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