The predictably cyclical nature of fashion in combination with streetwear’s rising during the past several years has bred a successful series of Cinderella stories. Brands that could not compete by standards of performance or design and were all but swept under the rug by 2015 have swiftly become major players not necessarily in athletic wear but predominantly in fashion. On the current scene they are perhaps emerging as more influential than their previously dominant counterpart. Propelled by the engines of hip-hop and counterculture, these brands suddenly hold the keys to bright futures born of nearly all-encompassing failure.
It seems so long ago, but was only in 2014 when Adidas was a lackluster secondary brand that was blown out of the water in their attempted race towards the top – cut short but a Nike-dominated decade and a half. The arena in which sports apparel brands have traditionally found success – in sports, Nike has held, and in many ways still holds in a stranglehold. But Adidas is growing and growing fast. In 2016, Adidas experienced double-digit percentage growth each quarter, sometimes topping 20% in comparison with their numbers just two years prior, making them the fastest growing brand in their respected North American market. Thanks to genius aesthetic and marketing decisions led by collaborations not only with high-profile athletes but more favorably with a variety of other public figures, Adidas has in many ways used their experience in engineering and design to pivot towards the world of fashion. This diversion towards the fashion market has been made possible by hip-hop culture’s affinity for circularity and through it, a return to the stylistic decisions of the 1980’s and 1990’s where a smattering of athletic brands were held in high regard in the world of high fashion. In fact, during these decades Adidas was experiencing their last boom thanks in large part to collaborations with hip-hop artists of the respective eras like Run-DMC and Snoop Dogg. Today, the obvious hip-hop and Adidas collaborations that come to mind involve Pharrell and Kanye West. These projects have changed the direction of Adidas and helped to give rise to what has come to be called the streetwear aesthetic in fashion – high-fashion inspired by the design and material choice of athletic brands since the 1980’s in search of casual comfort.
Mutually stricken by mediocrity, athletic brand Reebok was acquired by Adidas in 2005 in an effort that their joint forces might extend relevancy for both companies. And again, hip-hop culture and its recent campaigns for athletic apparel and streetwear became the saving grace for a brand. Kendrick Lamar has been collaborating with Reebok since 2015 and although his designs are not necessarily regarded in the world of high fashion like comparable Adidas collaborations, the Kendrick Lamar line of shoes can be seen as an important statement that perhaps working with smaller or even failure-bound brands results in a more sought-after and powerful product. Much of this ideology is thanks to another movement in fashion occurring simultaneously and jointly with hip-hop culture’s streetwear aesthetic. Counterculture has made it trendy to support small-market, out-of-date, and failing brands in recent years. Thanks to the power of counterculture in the modern scene in combination with fashion’s tendency for circularity, brands like Reebok that have not seen success since they were ousted by Adidas as the NBA jersey manufacturer in 2006 and ousted by Nike as the official NFL supplier in 2012, are exploding onto the scene once again. But this time, they are here to focus on counterculture and fashion, and not to necessarily to compete in the athletic market.
This is a growing trend not at all limited to the confines of Reebok and Adidas pivoting their brands towards a more fashion-centric focus. The power of hip-hop culture, the subsequent rise of streetwear, and the affinity for past styles and counterculture is giving rise to obscure brands that have been in decline for decades.
When one ponders on influential and desirable brands driven by hip-hop culture from 2000-2015, Nike, Jordan (a subsidiary of Nike), and New Era 59-fifty hats are usually what comes to mind. Yet as hip-hop has broadened its reach and its styles in the past few years, the market of fashion driven by hip-hop culture has expanded greatly, carrying with it small-market brands like Champion Sportswear. Everyone’s favorite 1980’s and 1990’s oversized sweatshirt designer, Champion has been more or less irrelevant and forgotten in the decades since. As hip-hop and countercultural movements have become more commonplace and trendy, Champion is one of the most notable success stories in result. Due to the brand’s recent success in retailing for these movements, Champion has begun experimenting in the design of trending streetwear and finding international success from it. In fact, their 2017 Fall and Winter releases have become some of the most sought after designs at the moment.
There is another recently revived brand worth discussing. Headquartered in Seoul, South Korea since 2007, Fila has found particular success via route of Asia. East Asia’s continued economic growth resulting in emerging consumer classes in combination with a strong affinity for Western culture has made countries like South Korea, Japan, and China some of the strongest markets for counterculture and streetwear movements. Fila’s location allowed them to see into the future. The brand was wise enough to transfer their efforts from a Nike-blinded North America to an untapped and willing market in Asia. Marketing the brand in a similar way that it had been successfully marketed since the 1980’s Fila saw explosive growth throughout Asia due to a market buying into the Western athletic and streetwear aesthetics. Alongside Fila, small-market and failure-bound athletic brands like New Balance, Asics, and Champion have also found a massive and accepting market on the other side of the world. Poetically, as hip-hop has influenced the world of fashion and brought streetwear to the mainstream, the world of streetwear fashion and counterculture is now influencing a wider reach and an explosive growth of hip-hop culture throughout Asia – bringing hip-hop, streetwear, and counterculture more universal success than ever before.
If it is true that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, then the success of brands that have pivoted from athletics to streetwear must truly be universal. Today, high-fashion brands from Zara to Balenciaga are doing their best to keep pace with the design and aesthetics put forth by brands that just two years ago had nearly failed and were all but forgotten. These brands, like Adidas, Reebok, Champion, Fila, and many others are now leading the way and setting the bar in new-age design while fashion houses traditionally crowned superior are unable to maintain momentum. Failure in the circularity of fashion has truly bred success.