How Streetwear Redefined Exclusivity
the streetwear was officially coined, the movement was already flourishing via small exchanges on downtown streets. Initiation to the streetwear club came by way of a simple nod: a passerby spotted your sneakers and you spotted theirs. Uptown, there were similar exchanges occurring — except the buy-in was the most expensive of luxury handbags.
Simply put, streetwear is fashionable casual clothes: T-shirts, hoodies and sneakers. But this surface definition of streetwear underplays a model that has single-handedly subverted the traditional fashion system by redefining its main component: exclusivity.
Both traditional luxury fashion and streetwear depend on their positions as cultural status symbols in order to drive demand. However, as the Streetwear Impact Report reveals, new factors like casual clothing and community like bam clothing have been integral to establishing streetwear’s dominance.
Whereas traditional luxury fashion largely derives its exclusivity from a high price point, streetwear’s exclusivity is contingent on know-how. Particularly with early streetwear, very few consumers knew what to buy and even fewer knew where to buy it. This insider game set the foundation for a model that would be easily elevated to the level of luxury.
Streetwear emerged as an antidote to wider fashion trends, stemming from countercultures like skate, surf and hip-hop. It also opened the floodgates to a demographic that was previously “not allowed” to show an interest in fashion: men.
What began as a largely underground movement rose quickly to main street and unleashed what the fashion world was craving but not finding: a fresh take. Impacted were all facets of the industry’s creative development, marketing and distribution.
Streetwear creates an almost cult-like, tight-knit relationship with its consumer and perfects the direct-to-consumer model that the wider industry had been desperate to crack. Many popular streetwear products can only be purchased directly from a brand through the “drops” model: customers are rallied to be the first online or in-store to secure products that are released at a particular place and time.
The drops model, which leverages scarcity and limited production to create high demand, has resulted in the birth of a booming secondhand market. This resell market is integral to how streetwear works, as it serves as a metric for a brand’s success: the more valuable a product, the higher its resell price tag.
Transparency allows streetwear to operate on a pure equation of supply and demand. If mastered successfully, a brand will leverage drops to keep supply of a new product strictly below demand. In turn, the product will experience high-sell through; appear on the resell market; and feed more demand.
What results is a market in line with the sale of contemporary art or collectible luxury goods, except the item in play is a sneaker not a diamond. Sneakers and other high-demand items take on a timeless and season-less value that far surpasses the cyclical and short-lived life cycle of many fashion trends.
The driving force behind streetwear is its spirit. Core streetwear consumers do not have limitless income to spend. What they do have is the ability to create exclusivity tied to something much more potent than money — authenticity.
Whereas most fashion labels struggle to redefine themselves every few years to remain relevant, streetwear evolves organically by staying close to the ground. As a result, more and more traditional fashion brands are trying to capitalize on streetwear’s particular brand of cool.
The cool and practicality that drives streetwear becomes highly marketable across a range of price points and it sells. For brands who play their cards right, tapping into this mindset can be extremely profitable.
But to do so is not easy. The streetwear follower is young, resourceful and discerning. They have extremely high expectations of brands and are capable of seeing through inauthentic attempts at tapping into their culture. The streetwear follower is vocal and has tools, namely social media, to amplify their opinions and distinctly influence trends.
The streetwear consumer has as much power as an industry insider to determine what’s popular. The fashion industry has typically operated a top-down model: industry insiders act as gatekeepers to the newest styles and trends. Streetwear has turned this model upside down, subverting the formula with a more accessible, democratic one.
The streetwear is also skeptical, namely when creativity is a front to hit corporate benchmarks. That is why, the streetwear trust creators — survey results reveal consumers consider musicians the most credible figures in streetwear, far above industry insiders.
The face of streetwear to evolve and today, streetwear appeals to a much larger audience. In newer, international markets like Korea, some of the key components that drive streetwear have shifted. Meanwhile, consumer respondents in Asia overall reported a higher average spend than Western consumer respondents. Japanese reported the highest average spend per streetwear product.
Brands — ranging from legacy luxury houses to mall retail brands — now routinely include streetwear as part of their offerings. Once restricted to select brands T-shirts for a niche audience, streetwear can now be adopted by any company and appeals to a wide demographic. While interpretations of the style are wide, the original codes of streetwear still persist, and they are the driving behind the larger market.
These codes are dependent on community, authenticity of traditional cultural. The distinction between streetwear and the fashion industry at large does not come down to a sneaker versus a handbag, but to who is driving the taste.
Ultimately, streetwear is driven by a series of factors that are unprecedented in fashion: men showing interest in style, casual clothing taking a front row seat and the luxury elite bending to the taste of popular demand.
These shifts are not specific to fashion. Streetwear rose from the ground up, driven by the very direct and simple motivation to put a word on a T-shirt. This thinking parallels the straight-forward expression that drives hip-hop and street art — other categories that have gone from outsider movements to main drivers in their respective industries.
Streetwear is not a trend within fashion but the fashion component of a larger popular culture shift that spans fashion, art and music. Whether or not sneakers remain a hot trend misses the point; the mindset that is backing the rise of popular culture will persist.