The Lack of Female Representation in Streetwear Brands

Streetwear fashion is multi-faceted and has a dedicated fanbase. When you look up “streetwear fashion” the results are almost always a bunch of guys dressed up in unconventional clothing. This means primary colors clashing, mismatched sleeve colors, words displayed on the sleeves, on the front and back, and usually, a loose-fitting extra-long shirt. It is a collaboration of being wacky and expressive but still maintaining a “cool-kid” vibe.

Supreme and Streetwear Fashion

The Supreme logo (via Wikimedia)

In “The Development of Streetwear and the Role Of New York City, London, and Supreme NY”, author Rajendran explains that 19 participants have brought attention to the company Supreme as being the origin story, and the perfect example, of streetwear fashion. The thing is, Supreme is one of the top trendiest streetwear brands out in 2018, but Supreme isn’t the originator of streetwear fashion. So the origin of who Supreme is, and how the brand got to be so popular comes from acknowledging the origin of Stüssy.

Now, Stüssy is what everyone calls the “father” of streetwear fashion. Deleon, in his article, “How Stüssy Became a $50 Million Global Streetwear Brand Without Selling Out” explains, “The Stüssy style did to clothing what hip-hop did to music: creating something new and fresh by sampling the familiar.” Basically, around the 1980s, Stüssy started a skateboard shop in California, and in the simplest way, started making a couple of T-shirts that did well. So, with this newfound territory, Stüssy went around the world to meet people with similar likes to him and ended up in New York to set up a more serious shop. Here comes James Jebbia, the founder of Supreme who had worked alongside Shawn Stüssy but then decided to make his own shop in New York. In 1994, Jebbia made a small skate shop on Lafayette Street, which in turn, became a clothing brand. It only really blew up when Supreme started making collaborations with big (and high-end) companies, like Comme des Garçons, a Japanese-based brand. The mixture of Supreme’s collaboration with high-end companies and their minimalistic look caught the attention of the youth, which then launched Supreme into being the big brand they are today.

To be able to define Supreme as a brand is fairly easy, they display their clothing in a barren shop, the website is similar in the minimalistic aesthetic that follows all the way through into their clothing. The difficulty is defining why Supreme is a streetwear brand, especially with this minimalistic aesthetic. Rajendran writes, “Participants experienced difficulties in providing a concrete definition of streetwear; their responses often eluded specificity, “Streetwear as a definition? That seems almost impossible for me to describe … there’s so many facets of it,” mentions a puzzled Benji Kesselbach…”

So, the easiest way to do this is to look at what streetwear isn’t. Rajendran continues with, “Contributors commonly asserted that streetwear had “no professional purpose”….” So, whether streetwear is the loud mismatched look or the simplistic look, it isn’t something you can pair with a blazer and wear to court. Streetwear fashion is supposed to fight against the conventional look. In Ofiaza’s article, we see Jebbia’s point of view of streetwear fashion: “Admitting that he always adored the skate world, “It was less commercial — it had more edge and more fuck-you type stuff”…” So, streetwear fashion for Jebbia comes from a place of “fuck-you” which is safe to say it is almost a rebellious and punk origin. But where Jebbia says “skate world” implies the beginning of streetwear fashion, which has its roots in skaters.

Skater Fashion Influences

Alexis Castro writes an article named “How Skaters Really Feel About Fashion’s Appropriation of Their Culture” and it brings up the concept of cultural appropriation — for skaters. Sam Blum writes “How Skateboarding Became a High-Fashion Obsession” which goes on to talk about how Vogue had a “Skate Week” and how it’s not a good thing. It brings up again, this idea of cultural appropriation. Blum writes, “It’s longtime editor Jake Phelps, known for being caustic and sharp-tongued, made headlines last year when Justin Bieber and Rihanna were photographed wearing Thrasher T-shirts. At the time, the celebrities seemed to spark his ire: “We don’t send boxes to Justin Bieber or Rihanna or those fucking clowns,” he said…He watched it unfold on TV, shaking his head. “The reason they wear the gear is because it’s stylish and people went and bought it for them, they don’t know what Thrasher is,” he says.” The article goes on,

“For someone who’s never collided with asphalt, or felt the sting of a board slapping them in the knee, wearing an old skate logo can ultimately be seen as a farce. “There’s a lot of cultural heritage surrounding skateboarding with those old graphics,” says John Rattray, a longtime professional skateboarder for companies like Zero Skateboards and Osiris Shoes. “If skating has given you some respite from a shitty life, then there’s a lot of emotional connection to that stuff that can be taken for granted or overlooked,” by people who don’t skate, he says.”

This point of view from skaters implies that if streetwear clothing is just another name for skater gear, then there’s a bigger story beneath it all. The brand Thrasher offers us the unique situation of this “cultural appropriation”, where the logo on a plain shirt became more mainstream, and the small niche group didn’t like that, as small niche groups usually react. The only trouble is that they see things like the Thrasher logo as something sacred. “It was this year’s merch craze combined with an increased emphasis on individuality and anti-establishment politics that ultimately culminated in Thrasher’s newfound popularity with the fashion industry and celebrities alike.” Emilia Petrarca writes in her article, “Note to Fashion Crowd: Stop Wearing Thrasher Merch in 2017”.

Streetwear fashion is getting more and more popular, and the origin of it is being forgotten in the process. Besides the origin, and the whole “scraped knee” skater life, when people wear skater clothing, are they trying to actively tell the world they are skaters? Or do they just like the originality and unique look of the clothing? See, I think that “skater fashion” falls into streetwear fashion because of how unconventional it is. Rajendran writes, “…inclusion within subcultures is a large driving force within streetwear. Sport, music, and fashion were mentioned as factors and were considered to be obvious influences, yet contributors found it hard to derive and pin down a very clear characterization.”

The definition of streetwear fashion can fall somewhere between the ambiguity of other subcultures, like skater culture, and the rigidity of being something you wouldn’t see somewhere else. Streetwear fashion demands originality, authenticity, and the backing of a loyal fan base community. When it becomes too mainstream, it’s still considered streetwear but it turns into “hype culture”. Hype culture ensuring a large crowd of people trying to get exclusive items, this means those long lines circling down blocks where people camp out waiting for the store to open, which is something Supreme is infamous for because of the exclusivity and limited edition nature of their clothing.

Women in Streetwear Fashion

Between trying to define something inherently undefinable, and describing one of the most relevant and popular streetwear fashion brands, we’ve missed something important. Streetwear fashion has a notable empty spot when it comes to women and women-specific clothing. It should be pointed out that when companies label things as “unisex”, it doesn’t mean “for both sexes” it means “this is for men, but women can wear it too, I guess”.

“I think some younger boy consumers may be backwards enough to see unisex clothes styled on women and get it fucked up and think that they are somehow cut different for women and would not fit them in a rad way,” says Brendan Fowler, co-founder and creative director of Some Ware, which adopts a unisex approach to its design. “Or maybe they are just conditioned to think this way by years of gendered styling.” (Hypebeast)

The Supreme’s website doesn’t offer anything specifically for men or women, but in their lookbook, there’s only one model, and it’s a man. For Stüssy’s website, we see a category for men and women, but the main website features picture links for the men’s section, with women’s new arrival being pushed to the bottom of the page. The categories are mainly similar, with men having “long-sleeve tees” and women having “dresses”.

(left) Men’s New Arrival (right) Women’s New Arrival (via Stüssy)

The difference lies in the new arrivals, men have a fleece jacket, two different two-toned denim jackets, and a strange “military” jacket. Women’s new arrival consists of a T-shirt dress, a sweater, and two hoodies. You can clearly tell where the creativity lies when it comes to men and women’s fashion. Where we usually see women having a fashion lead in the world, streetwear fashion is backward in that sense.

Menendez and Gill from Hypebeast express this idea, “At the core of this is streetwear’s unique ability to appeal to men in ways that have eluded mainstream fashion. Where traditional brands have long cultivated an air of unattainable luxury marketed primarily toward women, streetwear has done the exact opposite.” Streetwear fashion pushes women into an afterthought. This isn’t something that should be overlooked, it isn’t “oh cool, this is something specifically for men and their creative expression” this is something deliberately done by men to push women out of the industry and turn it into a “boy’s club”.

The idea that streetwear fashion isn’t for women is a male-made myth by a male-dominated industry. And this disconnect between women and streetwear fashion has tried to be bridged, but it often fails. So, where are the female streetwear brands? The female streetwear clothing made by females for females? It exists, just not as loudly as the male streetwear brands do. There’s MadeMe made “by girls, for girls”.

(via X-girl shop)

In Vrinda Jagota’s article about MadeMe, she writes, “Founder Erin Magee says, “MadeMe reflects a lot of the same values as X-girl did 20 years ago. Tomboy aesthetics and Riot Grrl ideals are at the heart of both brands.” ” It’s strange because X-girl started as a shop in Los Angeles, and had hosted a fashion show in Soho, New York, yet now the only X-girl shops are located in Japan. The online shop is also in Japanese and doesn’t exude the same cool minimalistic vibe that Supreme does. It seems almost sheltered, and closed-off, which begs the question of, what happened to female streetwear fashion? Is there truly no market for it?

Laura Havlin writes in her article, “Riot Grrrls railed against commercial, capitalist culture, mainstream standards of beauty, and expected female behaviour — and their relationship with clothing and self-image is one that disassociated political passivity from engagement with style.” This seems like a confident statement. The Riot Grrrls movement is one that should’ve lasted through the generations. It should’ve opened up a whole new network of female streetwear brands that would allow women to retain their femininity without sacrificing originality, authenticity, and that same “fuck-you” attitude from a loyal community going against the mainstream.

(left) Geneva Diva’s “Designer Pussy” (middle) Daisy Natives “The Revolution” (right) Elleveet “Woman in Power” (via Shrill Society)

What we get from female-owned streetwear brands is completely different than male-owned streetwear brands. Female-owned streetwear brands have a common theme of being political. On a website called Shrill Society, there’s a wide selection of different designers making shirts, but they are all made by women. In their “about us” section, they write, “We make and source products that center women’s stories and joy and we believe humor is a better teacher than shame. We focus on apparel and object-based experiences because we know the small and everyday things can make a big difference in shaping a better world.” The female story is never just a shirt that says “Supreme” — but that isn’t the male story either. So, why is female fashion synonymous with an active protest against societal standards? Is that what modern young woman want? To weaponize their bodies? To be displaying the derogatory words thrown at them all their lives across their chests?

Leah McSweeney’s “Supreme Bitch” (via Hypebeast)

An infamous case of this is when Leah McSweeney, founder of the streetwear brand Married to the Mob, was sued by Supreme for her shirts saying “Supreme Bitch” using the same font that Supreme does for their logo and shirts. McSweeney released a note, writing, “…the use of the design has always been to make fun of the misogynistic vibe of Supreme and the boys who wear it…It’s one of the most powerful ways for me to comment on the boy’s club mentality that’s pervasive in the streetwear/skater world.” Often talking about the struggles she had when making her company, the struggles of being a female in this male-dominated industry.

“Anything You Can Do…” shirt that still makes a statement about being a female (via Married to the Mob)

When Menendez and Gill wrote their article, “To Survive, Streetwear Must Abandon Sexism” trying to bring attention to this issue, the general public in the comments seem to have a lot to say about it.

(via Hypebeast)
(via Hypebeast)
(via Hypebeast)

These comments are proof that there is pushback against females establishing themselves in streetwear fashion. The struggles of trying to establish a female streetwear clothing line, and putting out a line of products specifically for women cannot go unnoticed. But there are female streetwear brands out there that don’t go directly into the politics. Illustrated People is a good example, in their “about us” page they describe themselves by saying, “…tomboyish yet girly…not taking itself too seriously.” Although it isn’t a U.S brand, it is still a female brand “by girls, for girls”. As long as females exist, and continue to wear and create streetwear brands, there will always be a push for something tailored to them. It’s just something we have to keep working towards because it isn’t “just fashion”, it’s the mentality behind it and how it should be inclusive for any and all genders.

(left) IP Girl Monogram Co-ord Strap Ring Bralet & Jogger (middle) Dazed Racer Joggers (right) Fearless Racing Long-sleeve tee & Pink Octopus Trousers (via Illustrated People)