Streetwear’s Ode to Social Media

Chances are you’ve probably heard the term “hypebeast” tossed around in the last few years. If you haven’t, you’ve at least heard about Kanye West’s Yeezy collaboration with Adidas, resulting in the YEEZY Boost sneakers which have taken social media by storm.supreme

What do these two have in common? Both hypebeasts and YEEZY apparel are core parts of streetwear culture, which has been completely transformed by social media in the last few years. However, to understand social media’s impact on streetwear culture, it’s important to first understand steetwear’s origins.

 

A Brief History of Streetwear

Streetwear originally grew out skateboarding and surf culture in Los Angeles. The clothes worn by skateboarders were often loose, baggy, and comfortable enough to both skate in and express their personal style with.

Shawn Stussy.jpg

Shawn Stussy

Shawn Stussy, often credited as the originator of the streetwear movement, shifted from making surfboards to selling T-shirts with his logo on them in the early 1980s – considered the beginning of streetwear products. You may be familiar with the brand this phenomenon morphed into: Stüssy.

 

Soon after, the streetwear movement spread to New York. At this point, streetwear wasn’t just a symbol of the skateboarder or surfer lifestyle, but rather a “byproduct of wider subculture movements.” By the 1990s streetwear culture was growing rapidly, and skate and clothing shops were helping fill this growing demand.

 

The Supreme Effect

Supreme first opened its doors in 1994 as a skateboard and apparel shop founded in NYC and has become one of the most iconic streetwear brands known today.

supreme logo

Despite being around for 24 years now, Supreme is only continuing to grow its cult following and expand as a brand!

sup lv

Supreme has recently started to transition into mainstream culture, and the average consumer might even recognize the brand from their Fall-Winter 2017 Louis Vuitton collaboration, which put Supreme on the runway for the first time.

One might think that Supreme’s recent popularity is good for the brand – after all, don’t all brands aim to continually expand? However, Supreme’s emergence into mainstream culture seems to go against everything streetwear originally stood for. Supreme’s rise in popularity is proof that the streetwear world is starting to come to light, all thanks to social media.

 

Social Media in a Culture of Exclusivity

Social media, by its very nature, opposes the culture of exclusivity cultivated by the streetwear community. Streetwear style has saturated almost every fashion blog and has become watered down in the process. Streetwear purists often complain, “Social media helps people who are curious about streetwear, but have no knowledge, not look dumb.”

At its roots, streetwear and sneaker culture was about the “quest.” Today, the purchase channels have changed. Mona Elsayed, senior strategist at Redscout, explains, “wearing [the shoes] wasn’t just proof that you did your homework, it was evidence that you physically hustled to the right place at the right time.” However, with social media and online retailers, all it takes is a few clicks on Instagram or a programmed bot to cop the latest product! Now, the hustle is gone.Drops

By all accounts, the streetwear community should despise social media for transforming their world. Not only has social media shined the spotlight on formerly underground brands like Supreme, but it also has turned the old-school hustle into a digitized race. So why does streetwear continue to thank social media?

Social media has brought the streetwear community to corners of the world that would have never seen it before. In the 1980s and 1990s, the community was highly concentrated in the major cities and hadn’t even expanded abroad. Now, blogs and influencers have introduced the world of streetwear to kids from small-town Iowa or abroad in Tokyo. This has unlocked an unlimited potential of creativity from new streetwear enthusiasts (aka Hypebeasts), bringing fresh perspectives and minds on the scene.

 

The Internet Stars of Streetwear

There are two major stars of online streetwear, and often an individual will fall into both categories. First, there are the resellers. Their job is to wait in the physical line at weekly drops and cop mounds of merchandise, and re-list them online. Screen Shot 2018-03-16 at 3.11.00 PM.pngWhile this does inflate prices and take product away from other consumers, it ultimately helps disperse product throughout the community. As an attempt to fight back against streetwear’s ever-growing accessibility, brands will often release products that can only be purchased in store. This is combatted by resellers, giving all streetwear enthusiasts access to the drops.

Second, there are the influencers. They are commonly recognized as the blog or Instagram faces of the streetwear community. One of the most famous influencers in the community is Racks Hogan, commonly known as The Stylish Stoner. Screen Shot 2018-03-15 at 12.52.41 PM.pngHis Instagram account is a mix of personal style as well as product he resells. The influencers are especially important in the streetwear community, because streetwear is constantly on the edge of evolving and influencers help to move it forward with new displays of styling and creativity.

At the end of the day, like any other industry, streetwear will be affected by digital changes whether they like it or not. It’s up to the community to embrace this new wave of streetwear culture and use it in ways to help continually expand their influence and creativity.

7 comments

  1. I’ve personally never been a huge fan of the streetwear style and “the hustle” as you call it is something that is hard to participate in if you aren’t near a major city (like myself). However, I really liked this post and learned a lot. Social Media participating in underground streetwear culture is a double edged sword because the basis of streetwear is in fact an underground movement and in a way this growth will ruin its authenticity. On the other hand I know people who have become huge fans of streetwear solely because they learned about it though social media. I think it is inevitable that brands like Supreme and Seasons will become more mainstream as their social media influence grows and its something that people will just have to accept.

  2. Addison, that’s a great post. I really like that you talked about the history of streetwear before talking about what the industry is going through now. It helped me understand why social media change is so important for the industry. I think that streetwear industry is able to remain so successful because it finds ways to embrace the social media instead of fighting it even though it might seem that social media goes against the exclusivity concept. I agree with Michael that brands like Supreme will become more mainstream because of social media. However, I think social media helps smaller niche streetwear brands develop that would not be possible otherwise. As you said, it unlocks the creativity. People who really care about exclusivity and being different will always find new, less famous brands to follow. At the same time social media helps spread knowledge about streetwear and incorporate it in the wardrobes of more people which helps brands like Supreme grow.

  3. Molly Pighini · ·

    I think this is a great post, Addison. I knew very little about streetwear before, and you definitely included enough background and analysis for me to come to a good understanding. Your discussion of exclusivity and social media reminded me of the issue luxury brands are facing as well. To some, social media and increased exposure lead to the “watering down” of a brand. More people have access to see it; more people can buy it (alternate channels, knockoffs, etc.) On the other hand, as you pointed out, it can lead to higher involvement from current customers, increased innovation/creativity, and better company performance. Although these brands have made their name through scarcity, I agree with kennedy__bc. Social media is not going away, and brands that try to avoid it will fail.

    1. Thanks Molly! I’m glad you made the connection between the exclusivity struggle both streetwear and luxury brands face… I was definitely hinting at it in the post! It’s interesting that streetwear brands embrace the exposure more, because they crowdsource a lot of the creativity and evolution from influencers. In comparison, luxury brands want to remain as separate from average consumers as possible and distance themselves from the exposure.

  4. This was a really informative blog post, I’m pretty clueless on streetwear so I learned a lot. I will say that my primary exposure to streetwear has been through rappers that I listen to: rap and streetwear are very intertwined, as some of the most famous rappers in the world are often seen rocking Supreme or Stussy, or pioneering their own brands like Kanye. That is a huge boon for their social media presence, as rap has such an enormous presence on Twitter, Instagram, and any social media outlet imaginable. Some of the biggest influencers around have got to be the A$AP Rockys of the world, touting the brands not just on social media but in songs that are shared with millions of people. It is another way that streetwear becomes mainstream; rap is the most popular genre in the world right now, and with streetwear maintaining such a heavy presence, brand recognition is bound to keep growing.

  5. As someone who casually follows streetwear and kinda wants a pair of Yeezy Boosts, I really enjoyed reading your post. I think @raycaglianone makes a good point in that while streetwear came from skate and surf culture, it seems that rap become its greatest influence. It seems that the early days of streetwear had an emphasis on personal style and self expression. While this is still true, I feel that social media is turned into a “trickle down” culture rather than the “trickle up” culture it started as. With the rise of influencers, celebrities have come to dominate streetwear culture, especially from rap. For example many sneakerheads give Kanye West the credit for Adidas’s rise in popularity and they are probably right to a degree. Social media gives everyone a voice but the loudest voices are still the people who are popular in real life.

    That being said, social media had done a lot to spread streetwear internationally. London is a hotspot as well as most Asian countries. At this point, I feel most of the people who wear Supreme or Yeezy Boosts are those from Asian countries.

    1. I love your thoughts on social media transforming streetwear culture into “trickle down” rather than “trickle up” due to influencers and rap… a great concept I hadn’t thought of before! I completely agree that London and most Asian countries are becoming the biggest hotspots for streetwear cultures… I feel like most blogs now put a heavier emphasis on street styles from events like Seoul Fashion Week, instead of NYFW like they have in the past.

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