Streetwear - How the hype creates new identities but also criticism

These are the hurdles the fast-growing streetwear division has to deal with, when it comes to sustainability

Streetwear fashion has great potential for sustainable practices

Author: Elisabeth Klokar

What is the definition of streetwear? Logos, lettering, hoodies, printed shirts, baseball caps and sneakers: what we call casual urban street fashion today has its origins in America. The term first appeared in 1976 in the name of the then hip skateboard company Vision Street Wear. Since then, a fashion trend has developed from it: streetwear. To date, this has been distributed in different directions, so that a uniform definition is hardly possible any more.

Strictly speaking, streetwear in the fashion world only stands for urban leisure clothing of the younger generation and was initially only worn by skaters, sprayers, but also rappers and clubbers - i.e. all subcultures of the urban youth. Depending on the scene, certain brands played a major role. Today streetwear is synonymous with skatewear, clubwear, urban clothing and street styles.

Copyright by Balenciaga

With the increasing spread of the high fashion industry and the blogger scene, streetwear has become a mass product and thus part of the sustainability problem - with which the fashion industry is currently struggling. The special report of the online magazine Highsnobiety: Streetware has a sustainability problem, makes clear where the problems of sustainable street fashion lie and shows three basic solutions.

Streetwear - From the niche to the identity expression of an entire generation

The numbers according to Highsnobiety speak for themselves: the value of the exclusive streetwear brand Supreme is estimated at over $ 1 billion, almost 25 billion pairs of sneakers are produced annually, and streetwear brands produce up to 350 different articles per year. With this mass, streetwear can no longer be classified as a niche from which it originally came. Luxury and fast fashion brands pounced on the easily producible, high-margin items with the aim of finding appeal with the young generation. With success. The increasing demand meant that quantity came before quality.

The business model has turned streetwear into a quickly consumable fashion. And this consumption cycle is intensively promoted by advertising and new collections, which puts pressure on consumers. On the other hand, there are high-priced articles, mainly sneakers, that become veritable collector's items. Most of them are limited editions of well-known stars, which are bought by so-called “sneakerheads”. A cult that makes streetwear fashion an identity-creating subject.

Sustainable street fashion - what are the problems?

Countercultural positions are the roots of streetwear. Social policy messages marked their values ​​and their structure. Think of Stüssy, who represents surfers and skaters, or the influence of Jordan Brand on low-income communities. Social affiliation is associated with streetwear, while environmentally conscious production and design are not part of this long history. So far, even ethical or sustainable basic ideas have had no direct influence on street culture. A challenge for many brands, especially at a time when sustainability is the central issue and problem of many companies. So what can street clothing brands do to bring about short and long-term changes when it comes to environmental and human impacts? On the whole, a new language has to be found to pick up the consumers.


This is what the industry needs for sneaker heads, according to the Highsnobiety Report

1) Good design and responsible implementation

Great design must prevail, coupled with new materials, recycling options, resource conservation and / or humane conditions in production. The French sneaker brand Veja, for example, uses organic cotton and wild rubber soles from the Amazon region and sells almost two million pairs of sneakers each year.

The soles of the popular VaporMax 270 and 720 models by Nike are made from more than 70 percent recycled materials. British designer Christopher Raeburn also found new ways of turning unconventional fabrics into new fashion items. He works on the concept of "Remade, Reduced, Recycled". His streetwear consists of recycled materials that are inherently stable, which noticeably extends their lifespan in terms of sustainability.

2) Create new values

The fashion market is basically geared towards growth. In addition to “buy less” calls, brands can also build up a new overall ethos that goes beyond the pure product through knowledge, access, belonging and experience. For example, you can let the customer look behind the scenes: transparency in the value chain signals openness. Loyalty to a sustainable brand in turn promotes a different set of values, which usually lasts long-term and can also encourage rethinking.

3) Cooperation and continuous development

Structural changes take time. Therefore, small steps lead to success: from recycled labels to the first capsule collections. Every measure comes closer to sustainability. Cooperations can also do a lot to achieve more. Experience and individual knowledge can thus be transformed into applicable, institutional knowledge that is accessible to a large number of actors.




Sneak Preview: Street Fashion Trends 2020

"33% of Gen Z men and 26% of Gen Z women consider themselves sneaker heads." In this context, StockX has become one of the top 10 favorite Gen Z men's high-income websites. The online marketplace for streetwear offers with its study StockX Snapshot: The State of Resale a good trend overview of what sold well and will remain popular in 2020, including new developments.

  1. In 2019, Artist Merch products were one of the fastest growing segments of the StockX streetwear marketplace. It is to be expected here, as more and more artists bring out limited capsule collections to commemorate their albums and tours, that the demand will continue to increase.
  2. Travis Scott's artist merchandise made up 10 of the 100 best streetwear items released in 2019. These include his blockbuster collaborations, which helped the Jordan Brand to be number 1 on the 2019 StockX sneaker ranking. StockX also expects its upcoming projects with Nike to consolidate its dominance in the secondary market.
  3. Exclusive sneaker news for women almost doubled their share of the secondary market in 2019. As brands intensify their efforts to cope with this demographic development, the popularity of women's sneakers is expected to increase. Also because the number of women who identify themselves as "sneaker heads" is increasing.
  4. In 2019, smaller brands such as New Balance became key players in the resale market. 2020 should be another big year for these brands.
  5. This hype goes into the next round: luxury luggage and men's bags. The collaboration with Supreme x Rimowa and Virgil Abloh's Prism Keepall proved that men are increasingly interested in these product categories. In 2020 too!


Always informed about the latest lifestyle trends, architecture, design & interior, as well as current technologies around sustainability.

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Elizabeth Klokar

Text: Elisabeth Klokar

Elisabeth is an author and freelance journalist. She studied art history in Graz, Art & Communication and Moden & Styles and Fine Arts at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna at Central Saint Martins College, University of the Arts London. For more than ten years she has been writing about modern and contemporary art, fashion and architecture for a wide variety of print and online media. 

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