Streetwear is in its fifth iteration with everyone from megabrands such as Nike, Adidas and Timberland, to traditional labels such as Brooks Brothers and up-and-coming designers like Off-White tapping into its aesthetic. Its resurgence, both in terms of fashion influence and revenue, stems from a variety of factors, including the growing importance of Generation Z consumers; the boom in activewear as everyday apparel, and the exponential increase in online shopping, which enables even the smallest of labels to gain worldwide distribution.
The current market is saturated with hundreds, if not thousands, of streetwear brands, which is what separates today’s movement from what it was two decades ago. So big is its potential that industry sources now estimate the category to have annual sales of $2 billion to $2.5 billion.
There also is increasing segmentation. No longer is there one look; instead, streetwear ranges from urban Goths to the skate and surfer market to new-era grunge and punk and, finally, hip-hop. Because of social media and the Web, all of these underground subcultures are now accessible to the public.
“True independent streetwear was always a secret club,” said Bobby “Hundreds” Kim of Los Angeles-based brand The Hundreds. “But the Web cracked the mystery wide open. The biggest reason why the culture and style have become so prevalent today is because of desktop publishing, the facility to print T-shirts and manufacture apparel, and the lowered barrier to entry for a newcomer to participate in the market. Just a decade or so ago, kids wanted to grow up to be rappers, baseball players or movie stars. Today, the youth aspire to own a brand and have a streetwear label. Even musicians and athletes and celebrities want in. With two clicks of a mouse, you can have a silk-screened T-shirt and a snap-back cap to stand behind and position your place in the world.”
The influence is being seen in the designer market as well, where trend-setting labels such as En Noir, Off-White by Virgil Abloh and others are showcasing streetwear influences in their collections.
“These days I believe that you can judge a designer by a graphic T-shirt they make,” said Abloh, who also moonlights as Kanye West’s creative director. Abloh’s brand, rooted in street culture but influenced by designers like Riccardo Tisci and Raf Simons, is now sold at retailers such as Barneys New York.
“My clothes are created out of an atelier in Milan and the production is mainly in Europe,” he said. “It’s sold on a designer floor at Barneys but [has] streetwear sensibilities.”
Even as streetwear makes a comeback, traditional teen retailers such as American Eagle Outfitters, Abercrombie & Fitch and Aéropostale have been struggling, as have traditional surf brands like Quiksilver and Billabong.
Analysts believe there are a myriad of reasons as to why, but one thing is certain: The Generation Z consumers (ages 12 to 17) have become highly informed shoppers, with 91 percent plugged into the Internet and social media. According to a study made by The Intelligence Group, a division of Creative Artists Agency, Gen-Zers are as discriminating as older consumers when shopping for the best products and deals.
“They’re on every platform now and they are constantly being fed new information – what’s cool, where to get it,” said Jamie Gutfreund, chief strategy officer at TIG.
Among the brands that are attracting these younger customers on social media are established streetwear labels such as Stüssy and Supreme; West Coast brands like The Hundreds, Black Scale, Undefeated, Huf, Diamond Supply Co., and Crooks and Castles, and East Coast firms like 10.Deep, SSUR and Been Trill – many of which have their own freestanding stores and e-commerce capabilities.
Diamond Supply Co., for instance, opened its second freestanding store in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood in June. The brand plans to open a third store in New York City later this year at 268 Lafayette Street across from Supreme.
Backpacks. Bomber jackets. Bucket hats. Itâ€™s apparent that the Nineties have made a strong comeback - and with it, a wave of streetwear nostalgia.