Streetwear has been shaped by influencers, long before “influencers” became an occupation. And while recent news about streetwear’s dominance on the runway and its evolution into luxury offers a new narrative, the category itself has had nearly half a century to percolate.
A new report by trend forecasting firm Trendalytics outlines the evolution of streetwear from its start as a 1970’s California social movement defined by the laidback surf style of Shawn Stussy, the founder of Stüssy, into a mainstream global category estimated to be valued at $309 billion.
That evolution, Trendalytics said, has been fueled by influencers—be it celebrities, athletes or the masterminds behind hype machine brands like Kith’s Ronnie Fieg and Virgil Abloh—and the prevalence of social media as a branding tool for both brands and individuals.
“As digital natives with significant spending power, the millennial and Gen Z consumers have played an integral part in driving the growth of streetwear,” Trendalytics wrote. “The hunt continues for the most Instagrammable products, and consumers looking for unique and exclusive items are willing to pay.”
From art and luxury, to youth subcultures, here’s a breakdown of the driving forces helping streetwear become the fashion category to watch.
Streetwear trends globally
Over the course of 50 years, streetwear has traversed the world to become the urban uniform for city dwellers in New York, Tokyo, London and more. Yet, spots that typically fall off the fashion radar, like say Kazakhstan, have become unlikely hotbeds for streetwear, putting their own spin on the category.
In Kazakhstan, fakes come first. In response to Vetement’s 2016 “Official Fake” collection, Trendalytics said Kazakhstanis have taken to making DIY fakes by painting jean jackets, scribbling on white sneakers and making spoofs of popular logos.
In Iceland, it’s vintage that rules. There, classic skate brands like Thrasher and Stüssy are paired with retro furry jackets and sweaters. In Nigeria, streetwear is a blend of Western fashion like jeans, T-shirts and Vans, and native elements like brightly colored and patterned cotton textiles.
Streetwear in South Korea and Mexico have punk and rock undertones, according to the report. Combat boots, leather jackets and piercings make up streetwear in Korea, while Mexico skews toward goth pieces, logo T-shirts and hats.
Meanwhile, streetwear in the United Arab Emirates reflects hip-hop’s affinity for luxury brands. The report named side bags, snapbacks and colored sunglasses as key items.
Under the influence
Now that streetwear has infiltrated every major city and suburban high school in between, where are kids picking up these streetwear influences? In many instances, it’s the same subcultures that helped defined the fashion category in the ’70s and ’80s—surfers, skaters, punks, and hip-hop.
And many of the most notable people, trends and brands that influence these four subcultures have gone relatively unchanged for decades. Roxy, Quicksilver and Billabong remain notable brands for surfers. Skaters continue to be influenced by Tony Hawk, and punk is still under the spell of The Clash, according to Trendalytics.
However, there are some notable new players in the field, particular in the hip-hop sphere. ASAP Rocky, Drake, Cardi B and Nicki Minaj are key influencers, while labels that toe the line between designer and streetwear, like Vetements and Off-White, top Trendalytics’ list of notable brands.
Social and streetwear
Rather than splashy ad campaigns and celebrity spokespeople, social media has become the de facto platform for consumers to discover streetwear and its influencers.
Instead of relying on endorsed posts, important streetwear labels like Vetements, Bape and Palace Skateboards saw the most engagement from their own brand postings, Trendalytics said, indicating these brands have enough brand power to stand on their own.
In fact, the report showed that streetwear brands like Fear of God and Undefeated received nearly four-times the social actions per mentioned post than Adidas for the last year—a brand that is has creative moguls Kanye West and Pharrell to tout.
That’s not to say that star power is waning. An endorsed post by a celebrity or influencer with an ‘organic feeling’ has its benefits.
While millennial celebrities like Zayn Malik, The Weeknd and Ansel Elgort have the highest total social post engagement from their branded posts, Trendalytics said top influencers gaining social buzz include surfers Laura Enever and Kelly Slater, each capturing more than 10-times the engagement per mentioned post than Kanye West.
And those deeply immersed in the world of fashion are influencing the category.
Designers Virgil Abloh and Heron Preston, and model Luka Sabbat—who is described as a “young creative entrepreneur” on his website—lead Trendalytics’ list of the top three fastest growing streetwear influencers on Instagram.
Collaborations are clutch
Social media has certainly helped heritage streetwear brands stay relevant and given up-and-coming labels a foothold. However, a buzz-worthy collaboration can be just as impactful.
Trendalytics named Chinatown Market, Rokit and Spaghetti Boys as emerging brands with “explosive growth” in terms of buzz. The social media interactions of all three brands have grown six-times over last year, but the brands have also benefited by teaming up with well-known personalities and brands like Lebron James, Off-White and Converse.
When Fear of God partnered with Justin Bieber for a line of shirts, the brand got an automatic in with all 101 million of his followers on Instagram. Same with Puma, who has tapped into Selena Gomez’s and Rihanna’s loyal and vast followings through long-term collaborations.
Collaborations are also a way for streetwear brands to evade the deadly notion of “selling out,” Trendalytics pointed out.
If Supreme churned out $100,000-plus trunks on its own, its base of skaters may have raised an eyebrow. But an ironic collaboration with Louis Vuitton, the label that epitomizes luxury and old-world allure? Well, that makes said trunk a sought-after collector’s piece for both sides of the table.
Trendalytics said products from these high-level types of collaborations can sell out within 15-30 seconds, underscoring the importance of selecting the right partner.
If collaborations have proved anything it’s that streetwear loves irony. Along with the Supreme x Louis Vuitton collection, the past year welcomed a string of nonsensical collaborations like Vetements x DHL, Off-White x Rimowa and Virgil Abloh x IKEA—which leads to a new question, could streetwear have a place in home goods?
Luxury goes street
The Supreme and Louis Vuitton relationship could be a case study that demonstrates how luxury has warmed-up to streetwear. In 2000, the French fashion house sued Supreme for unauthorized use of its trademark. Today, the former dueling brands are the forces behind the collaboration that future “high-low” partnerships will likely be compared to in terms of sales, buzz and the ability to cross genres.
And don’t underestimate the influence high-brow interests have on streetwear. Contemporary artists tend to be authentic collaborators with streetwear labels. After all, while on the surface streetwear has been about surf, skate and hip-hop, Trendalytics said it has always been about more than just clothes—it encompasses art and culture.
For example, Trendalytics noted, ’80s artist Jean-Michel Basquiat was known for combining high and low aesthetics by pairing streetwear and thrift store finds with formal wear—a style that still inspires streetwear influencers like Jay Z and Kanye West.
Case in point, when Beyoncé and Jay Z—dressed in custom Gucci, Burberry and Y/Project—used the Louvre as a backdrop in their new video for “Apeshit,” the art-loving couple (who dressed as Basquiat and Frida Kahlo for Halloween in 2014) were making a statement about the importance of art in black culture.
In a statement, the Louvre said, “Beyoncé and Jay Z visited the Louvre 4 times in the last 10 years. During their last visit in May 2018, they explained their idea of filming. The deadlines were very tight but the Louvre was quickly convinced because the synopsis showed a real attachment to the museum and its beloved artworks.”
Meanwhile, Japanese artist Takashi Murakami has a developed new fan bases through his long-running and colorful collaborations with Louis Vuitton and subsequent artwork collaborations with artists like Kanye West and Kid Cudi, Trendalytics said. The artist is also working with streetwear labels like Billionaire Boys Club.
“The impact of streetwear on luxury cannot be understated,” Trendalytics said. And that influence is poised to grow as the spending power of streetwear-loving millennials surpasses older generations.
Luxury brands are preparing for this shift by attracting young designers with streetwear roots. From Virgil Abloh’s appointment at Louis Vuitton or Riccardo Tisci’s at Burberry, Trendalytics said luxury labels are strategically tapping designers with a younger audience in order to “earn streetwear cred.”
These designers have certainly played crucial roles in the rise of the luxury sneaker—a hot item among millennial and Gen Z consumers—and a category that lends itself to the rapidly growing luxury consignment business.
“Sneakers have become the new ‘It’ bag and brands are leveraging their popularity to appeal to the affluent, pro-consignment consumer. In appealing to millennials who came of age during the Great Recession, luxury is able to channel the appeal of appreciation, which they had already mastered with handbags, to sneakers,” Trendalytics wrote.
Trendalytics noted that the growth in streetwear consignment marketplaces like GOAT, Flight Club and Grailed, and the latest fundraising rounds for marketplaces like The Real Real and Vestiaire Collective, indicate that there’s demand for both streetwear and luxury and opportunities for the categories to cohabitate.