, it's impact on the 1980s 1990s South Asian 'Desi' Community

Air Jordan, it’s impact on the 1980s 1990s South Asian ‘Desi’ Community

Dr.Tausif Malik

After watching the compelling Air movie trailer, I couldn’t help but feel inspired to reflect on the profound impact of Air Jordan sneakers on sneaker culture and fashion during my upbringing in the 1990s. The trailer not only enticed me to watch the film but also sparked a series of thoughts and contemplations about the enduring legacy of Air Jordans.

Official trailer

The impact of Nike’s Air Jordan brand on global fashion and youth culture is undeniable. Growing up as a teenager in India during the 1990s, I witnessed a significant change in the country’s fashion landscape, largely influenced by the rise of consumerism and the introduction of cable TV. However, it was the arrival of Nike Air Jordan shoes that truly revolutionized fashion in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, and Nepal connecting South Asian youngsters to global trends like never before. In this article, we delve into the transformative impact of Air Jordan on South Asian youth culture and speak with individuals who grew up during the 1990s in different parts of the world.

Limited Access to Global Fashion
In the 1990s, access to global fashion was limited. Only the elite, who frequently traveled abroad or had relatives living overseas, had the privilege of showcasing novel fashion items. However, with the launch of Nike Air Jordan shoes, the doors to global fashion swung open. The sneakers became a coveted item, symbolizing status and embracing the cultural zeitgeist of the time.

Akash, UK “I immigrated to the UK as a Kid, growing up in the 1990s was so much fun, Bhangra, Fashion, and Sneakers, I was lucky to be in the UK, but the cost of these shoes was very high, I bought them after saving for a couple of months”.

Azmat, Canada “I immigrated in my tweens to Canada, but I was lucky that my Khala (maternal aunt) sent me Air Jordans as a gift for my 18th birthday, many of my friends were in awe of this, and I became an instant celebrity.”

Harpreet, USA, “I was growing up in Delhi, we had access to fashion and stuff, we had Connaught Place, but there were many who didn’t have this opportunity to get hands-on latest fashion when compared to today’s teenagers.”

The Air Jordan Frenzy
I vividly recall an episode of NDTV’s News Week program on Doordarshan that showcased the craze surrounding Air Jordan sneakers. People were shown lining up for hours, eagerly awaiting the opportunity to purchase a pair. Sadly, this immense demand sometimes led to chaotic situations, with reports of people being attacked or even losing their lives in pursuit of these coveted shoes. This frenzy highlighted the impact Air Jordan had on global fashion but also exposed the lengths people were willing to go to possess this iconic symbol.

Raj (USA) “I still remember as 9 years old kid from Chicago, I accompanied my elder brother and cousins to the Nike store, waiting in line to buy these priceless sneakers, we could only buy two, the crowd was crazy.”

Talat (USA) “I was eagerly waiting for my Dad to come from Chicago to Dhaka, I couldn’t sleep, when my dad reached our home, I just wanted him to give me my Air Jordans. I couldn’t sleep for a few days.”

Byju (UAE) “It was great to be raised in Dubai, we had the best of everything, I got my Air Jordan from a store in Al Ghurair Mall, we also bought Thomsun Audio cassettes, we had American Sitcom ‘Charles in Charge’ Charles wore a lot of Nike’s.”

Globalization of South Asian Youth
Air Jordan’s influence extended beyond fashion; it played a pivotal role in globalizing South Asian youngsters and introducing them to hip-hop culture, MTV, and broader youth trends. Through interviews with South Asians residing in the USA, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Gulf countries, we gain insights into their experiences growing up during the 1990s and how Air

Jordan shaped their perspectives.

Aditi, Australia “My elder brother used to breakdance, I started copying him, started hip-hop, and got involved in DJ’ing…This led me to understand technology…it gave a direction to pursue my education and career in IT.”

Rehana, USA “I love my Sneakers, my cousins and siblings were into sports and I learned about sneakers, Nike, and Micheal Jordan from them, but I like Magic Johnson.”

Chandra, Kuwait “We used to live in Kuwait, the Gulf war had jus happened, we had moved to India on the stopover at Dubai, my parents bought me Nike Air Jordan, It was kind of consolation, I was leaving all my friends in Kuwait, I miss my friends, we used to do breakdance together.”

Embracing Hip Hop and Fashion
Air Jordan not only transformed footwear but also acted as a gateway to embracing hip-hop and streetwear culture. The shoes became synonymous with the genre, embodying the spirit of individuality, rebellion, and self-expression. South Asian youngsters adopted these cultural elements, using fashion and music to connect with a global community that shared their passion for hip-hop and all its facets.

Hip-hop has profoundly impacted the South Asian diaspora in the UK, Canada, USA, Australia, and New Zealand, shaping their cultural identity and providing a platform for artistic expression. In these countries, South Asian artists have embraced hip-hop as a means to explore their unique experiences and challenges, blending elements of their heritage with the genre’s beats and lyrics. The fusion of South Asian influences with hip-hop has given rise to a new wave of music, creating a dynamic and diverse sound that resonates with both South Asian and mainstream audiences. Beyond music, hip-hop has fostered a sense of community and empowerment, providing a voice for South Asian youth to address social issues, challenge stereotypes, and celebrate their cultural heritage. The South Asian diaspora’s embrace of hip-hop has not only influenced their local communities but has also contributed to the global hip-hop movement, showcasing the richness and diversity of South Asian culture to the world.

South Asian diaspora has witnessed the emergence of several notable celebrities who sported Air Jordan shoes, further fueling the popularity of the brand within the community. Here are a few examples of influential figures from the South Asian diaspora who embraced Air Jordans during that era:

Hasan Minhaj (USA): The renowned comedian, writer, and television host, Hasan Minhaj, known for his critically acclaimed show “Patriot Act,” has been spotted wearing various Air Jordan models. Minhaj’s style, combined with his witty humor, resonated with South Asian youth and contributed to Air Jordans becoming an aspirational fashion choice.

Riz Ahmed (UK): The talented British actor, rapper, and activist, Riz Ahmed, has been seen rocking Air Jordan sneakers on various occasions. Ahmed’s dynamic presence in both film and music, along with his outspoken views on social issues, made him a role model for the South Asian diaspora, influencing their fashion choices and embracing the Air Jordan brand.

Lilly Singh (Canada): As a popular YouTube personality, comedian, and late-night talk show host, Lilly Singh, known as “Superwoman,” has played a significant role in shaping South Asian representation in the media. Singh’s vibrant personality and fashion-forward approach have often been complemented by her Air Jordan kicks, showcasing their influence on her style and the South Asian diaspora’s fashion landscape.

Anoushka Shankar (US/UK/India): The internationally acclaimed sitar player and composer, Anoushka Shankar, has been a prominent figure in both classical and contemporary music. Shankar’s ability to blend traditional Indian sounds with modern influences is paralleled by her fashion choices, often incorporating Air Jordan sneakers, which reflect her connection to both her heritage and global youth culture.

Russell Peters (Canada): The Canadian stand-up comedian and actor, Russell Peters, known for his hilarious observations on cultural differences, has been seen sporting Air Jordans during his performances and public appearances.

Apache Indian (UK): As one of the pioneers of British Bhangra-Rap fusion, Apache Indian, known for his hits like “Boom Shack-A-Lak,” often sported Air Jordan sneakers as part of his stage attire. His unique blend of reggae, dancehall, and Punjabi influences, coupled with his stylish fashion choices, made him an iconic figure within the British Punjabi music scene.

Panjabi MC (UK): The renowned producer and DJ, Panjabi MC, gained international fame with his breakout hit “Mundian To Bach Ke.” Although he was primarily recognized for his musical talent, Panjabi MC also had a distinctive fashion sense and was occasionally spotted wearing Air Jordans during performances and public appearances.

The Sahotas (UK): The Sahotas, a British Punjabi band known for their energetic performances and fusion of traditional Punjabi music with rock and pop influences, were also associated with the 1990s British Punjabi rap scene. While their style varied, some members of the band were occasionally seen sporting Air Jordan sneakers, adding a touch of urban flair to their stage presence.

These influential South Asian celebrities, among many others, brought visibility to the Air Jordan brand within the diaspora community during the 1990s. Their embrace of these iconic sneakers contributed to the cultural significance and impact of Air Jordans, solidifying them as a symbol of style, individuality, and cultural pride.

Impact on South Asian Diaspora
The South Asian diaspora played a significant role in spreading Air Jordan’s influence and fashion trends. As individuals migrated to different parts of the world, they carried with them the cultural impact of Air Jordan. They became ambassadors of this iconic brand, introducing it to new communities and countries, further cementing its place in the global fashion landscape.

The launch of Nike Air Jordan shoes in India during the 1990s marked a turning point in South Asian fashion. It shattered the barriers that limited access to global trends, transforming the fashion choices of South Asian youngsters. Air Jordan’s impact went beyond footwear, inspiring a generation to embrace hip-hop culture, MTV, and a broader global youth movement. Today, South Asians around the world continue to be influenced by the legacy of Air Jordan, forever changing the fashion landscape and connecting diverse communities through their shared love for style and self-expression.

Air is a 2023 American biographical sports drama film directed by Ben Affleck and written by Alex Convery. The film is based on true events about the origin of Air Jordan, a basketball shoeline, of which a Nike employee seeks to strike a business deal with rookie player Michael Jordan. It stars Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Jason Bateman, Marlon Wayans, Chris Messina, Chris Tucker and Viola Davis.

Disclaimer: This article is not a paid/promotional article or academic in nature, it is just highlighting the experience of the author growing up in India and living in the UK, USA, and Gulf countries.

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