Last week in New York City, The Agenda Show saw hundreds of people from different creative communities itching to get a closer look at the popular streetwear scene including musicians, painters, photographers, and even a few big-name music artists and executives. Streetwear has become an increasingly popular avenue for musicians to reach new audiences, and Hypebot’s Hisham Dahud was in attendance during Agenda meeting key influencers and learning more about the culture.
What is Streetwear?
For those not familiar with streetwear, it can be broadly defined as a distinctive style of fashion (and the accompanying lifestyle) with roots in skateboarding and skate fashion, while also carrying an influence from hip-hop music and culture. Modern day streetwear has grown to be more of a blend of skate and surf clothing, and is by no means beholden to just hip-hop music. It has now become a huge avenue for music artists to reach new audiences, as many of these streetwear brands possess die-hard fans of their own and tend to work with artists that are a natural fit for their brand image, lifestyle, and audience.
Back in the 80s and 90s, young entrepreneurs tired of department store-inspired fashion decided to take their own ideas and designed t-shirts, sweatshirts, and hats for themselves and their inner circles. Eventually, more and more people began taking notice of this new fashion, which seemingly grew from the streets overnight. While styles varied from region to region, the commonalities were found in an inspiration from hip-hop and skateboarding cultures, fused with in-your-face graphics and sharp color schemes (better known as “colorways”). Over time, the quality and correlating popularity of streetwear brands rose to an international level with brands like Stussy, The Hundreds, LRG, Diamond Supply, and Supreme reaching global recognition.
An Insider’s Perspective
Hypebot reached out to several people who are knee-deep in the streetwear scene to learn more about the culture and the important role that musicians play.
Here were some of the responses:
How important are musicians to the streetwear scene?
“Musicians are extremely important to the streetwear scene, as they represent us and the subcultures to which we belong. A popular, in-demand artist rocking a streetwear brand’s newest pieces on stage, in a music video, or at a photo shoot is one of the best ways that company can choose to push their product. Artists set trends with their fashion and style choices, thus everything they wear makes a statement. Similarly, these brands express themselves through their creations, and are looking for exposure to further spread their message and thus their business. Hypothetically speaking, if Wale wore a new Stussy tee during a performance at this year’s BET Awards, an event that attracted 7.4 million viewers, drove 3 million tweets and prompted 41,000 status updates, then Wale has done the brand a gigantic favor, and they’ll likely see tremendous spikes in sales.”
Modele "Modi" Oyewole - Washington, DC
Co-Founder // DCtoBC
Red Bull Music Academy
What are some of things streetwear brands can do with musicians? How does that process work?
“The streetwear market is saturated with brands trying to be relevant by releasing mix tapes with music artists and DJ's, creating collaboration clothing lines and supporting artists on tour. There are a few brands that stand out that are doing a few things right. A brand like Black Scale who works with music artists like A$AP Rocky, Pink Dolphin with Young L have fostered young talent, and it pays off.
"As a brand sponsors artists' tours and mix tapes, the brand gets to remain relevant and take a ride with the image and visual persona. These relationships validate the public belief that the brand is real and part of the lifestyle. Black Scale clothing and brand has been on many major music magazine covers worldwide with A$AP Rocky, the kind of press major brands pay big money to achieve. Approaching the artist in a creative way lets them know that you are here to help them create. For example, the old way of paying for party, a video, a bus wrap or something that has been done before is not the way to go. But, creating something new together and remaining legitimately dedicated to being honest is the most important thing. Be true to yourself; lead with your back and people will follow.”
Misha Vladimirskiy - San Francisco, CA
Partner/Director of Marketing
How has the relatively niche streetwear scene made a cultural impact on mainstream tastes?
"When I was in high school, I followed the trends of the music and entertainment I enjoyed. I listened to rap in 2003, so I was wearing throwbacks and over sized t-shirts almost every day. As I evolved, so did the music I listened to and the style of the artists. I believe that music is the biggest vehicle for the changing of trends. As certain artists rise to the mainstream level, their style becomes emulated by the masses. Kanye West changed my style back in the day. I went from throwbacks to Polo's and LRG gear, because that's what I saw him rocking back then. Now that the younger music generation is embracing brands like Supreme, Stussy, Diamond Supply and so on, I'm beginning to see more and more of these brands around my city on a day-to-day basis. The niche streetwear brands have infiltrated the mainstream culture by styling the younger generation of musical influencers."
Quinn Coleman/DJ Spicoli - Washington, DC
Co-Founder // DCtoBC
Rock Creek Social Club
Why is it such a closed scene? What does this say (if anything) about the relationship dynamic among brands?
“I think the reason why the industry is so close-knit has do to with what everyone goes through to get where they are. There are many similar struggles, benefits and other experiences that all fashion industry people go through. It’s not always easy to enter into this social circle, and once in, it becomes another story to keep up. But remember, the industry is also so close because we all work and party together; this creates a very thin line between work and friendship.”
Ashley Sky Walker - New York, NY
Owner // ASW Photography
Should artists that are not within any streetwear circles consider themselves out of luck? What are some ways to break in?
“While the streetwear scene is indeed cliquey like a high school cafeteria, there is always a way to get through to a brand. One of the greatest aspects of streetwear is how accessible companies are, from the major players to the neophytes. Essentially, none of these brands have cushy offices with high-level security measures protecting the decision makers like one might find in high fashion or other corporate industries. Shit, just last week at Agenda you could have run into Jeff Staple, Nicky Diamond, and Damon Dash by simply walking down a hallway. Streetwear was built from the ground-up by regular men and women with the passion and drive to communicate their visions with others through the means that were available to them. Social media has allowed this organic nature of business to flourish, and as a result, the owners and marketing managers for major streetwear brands are only an email, tweet, or friend request away.
“Even though vitaminTHICK is a relatively small brand in the grand scheme of street fashion, I get hit up once or twice a week by musical artists looking for some form of sponsorship. I try to listen to every act that reaches out, and I will respond with an honest opinion in regards to whether or not the vibe of their music meshes with our brand ethos at vitaminTHICK. Sometimes people are slightly misled and feel that because they rap, for example, they can hit up any streetwear brand and ask for free gear. Just like the world of hip-hop, however, street fashion is definitively segmented, so an artist that is appropriate for one brand might not work out for another. Most likely, an artist that rocks with Crooks and Castles, a brand more associated with luxury rap and the underworld, would not fit in with the identity of vitaminTHICK, a brand dedicated to our childhoods and progressive street fashion, and vice versa.
“With that being said, I would strongly suggest that aspiring musical artists figure out a brand or two that fits their style, both personally and sonically, and reach out to them. If the artists are talented, and the brand feels like they would be a well-aligned ambassador for its product, then a partnership on some level is almost a no-brainer. Music is one of the most culturally relevant and digestible mediums in existence, so any company with some sense is happy to support its creation and dissemination.”
Elliot Curtis - Boston, MA
How saturated is the scene? It seems that almost everyone has a clothing brand nowadays.
"The scene is very saturated and the same can be said for the modeling scene, photography scene and the music scene. I've noticed many people of my generation quitting their jobs and dropping out of school to dedicate their lives to their own creativity. I respect everyone's dreams and ambitions, but unfortunately not everyone has direction. Specifically, some of these clothing brands lack direction and they forget that structure is key. The brands with structure and direction are the brands that have longevity. You can learn a whole lot just by observing."
Tasha Bleu - Providence, RI
Very special thanks to Corbin Cones, Founder/CEO of HY.GEN.IC for facilitating the introduction of the interviewees.