This is an editorial based on my opinions on streetwear culture, and the current economy. This should not be taken as fact. I would love to hear your thoughts regarding this topic in the comments below. Let's start a conversation about streetwear that will keep it alive and thriving for younger generations to enjoy.
The Benny Gold brand recently announced that their most recent collection will be their last collection ever, and that their flagship store will be closing at the end of January. This news signifies an ongoing shift in the streetwear industry, as community-based brands are now competing against hype brands.
In the early days of streetwear fashion, brands like Benny Gold never had to rely on hype to be popular. Wearing Benny Gold in public didn't show your "cool status" as much as a Supreme box logo could, but it was a sign of a true streetwear fan or member of the Benny Gold community. Benny Gold’s departure from the streetwear industry shows just how important hype has become. So much so, that it is developing a sub-culture in streetwear that is focused solely on hype.
What’s the big deal about Hype?
Hype has always been an aspect of streetwear as a by-product of exclusivity and scarcity. But aside from brands that are only sold in their own stores (such as Supreme and A Bathing Ape), hype was generally reserved to certain items rather than applied to an entire brand.
In the earlier days, rare items or collaborative pieces between brands were the only items that had a lot of hype around them. Then, people started to hype up brand’s best selling items as well. Take for example Huf’s Weed Leaf socks, Crooks and Castles Medusa graphic tees and Mishka’s Keep Watch hats. These pieces became some of the most popular designs even though they weren’t rare releases. Some brands were able to use these repeated sales to raise popularity, and bring those brands into pop culture before the market became oversaturated.
This brings us to the current state of streetwear.
Streetwear has become so trendy/popular that now everybody wants to wear it -- But only certain brands. Widespread popularity is focused on brands that have so much hype that they have become household names.
Supreme went from being the biggest secret in streetwear to the poster boy for the culture, all from the hype surrounding the brand. Brands like Off White and A Bathing Ape not only have international popularity, but their popularity also crosses subcultures and genres. Think about Bape’s most recent collaboration with Adidas for the Super Bowl. This is far from their Japanese Hip Hop origins.
These brands have been able to maintain such a steady level of hype by playing the game intelligently – A successful brand wants to become popular without being over-worn. These “hype brands” accomplish this by focusing on exclusivity and scarcity. They avoid over-saturating the market by releasing a limited number of pieces and when they’re sold out, that’s it.
By effectively controlling the supply and demand of their products, Supreme and Bape were able to turn fashion into diamonds. This created the re-sell industry, as suppliers took advantage of the quickly rising demand for these brands. And while Off White is more available than other hype brands in comparison, their way of creating exclusivity is by raising the price.
Hype brands successfully sell out their releases, many of which are bought by re-sellers who raise the price and sell second-hand. This whole process makes it even harder for actual fans to get their hands on the brand, driving up the demand. In this way, hype brands are seen more as a business commodity, like buying into stocks that could be sold later when the price is right.
While these brands do maintain widespread popularity, hype brands survive off of hype. They lack the sense of genuine community that was the basis for streetwear brands to survive. True fans of streetwear don’t buy in for the hype or popularity, but because of the community and culture behind the brand. This aspect of community in streetwear is what made me fall in love with the subculture. The character, the intermingling of skate, hip hop and rock lifestyles made the fashion seem more encompassing than the lifestyle represented in urban brands.
Born x Raised caught my attention early on with their “Gentrification is Genocide” graphic, because that has been an ongoing issue in New Orleans and Atlanta. Despite BxR heavily representing Venice, I felt that I was a part of their community because of our common views on the world. And this feeling is the same for buyers of streetwear. People want to own and wear clothes that represent themselves and their community. Because of this, you usually don’t find streetwear brands getting a lot of hype in the re-sell industry.
This is the main difference between the two subcultures growing within streetwear. Those who see streetwear as a lifestyle that represents themselves and connects them to others who share these views, and those who see it as a business opportunity, similar to stock exchange.
While I am apart of the former, I can see why people would at least dabble in the latter. I feel this every time I find a pair of NikeSB dunks on Flight Club that are selling for hundreds of dollars. The same SBs that are in my closet, beat up, without a dead stock, back up pair, because I didn’t think about buying a second pair for this purpose when I was 16 years old.
So what does this mean for Streetwear?
Streetwear will always be something based on community, first and foremost. The popularity of The Hundreds and Born x Raised shows this. But it’s becoming increasingly necessary to build hype if you want to survive in this market.
A brand has to establish enough hype to grow its audience, sell out releases, and have some sort of value on the re-sell market, in order to remain in the game. Brands have an even better chance if they are able to control the re-sell value and drive it higher. No longer can brands hope to survive comfortably based solely on the support from their die-hard fans. It takes both: A loyal following from your community of supporters and a little push from the hype machine.