The History of Streetwear and it's Growing Impact on Fashion

Tracking the monumental rise of streetwear, its popularity amongst celebrities, and how it has affected luxury labels.

Streetwear is hardly a new concept, but the way that it is presenting itself on runways, and its widespread exposure is totally different from the streetwear of the past. How did this movement start? How was the luxury fashion market impacted by this movement? And how have celebrities dress used this concept of streetwear to create merchandise or spur fashion brands? Keep reading this article to understand exactly how small surfboard brands like Stüssy in the 80s has helped spawn major labels of today’s fashion world like Kanye West’s Yeezy.

What is Streetwear?

So first of all, what is streetwear? Streetwear is defined as a casual clothing style typically worn by an urban or skate audience.

The creation of this movement is usually credited to Shawn Stussy of Stüssy, a small surfboard company that began printing logo t-shirts in Los Angeles in the 1980s. Soon after he began selling his shirts, he decided to partner with Certified Public Accountant Frank Sinatra Jr. to create the Stüssy label we all know and love today. Their clothes contrasted with the typical neon surfwear that other brands were advertising; Stüssy’s garments were dark, had a vintage look, and started to gain a mass following. When it got picked up by retailer UNION, they became even more of a hit. These shirts became synonymous with a certain “California lifestyle” look and was subsequently carried by other specialty boutiques and department stores.

The 90s were a big year for streetwear, especially when its popularity spread around the globe; Japanese brand A Bathing Ape was founded in 1993. When streetwear’s influence started to spread to New York City, it also coincided with Supreme’s first store opening on Lafayette street in 1994.

The label arranged the racks of clothes on the perimeter of the store to keep the middle space empty so people could skateboard while they shopped. Supreme is also credited for helping popularise this style due to their drop schedule. Not only were they beginning to amass fans in both the skateboarding and hip hop world for their garments, but also for their “Thursday drop” schedule. This drop schedule became akin to a weekly social gathering of like-minded youth and is a staple of streetwear culture.

How did Streetwear impact the luxury fashion world?

Those weekly drops helped propel streetwear into the mainstream and became a point of fascination for those in the fashion industry. This successful formula of limited production runs started to be emulated by luxury retailers like Barneys to create urgency amongst consumers.

Streetwear has also made its impact in the luxury market known through sales. In 2017, high-end streetwear labels helped to boost global sales of luxury personal goods by 5%. This movement was popularized and mainly worn by young people; nearly 30 years later nothing has changed. As customers are getting younger, fashion houses are beginning to cater more to this demographic. But streetwear has still captured the attention of the youth. Luxe Digital’s 4 tips for marketing to millennials include all the hallmarks of streetwear culture; bold unique designs, sense of scarcity, frequent drops, and brand collaborations.

Brand collaborations are another major way streetwear has gained more hype over the years. In Louis Vuitton’s Fall Winter 2017 Menswear show, the brand debuted its highly anticipated collaboration with Supreme. A slew of accessories from sunglasses to duffel bags to bandanas and bespoke goods like skateboards kept consumers vying for a piece from the collection and fashion media entranced.

Other influencers and celebrities have even started their own successful luxury streetwear labels themselves. Kanye West’s Yeezy began as a sneaker collaboration with Adidas, but has evolved into a brand that even debuted at New York Fashion Week during the Fall 2015 cycle. The monochromatic and simplistic style differs from the bold designs and logos of typical streetwear brands, but the garments and sneakers are sought after by the same crowd. Yeezy’s take on streetwear classics like hoodies, joggers, and crop tops drove fans into a frenzy. The Yeezy Boost 350s that were featured in Yeezy Season 1 sold out globally within 12 minutes.

How has it impacted the way celebrity brands?

Celebrities have definitely hopped onto the bandwagon as well. There is a growing trend of celebrity merch falling under the streetwear category. Take Kylie Jenner’s 2016 merchandise, The Kylie Shop. By selling clothing like unique logo design t-shirts at limited edition pop-up stores, Jenner used the classic streetwear formula to garner long queues and a sold out collection.

There’s no doubt that streetwear’s global influence and popularity is at an all-time high at the moment. From models and moguls walking the streets in Champion, to Justin Bieber’s new streetwear line, Drew House, to the long lines of teens that wait outside pop-up stores like RipnDip, this movement from the 80s is showing no signs of slowing down. I personally, can’t wait to see how else it will impact the fashion world and what brands will be in the spotlight next.