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Streetwear Set to Get Smarter with Performance Fabrics and Design

Denim and streetwear are natural cohorts.

At Denim Première Vision in London last week, trend forecaster Sue Barrett painted a picture of the popular and dynamic category. What streetwear basically boils down to, Barrett said, is “baseball caps, sneakers, hoodies, jeans and T-shirts,” however, tracking the category is a lot more complicated than what it may seem at first glance, she added.

Limited-run products, or “drops,” along with collaborations, are reshaping the traditional seasonal fashion calendar, effectively altering the shopping patterns of consumers.

“There’s a huge amount of theater in streetwear. It’s all about high energy, collaborations, excitement and hype,” Barrett said.

Contrary to the majority of fashion retail, which continues to grapple with pain points caused by fast fashion and cheaper online alternatives, Barrett pointed out that these exclusive products are allowing brands and retailers to increase prices, while also creating a piping hot resale market.

And then there’s millennial and Gen Z consumers’ ever-increasing awareness of sustainability, social injustices and wearable technology—particularly how it can be used to improve quality of life—which Barrett said is trickling into streetwear trends, too.

These macro trends are informing fashion themes for Fall/Winter 19-20 streetwear and, according to Barrett, here’s why it will continue to be a category for the jeanswear industry to watch.

Natural High

“Streetwear is constantly redefining itself, but it is going back to its original skate and street style roots,” Barrett said. Brands that represent Natural High include Story Mfg., Carhartt, Acne Studios and Stussy.

Playful, retro collegiate styling, technical performance fabrics and oversized silhouettes and layers set the foundation for Natural High, which takes on a more serious tone with underlining social and environmental messages delivered in bright graphics and lettering.

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“Happy is the new rich and the popularity of the wellness market is an example of this positive change,” Barrett said, adding that the messages represent the “new wave of upbeat millennial conscious[ness].”

This positive feeling gives way to rainbow graphics, smiley faces and generally upbeat accents like pops of orange, which Barrett claimed is the new pink.

Bold branding is key, she added, as “flexing your logos” is part of the trend’s strong influence from the ’80s and ’90s. The fusion of streetwear and performance is displayed in head-to-toe color, technical twills and gabardines, elasticized waists and packable garments.

In denim, Barrett said bright indigo gains momentum as consumers are made aware of the environmental effects of stonewashing. Overall, bottom silhouettes feel unisex with looser fits and slouchy looks. “There’s a reduced focus on stretch,” Barrett said. Meanwhile, slimmer fits take cues from retro tapered cropped jeans for an everyday look.

Neo Homestead

Forget the East and West coasts—the Midwest is streetwear’s new hotbed for inspiration. The region of the U.S. has become a go-to spot for fashion editorials and continues to be a source of mystery for European markets.

Pure and minimal, Barrett said the trend shakes up the classic Western and rodeo look that has lingered around in denim for years. Rather, Neo Homestead focuses on vibrant streetwear looks that brands like Calvin Klein, Supreme and Ralph Lauren x Palace have already tapped into with ironic photo real prints and Americana-themed color blocking.

Back pocket branding and stitching returns, and so does the boot cut jean. Clean geometric details and coatings add a sport-luxe vibe. The trend also invites new opportunities to play with textures, including “refined hairiness,” suede effects, quilting and home craft.

Neo Homestead also calls for non-denim woven looks and a return to heavier weights. Rustic fabrics are made more fashionable in winter white and tea stained neutrals, which is a lingering effect from Kanye West’s Yeezy collections.

These items, Barrett added, are made for Instagram, often accompanied with campaigns that feature retro romantic music.

Cyber Utility

Driven by statement pieces from the runway by designers like Aries and Martine Rose, and always eclectic Korean street style, Barrett said Cyber Utility is a trend “for the dangerously hip.”

Reflective silver materials and nylon bags that Prada made famous in the ’90s sum up the trend. However, Barrett said the new challenge for brands is to make these products in ways that are more sustainable than the past.

In jeans, the trend translates to recreating existing jeans. Rather than produce new items, Barrett said denim labels are increasingly re-imaging deadstock jeans by recoloring jeans or transforming them into new garments. Angular inserts, ’80s geometrics and appliqués add the punch of adventurous fashion the trend calls for.

Shell suits, extra-large cargo pants and ugly sneakers live here, but as the market hits fever pitch for retro styling, Barrett said the trend will evolve into items that provide a deeper level of utility. Brands, she added, have an opportunity to introduce fabrics with performance attributes like wind and weather protection and durability, or novelty effects like Stone Island’s heat reactive range of jackets that change color as the temperature rises.