Streetwear and the business of hype.

Rex Pham
Rex Pham
Nov 13, 2017 · 5 min read

If marketing is considered the fire beneath a brand, then hype is the gasoline that sets it ablaze. Through intense promotion you could exponentially increase a brand’s desirability and transform it from a “want” to a “need” in the eyes of consumers. If a brand ever reaches this “Mount Olympus” status, its products could almost sell themselves (ahem Apple). No other industry capitalizes off the power of hype better than streetwear. Need proof? Check out the prices of Supreme’s products on StockX. How did an industry based on everyday basics of t-shirts, hoodies, and sneakers grow to become a multi-billion dollar business? By manipulating marketing and economics.

Step 1: build a core of passionate brand loyalists.

With roots in skateboarding, hip-hop, and other niche subcultures, streetwear reflects the spirit of the youth. Brands like Supreme, Stussy, and The Hundreds developed cult-like followings because they catered to their target customers. A young skater would most likely choose Stussy over The Gap because the former represented them better. When you wore the clothes, you felt like you belonged to an exclusive community that stretched from Los Angeles to Tokyo, a scene that only select “cool kids” knew about.

A loyal customer base is required to sustain a brand, and streetwear fans were camping out for new product drops and advocating for these labels like they worked for them. With these customers, streetwear labels cultivated a source for authentic, organic marketing. Anti Social Social Club literally does zero marketing, but whenever it announces a drop, fanboys go crazy and instantly hype up the news themselves.

BAPE loyalists

Step 2: Break the rules of economics to create even more brand equity.

The law of supply and demand states that the price of a good is determined by the amount availability and the level of demand for it. Streetwear steers away from this rule, and the results are pretty favorable.

As previously mentioned, streetwear culture was like a secret society that only a few were keen of. Brands didn’t sell in large retail chains like Zumies or Macy’s, but instead kept their availability limited. This maintained a sense of authenticity behind their names because they didn’t “sell out”, while driving up desirability and demand. Based on economics, they should’ve charged more premium prices and raked in the cash, but instead, pricing for streetwear was relatively affordable. Usually this is a red flag, as it meant that money was being left on the table, but in streetwear, the foregone revenue was made up in significant hype that leads to more brand equity. Supreme is the grand master of this strategy.

Ever since opening in 1994, Supreme has always maintained a super tight inventory; once something sells out, that’s all she wrote. Hundreds of kids campout for days outside Supreme’s 11 stores around the world to purchase its ultra limited releases and short-run collaborations. The brand could make so much more money by increasing inventory or prices, but Supreme chooses this exclusivity approach, and it has worked amazingly for them. Their products are fetching 2x–3x the retail price on the secondary resell market, but Supreme is more popular than its ever been.

It’s human nature for us to desire things we can’t have and labels have manipulated this with precision to create immense hype. And customers actually love this exclusivity aspect because it enhances their own status in the community if they’re able to secure sought after product.

Campout infront of Supreme’s LA store

Step 3: collaborate to spread influence.

Collaboration has always been prevalent in street culture, as partnerships between brands, influencers, and artists bring new ideas to the table. The most effective partnerships create awareness, excitement, and, yes, hype for all participating parties. That’s why selecting the right brand partner is critical. It’s common for streetwear brands to collaborate with one another (i.e. BAPE x Stussy).

Today, street fashion is the definition of cool and big brands are tapping its influence to enhance their own identities with the young Millennials and Generation Z demographics. Probably one of the most hyped up collaborations of 2017 is between Nike and Virgil Abloh (Off-White) to produce redesigns of 10 sneaker silhouettes. Nike is no stranger to collaborations as it tends to partner with influential names in street culture on exclusive products.

Also in 2017was what’s considered the greatest brand collaboration ever in a partnership between Supreme and Louis Vuitton. This definitely heightened Supreme’s overall status in the fashion world, while bringing some youthful energy to LV.

Step 4: infiltrate the mainstream, but maintain authenticity

Anything “underground”, “independent”, and “cool” eventually gets tapped and milked by the greater mainstream, so it wasn’t a surprise that streetwear saw its influence grow beyond the local skate shops, and most noticeably hitting high fashion runways. Among fashion’s hottest brands, which includes Balenciaga, Gucci, Off-White, Vetements, and Givenchy, a majority have adopted elements of streetwear in their collections. According to Bain & Co., streetwear helped boost global sales of personal luxury goods by 5 % to $309 billion in 2017. When Supreme sold a 50% stake to private equity firm Carlyle Group for a $500 million, valuing it at $1 billion, that was the stamp of streetwear’s impact on the mainstream. With so much attention and cash backing this once niche space, will streetwear still maintain that communal aspect or will it be overtaken?

Today, the line between streetwear with couture is practically blurred. In order for fashion brands to increase their relevance and appeal, specifically with the Generation Z demographic who holds $44 billion in buying power, they have to adopt the styles that customers want. It just so happens to be the t-shirts, hoodies, and sneakers that skate kids and hip hop heads have been rocking for decades.

Rex Pham

Written by

Rex Pham

Marketing Professional. Brand Aficionado. Culture Connoisseur

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