Annals of Streetwear, and Our Place in Them

We examine both the history and current state of streetwear as we embark on a new chapter
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Freshness first staked its corner of the Internet back in 2003, a much different time in terms of both the streetwear firmament and the online landscape. As with most media enterprises, Freshness was created to fill a void. A duo of Parsons graduates -- Dan Hwang and Yu-Ming Wu -- were desperately searching for information about limited sneaker releases and obscure apparel brands coming out of Japan. Aside from NikeTalk and a small coterie of overseas websites, the available resources were few and far between, forcing the guys to take matters into their own hands. Chief among their objectives was the establishment of a New York City perspective. Streetwear may have had deep roots in the West Coast -- it was, after all, the birthplace of action sports and pioneering brands like Stussy -- but in 2003, it had taken up residence in the Big Apple.

A word about sneakers and streetwear in the immediate aftermath of the millennium: it goes without saying that the landscape was radically different. Twitter, Facebook and Instagram were non-existent. This meant you had to pick up the phone and call your local shops on a daily basis to check whether an expected shoe had finally arrived. And for those with faulty memories, here’s a quick rundown of salient points regarding why you had to schlep to actual stores to buy your kicks: Nike had an explicitly stated policy that forbade the selling of its Air Force 1 model online; Quickstrikes could only be purchased through stores that had Quickstrike accounts; Nike’s burgeoning SB line was sold only through select skate shops; and Supreme was only sold at the brand’s NYC and L.A. flagships, alongside a handful of global independent shops that had the privilege of maintaining those coveted Supreme accounts. (Of course, seasonal Supreme releases weren’t the ordeals that they are today, as the locals didn’t have to contend with lines that wrapped around the block.) Oh, and pity the hapless shopper who walked into a Barneys store asking about visvim.

This isn’t meant as a hoary “Back in my day” diatribe against today’s entitled consumer landscape. One could, in fact, make the argument that things were better back then. It was a retail environment that fomented actual relationships between consumer and vendor. Consider the old HUF store on Sutter Street. For the tired commuters disembarking the Muni bus a few feet away, HUF was just another nondescript storefront on a busy city street. For those in the know, the shop was a vital cog in an emerging San Francisco subculture. It was part retail operation and part clubhouse (no secret handshake required), where one could simply stop in to commune with other members of a loosely affiliated tribe. By dint of their rarefied positions, the workers at the store had become gatekeepers of a sort, but they also became friends. They called their second location on Hayes street if they didn’t have your size. Moreover, if they happened to know someone at the buzzed-about restaurant you were trying to get into later that night, they’d make a call on your behalf to nab a late reservation. Nowadays, you feel fortunate if you get that shipment notification in a timely manner. This is progress?

Brands didn’t live and die by the amount of “Likes” they garnered on Instagram. It’s difficult to imagine now, but the majority of streetwear brands didn’t operate e-commerce sites. (Today, it’s a prerequisite, a basic ticket to admission.) Oftentimes, your favorite brand was tantamount to your favorite band, an obscure thing that lived in the underground, back when dark corners of popular culture regularly escaped the notice of the blogosphere. Little known and underappreciated, these brands were small enough that they felt like yours and yours alone. Occasionally, wearing a logo T-shirt felt like that aforementioned secret handshake. Nowadays, it’s hard to keep a secret. Learn about Born x Raised on a podcast one day, see the label collaborating with Reebok mere months later.

But can one argue against openness? Isn’t it almost always a good thing? Bobby Hundreds audaciously charted the vicissitudes of his own nascent brand through the The Hundreds’ eponymous blog, in stark contrast to the carefully cultivated mystique that’s always been part and parcel of Supreme, the industry leader. From the outset, The Hundreds was inextricably tied to its online presence, and like any ambitious blogger, Bobby knew right away that uploading content on a daily basis was the key to building his audience. Curiously, in this essay, Bobby laments a time when the appeal of streetwear was bound to notions of “mystery and exclusivity” without acknowledging his role in bringing the genre from out of the shadows. He goes on to assign much of the blame for streetwear’s stagnant economic growth in 2015 on the Internet, notwithstanding that the Internet was wholly instrumental in The Hundreds’ initial success.

None of this is meant as criticism. When you’re no longer the lovable upstart, a little existential hand-wringing is to be expected, even if it means decrying the very things that got you where you are in the first place. And just as The Hundreds grapples with its place in Streetwear 2.0, so too does the industry itself. When KITH is regularly mentioned in Condé Nast lifestyle publications, it’s time to acknowledge a paradigm shift. Meanwhile, any hope for a resurgent “underground” is wildly optimistic at best, delusional at worst.

So where does that leave Freshness in 2016? There’s the old canard that says you have to know where you’re from to know where you’re going. The world has drastically changed since 2003, but in some ways, Freshness has not. Our reach may be a little wider, our interests more varied, but our mission remains the same: we’re still here to serve you, the reader, by documenting the ongoing evolution of the street style and sneaker subcultures. Thank you for sticking with us over the last thirteen years, and we hope you’ll stay with us during the next phase of our own evolution.

To that end, welcome to the latest iteration of Freshness. We’ve rolled out a comprehensive redesign, one that has a contemporary look and feel, along with a layout that’s easier to navigate. Keep in mind, the site is as much yours as it ours. Consequently, we want to hear what’s on your minds. Tell us about the things you want to see on Freshness that we’re missing. Tell us what we’re getting wrong, and also let us know what we’re getting right. Here’s to the next lucky thirteen.