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Streetwear Surges to New Heights in the Fashion Industry

by Madison Duddy

Photo courtesy of Amanda Willis

Over the past few years, streetwear has risen to new heights of recognition and respect as top designers and celebrities began collaborating with brands like Adidas and Nike. Just two years ago, Supreme sold a stake of its company to a private equity group for one billion dollars. Needless to say, the once underappreciated sector of the fashion industry is on the rise, making streetwear high fashion.

Boston is home to one of the top sneaker boutiques in the world: Bodega. Hidden behind the façade of a convenience store in Back Bay, it sells some of the top brands in streetwear to an international consumer audience. Oliver Mak, one of the co-founders of Bodega, has been in the streetwear business for over a decade and has seen it become what it is today. Specifically, the past rejection of the validity of streetwear fashion by top designers has shifted to the two worlds intertwining.

“In terms of culture, it’s [streetwear] just gotten larger,” Mak said. “Instead of a reaction and almost rejection of major brand/ luxury brand houses, it’s become co-opted by that. A prominent example would be Louis Vuitton with Virgil Abloh.”

Off-White is undeniably one of the top luxury brands in the world right now, and also, a streetwear brand. The more casual and athletic styles in fashion are now marketed as high-end with designer sneakers and sweat suits that sell for thousands of dollars. Top fashion brands like Missoni, Alexander Wang and Stella McCartney have collaborated with Adidas to make exclusive, luxury streetwear. Mak believes well-known designers embracing and working with streetwear companies has drawn a lot more attention to the streetwear industry, helping it grow and gain more recognition.

“The fashion industry at large now embraces something that was kind of an oddity or seen as inferior fashion or not a serious force of fashion. Now, it has to embrace it,” said Mak.

Charles Costa, a former online streetwear reseller from Villanova University, has seen the industry gain more popularity since he started his company “Ace Kickz” a few years ago. His observances show that the tops brands tend to fluctuate in success.

“Adidas wasn’t a thing prior to 2015,” Costa said. “When they got their boost material, they signed Kanye and their market share jumped from like zero percent to 30 percent in four years. Supreme is always going to be popular. Off-White has become much more popular. Nike is also pretty consistent. Even though they had a dip in 2016 to 2018, they are back.”

Mak sees a similar pattern, explaining that the streetwear industry will continue to evolve as new designers gain recognition.

“It will keep growing, the players and brands that are dominant will change and there will be new voices in streetwear, always evolving,” said Mak.

When considering what caused the uptick in streetwear popularity over the past few years, Mak credited social media, claiming it to be a powerful tool for mass marketing.

“When we opened Bodega in 2006, the information was not in everyone’s pockets and on everyone’s phones; there was no social media,” said Mak. “There was centralized media, mostly print publications that were centered around lifestyle cultures of LA and Tokyo, a little bit of Paris. You had to travel to places to look at things and discover things. Instagram is basically home shopping network for millennials, so the tools of marketing to reach mass markets have all been democratized with the social media revolution.”

As streetwear continues to gain recognition in the fashion industry, there remains the question of whether top brands like Supreme, Stüssy and Kith will ever become household names like Gucci and Louis Vuitton.

For some brands, it could be possible, according to Mak; but, he believes streetwear is not for mass market consumption.

Mak explained: “It’s always going to be niche. There’s other factors that go into it. We actually don’t see that [mass name recognition] yet with some brands. Everyone in the world knows Gucci, but not everyone in the world knows the top streetwear brands, so there’s still a far way to go for the largest players on the market. I would say it’s possible, but if you compare the amount of Gucci stores that exist to the number of Supreme stores, it’s not a contest. Gucci has a factor of one thousand times more.”

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