The word “disruption” and its variants have been overused to the point that they’re near-meaningless, but there is little other way to describe the effect that streetwear and sneakers have had on the way luxury brands do business.
At a panel hosted by retail platform Edited on Tuesday, representatives from brands spanning the luxury fashion industry discussed the ways that streetwear and the overall casualization of fashion has affected the way they do business.
“The world has become more casual,” said Maria Salazar Levin, vp at Valentino. “We are not going to go back to bow ties and hats all the time. People now dress however they feel like dressing. A double-breasted jacket with sneakers is common now. Fashion has become more personal.”
Streetwear and sneakers are a massive industry. Sneakers alone accounted for $246 billion in revenue in 2017. Streetwear has already had a major impact on luxury in the form of drops: Nearly every major luxury brand, from Burberry to Gucci, are aping the much-hyped model originated by Japanese streetwear brands and codified by giants like Supreme.
“The millennial market is the single-most important aspect of this relationship, bridging the gap between streetwear and luxury fashion,” said Krista Corrigan, retail analyst at Edited. “Millennials have enabled this ‘drop culture’ around sneakers and streetwear in which exclusivity is key. The relationship is mutually beneficial as this generation is fixated with the luxury lifestyle, while the high-fashion industry wants a piece of the pie. This also provides an avenue for sportswear brands to seamlessly enter into the luxury market — think Off-White x Nike or Adidas’ Yeezy.”
As the lines between luxury and streetwear blur, customers’ shopping palates have become more diverse. When Balenciaga and Nike are both creating products in the same category, competing to come up with the latest iteration of the sock-sneaker, and are being compared directly in the pages of streetwear publications like Hypebeast, there is an inevitable blurring that occurs. Customers no longer shop only at luxury brands or only at athletic retailers.
“The consumer is not loyal,” said Bianca Kuttickattu, design director at Vince. “Our customers come to Vince for an interpretation of certain trends, but we know they are shopping at Nike and other luxury brands as well.”
This has led to a situation where brands are competing across price points. No longer do luxury brands only have to worry about other luxury brands as competition for the same set of consumers. For maybe the first time, Nike is a direct competitor with Gucci, and Burberry is going after the same customer as Adidas.
This has been borne out by what brands are stocked at luxury retailers. According to Edited, a survey of luxury retailers shows that the most stocked sneaker brands are luxury brands Golden Goose, Gucci and Maison Margiela, and mass fashion brands Nike and Adidas. These brands, which not long ago were so far removed from one another, are now stocked alongside each other in the aisles of Bergdorf Goodman and Saks Fifth Avenue.
Clearly, luxury brands have the incentive to chase after streetwear customers. But in doing so, they also run the risk of losing the essential elements that make the brand itself.
“It’s really important to stand true to your brand heritage and not chase trends,” said Jemma Cassidy, chief merchandising officer at Diane von Furstenberg. “If you try to be everything to everyone, you’ll be nothing to anyone.”
“Different brands connect in different ways, but if you completely change your DNA to what the trends are, you’re going to lose what your brand is,” Salazar Levin said.
This is especially true given the proposed longevity of streetwear as a genuine fashion category. Cassidy likened streetwear and sneakers to denim. When jeans came around, they did not fade out, they simply became an essential part of the larger fashion world, the new normal, and were replaced by other new trends.
“Sneakers and streetwear are not going anywhere soon,” Cassidy said. “They will just be absorbed into the norm and then something else will come along.”
This is an idea that has been echoed from others in the fashion industry. Streetwear is a permanent addition to the diverse world of fashion. Luxury brands need to decide how and to what degree they will incorporate it into their strategies without losing the qualities that make them distinct.
“Streetwear is, in my opinion, as permanent as athleisure,” said Chris Paradysz, CEO of PMX Agency, in an interview with Glossy last month. “I’m not trying to compare them in terms of style, but athleisure has become a mature, distinct category. It emerged and has now become permanent. It’s the same with streetwear. It gets in your bloodstream a little — a permanent shift.”