From Underground to Mainstream: The Top 5 Brands that Influenced Urban Streetwear Culture
Streetwear is an entity that's broken boundaries, uplifted the masses, and created more than just a cultural movement in the process but turning ideologies into garments that fit not only the wearer in sizing but also their respective lifestyle. Fashion is another artistic outlet that's been around since the early stages of humanity, becoming an extended expression of the individual human experience. Similar to good music, quality streetwear is timeless, so much so that even iconic brands of the past like Iceberg are starting to see a resurgence through current collaborations with retailers like Kith breathing new life into the brand and creating opportunities for the younger crowd to experience streetwear of the past.
Streetwear fashion has had such an impact on identity and culture because streetwear brands weren't façade or foreign. They weren’t overseas Italian designer brands that catered to a certain customer of a specific lifestyle. Streetwear brands were relatable and reflective of the many elements that compose culture. For streetwear creativity and culture became crowns in a crowded world, making it easier to spot the real kings and queens from just carbon copies. Streetwear was individualist expression and intellectual awareness in the form of a garment. Real trendsetters know, it's not just about what you wear, but how you wear, what you wear. Fashion has evolved, just like us, and the type of fashion that certain individuals are drawn to typically tend to fit their lifestyles, not only in aesthetics but in functionality as well. In the early stages of streetwear the clothing carried a message and remained cool to wear at the same time. Below are the top 5 streetwear brands that really incorporated different cultural cues through the clothes.
"Fubu was created for a culture, not a color"- Daymond John. Daymond John is one of the masterminds behind the Fubu brand that was founded in 1992. He's a very business inclined savvy entrepreneur that even after the initial hayday of Fubu, he has been featured on the reality TV show Shark Tank next to other successful entrepreneurs like Mark Cuban. Daymond is pioneer when the conversation of successful streetwear start-ups is spoken about. The Fubu brand was relatable to so many people due to the culturally inclusive nature behind the brand. When you ask most people the meaning behind the brand “For Us By Us is the common answer you’d receive although the "For Us By Us" mantra associated with the brand Fubu has been one of the longest running misconceptions about the clothing company. The common misunderstood ideology is that Fubu brand clothes are only for African-Americans, made by African-Americans. While many urban youth who identified with the brand at its peak of popularity typically tended to be men of color, the Fubu brand has openly combatted the fallacy stating that the brand caters to a culture and not just a color. The For Us By Us pertaining to Fubu meant to cater to a severely under represented urban hip-hop youth cultural market in terms of fashion. The market was basically untapped at the time due to designers fearing the uncertainty of whether the hip-hop genre would be just a phase or a concrete artistic genre that would last the test of time. Fubu has been a cultural staple for quite some time now, and whether you wish to claim it or not, chances are you've owned at least one article of clothing from the brand and if not you personally, possibly someone on your top 8 on your MySpace back in the day.
For us by us for everyone
Fubu was all about cultural representation and the clothes were more than just a statement. Comfortable and fashionable sportswear clothing that was more than just cool, but directly catered to the lifestyle and customs of the urban youth experience. Vividly colored 05 numbered Fubu football jerseys became the rage. The brightly colored sportswear resonated with the youth culture because standing out as an individual with the style of dress, as well as sports and music was popular with the youth. Sport stars and musicians symbolized success, so the youth culture adopted dressing like their idols who were excelling artistically or athletically.
Fubu already had a strong following in the neighborhood due to the authentic appreciation of cultural values that the brand stood behind. Fubu began as a brand that meagerly sold hats until Queens hip hop legend LL Cool J, from the same neighborhood as Daymond, decided to become the first big face of the brand. Fubu bubbled from being rocked by just a NYC queens neighborhood to nationwide success by aligning itself as an early investor of youth, urban, and hip hop culture. Fubu assisted in solidifying the standard for the aesthetics associated with mainstream streetwear. Even with the brand passing its prime, it still has a presence on the internet with active Facebook, Twitter and Instagram account. Fubu also has an active website www.fubu.com where current collab offerings may be purchased. Two of their most recent notable collaborations have been with Amsterdam native streetwear brand Patta and Ebbets Field Flannels.
MECCA USA & ENYCE
The brand name Mecca was derived from hip-hop associated slang that directly references Manhattan as the “home" borough of New York City. Mecca USA was started in 1994 by lead man Tony Shellman with accompaniment by Lando Felix, and Evan Davis. The brand was almost an overnight success, seeing recognition and backing by mainstream Hip Hop heavyweights like the Notorious B.I.G. and many others. Mecca had city culture ingrained in its roots and early Hip Hop culture truly embraced the brand. "All over print" Mecca branded short sleeve button ups could be spotted heavily on almost any corner. The Mecca brand hit the height of their success in the middle of the 90s. While the Mecca clothing brand was only two years deep into the emerging streetwear fashion scene, the founders of Mecca USA brand decided to cash out.
Mecca USA was sold after a short 2 years in 1996 because of conflicting business directions between Tony Shellman and primary Mecca brand clothing manufacturer International News. The manufacturer wanted to over saturate the market with Mecca USA branding on everything while the creators, rather than taking that route and selling out, sold the brand to International News. Fortunately for streetwear, Tony Shellman wasn't done as a designer.
In Comes Enyce
Mecca USA has ties to another cultural classic clothing brand, Enyce. The most memorable aspect about Enyce was the pronunciation of the brand. The common mispronunciation was "E-Nice" while the proper pronunciation sounds like "Eh-Knee-Chay." Once again the meaning behind the brand pays homage to New York City which has become a primary fashion culture staple amongst others in the world. Enyce was very tied to urban city culture which translated well on a nationwide scale. Mecca and Enyce made clothing that easily implemented aesthetics of cool that someone traversing city terrain would easily be able to identify with.
Tony Shellman made Mecca stand out in an era where brands like Avirex were the crowned competitor in what many deemed an urban Hip Hop counter culture. Tony Shellman replicated that uniqueness once again with Enyce against competitors like Akademiks, Girbaud, and Gino Green Global which by no means was an easy task. Tony has done what many designers struggle to do, and that's stay relevant across generations. It's something he's done by reinventing and rebranding all while making an impact on streetwear culture time and time again.
Mecca unfortunately fell into irrelevancy after Tony’s departure and failing to evolve with an ever changing fashion scene landscape. The Enyce brand ended up in Hip Hop Artist Sean P. Diddy Combs hands in a 2008 acquisition for $20 million. Enyce currently has a working website that doesn't offer any items for sale. Its possible that the Enyce brand is laying dormant, rather than dead, until appropriate action can be taken with the brand.
Carl Williams is the founder behind the Karl Kani brand. The meaning behind the brand Karl Kani is a play on words for “Carl can I?” The “can I” questioning is in reference to his journey in becoming solidified as a successful fashion designer, similar to the statuses of Ralph Lauren and others.
Karl Kani was not only great with his artistic selection when it came to design, but he was also great in his selection of artist that would represent the Kani brand. When you reminisce about the brand Karl Kani, chances are extremely talented artist Tupac Shakur comes to mind. It's hard seeing a photograph of Tupac without a Karl Kani garment on. Tupac was an innovator when it came to any artistic vision, dominating avenues like music, film, and fashion. Whether he was buckin' at Omar Epps in the elevator as Bishop in the movie Juice, showering in gold in a David LaChappelle symbolism filled surrealistic photo, or draped in Karl Kani when it came to clothes, Tupac was ahead of his time and so was Karl Kani. Tupac spoke to the culture and so did the clothing of Karl Kani. So what was the edge Karl Kani had that influenced the streetwear culture so heavily and attracted huge names like Pac to wear his clothing line? Authenticity and innovation. Tupac’s music spoke on cultural issues that effected many in the community, Karl Kani aligned his clothing company to carry the same messages.
It's Always Do or Die when you're from Bedstuy
Humble beginnings will make you hungry for success. Karl Kani came from Costa Rica, but is a Brooklyn bred business savvy savant who took over the streetwear industry in the 90s.
The 90s was an emerging hip hop heavy era, and good tailoring is what made Karl Kani stand out. Drawing inspiration from suits his father would wear and the mentality of standing out aesthetically from the other kids in the neighborhood, Karl Kani developed a knack for the creativity that crafted the clothes donning the Karl Kani branding. Fashion makes you stand out, and that's exactly what Karl Kani was good at doing and how he took over the scene.
Karl Kani clothing spoke to Hip Hop culture and was welcomed with open arms by a community who liked to stand out without over doing it. The brand had a very tailored designer feel that hip hop culture has grown to love, all without being overly formal and being dressed flat out in a suit and tie.
Tupac wasn't the only artist sporting the Karl Kani label, big names like Big daddy kane, Heavy D, LL Cool J, Public Enemy, P. Diddy, and Wu-Tang could be seen in the gear at any given time. Many of these artist had heavy messages in their music that directly addressed issues of social injustice amongst other things, so wearing brands like Karl Kani became almost like an identifying badge of honor. In a space where an abundance of other designers thought hip hop and the urban audience would tarnish their "pristine" image and draw negative connotations, designers like Karl Kani embraced hip hop culture and the messages associated with the musical art form.
Currently the Karl Kani brand has active social media accounts and a website www.karlkani.com that has clothes available for purchase. The brand is expecting a boom come June with the All Eyez On Me Tupac biopic seeing a release on Pac's 46th birthday June 16, 2017. The Karl Kani /Tupac biopic comeback is expecting to breath new life into the brand through the movie for the newer generations. All Eyez are on Kani this summer.
The meaning behind Cross Colours is "clothes without prejudice." Like the birth of many other streetwear brands Cross Colours was once again a clothing brand created to address clothing designers who at the time felt only certain cultures could wear their clothing. The brand was originally called Cross Cultures before switching over to Cross Colours. The clothing company name was spelled the U.K. method including the “u”as not to not create confusion and avoid association of gang ties with the popular movie Colors from that time.
Lead designers behind the brand, Carl Jones and TJ Walker, may not be names headlining the Met Gala anytime soon but they played a major role in fueling the vibrant visual aesthetics in 90s urban entertainment culture.
Both were talented, well educated designers who really understood how to make great clothing. In the 80s transitioning into the 90s the term "streetwear" wasn't a "thing" yet, and "beach wear" was streetwear. Beach wear was bright, lounge worthy, inherently cool clothing. So before streetwear was even on the scene, brands like Quicksilver were the "go to" brands to wear. Carl Jones caught on to what made clothes cool before Cross Colors was anywhere in the picture with a brand he started called Surf Fetish. Surf Fetish was a success, allowing Carl to accumulate the capital necessary to create Cross Colours. Surf Fetish captured elements of surf culture and applied it to an urban audience. Cross Colours was ubiquitous, vibrant, very 90s, and very successful. Many of your favorite 90s sitcoms had on something from Cross Colors.
Getting culture across
Cross Colours was an Afro-centric Hip Hop aligned clothing company with its iconic color palate inspired from Ghanaian Kente clothe. Ethnicity in the early 90s was a hard selling point, but America was a melting pot and this worked in Cross Colour’s favor. So many ideas and influences were flowing from every direction but Carl and TJ knew the right angle to approach for Cross Colours to become the successful streetwear brand it became.
Tv was the equivalent of social media before social media sites on the internet. Will Smith became one of the first adoptors to wear the clothes on his show. Another popular media outlet, MTV, also featured music artists that would wear pieces from Cross Colours in their music videos. Popular artist like TLC were often seen wearing Cross Colour gear. Hit singles and hit television series had the equivalent influence of viral videos today on the internet, and just like that, Cross Colours was everywhere, quickly adopted and ingrained deeply into cool youth culture.
Attempting to become an ethnically culturally observant clothing brand is hard. Cross colours faced the same problem most "conscious artist" suffer from today, and that's getting people to care about real issues while still remaining appealing. Finding that fine line between sticking true to your roots, being all-inclusive to appeal to the masses, and still being able convey a message is something Cross Colours executed flawlessly. Currently the brand has active social media accounts and a website www.crosscoloursla.com with a range of clothing available for purchase.
TRIPLE 5 SOUL
The brand meaning of Triple 5 soul, known as 555 soul during the time of its prime years, is a play on words paying homage to the New York party lines that were popular at the time. In the 90s, a small fair skinned woman with blonde hair would be the last person you would expect to be culturally aware of urban issues, but Camella Ehlke is the founder of legendary streetwear brand Triple 5 soul. Freshly graduated from school Camella was living in the lower east side at the same place were she was tailoring custom clothes with the Triple 5 logo on it. Her story of the Triple 5 Soul start-up starts with humble cut and sew beginnings. The entire endeavor was aimed creating clothes that conveyed individualist expression of cultural issues while still remaining aesthetically appealing. Triple 5 Soul was not just clothes that catered only to the urban city cultural experience of NYC, but also connected with the emerging hip hop culture of the time.
Originality, exclusivity, and authenticity are all the elements that came together to form Triple 5 soul and give the brand an unparalleled amount of flavor and appeal it had at the time. The clothes were worn by close friends of Camella, mostly DJs and emcees in the beginning who really took a liking to the clothes. Triple 5 Soul really appealed to the early stages of Hip Hop culture because it lined up with many of the 5 pillars that DJ Afrika Bambaataa deemed the cultural elements of Hip Hop. Artist like young Drake on TV show Degrassi, Mos Def, The Jungle Brothers, Boogie Down Productions and De La Soul could be seen sporting the Triple 5 Soul Gear. Triple 5 Soul also dabbled into the art element Hip Hop culture with popular graffiti artist Banksy taking over the store front at one time. Triple 5 Soul designer Camella is pretty in tune with the culture, she’s even stated to be friends with Supreme NYC’s James Jebbia.
From once dialing up creativity to commercialization causing a cultural disconnection
As the demand for the brand grew, Camella needed help to keep up. She enlisted the aid of Troy Morehouse, who had just recently worked on aiding the production of another Hip Hop culturally focused brand Phat Farm. In the process of coming on board to help, Morehouse seized 50% ownership of the Triple 5 Soul brand. This move commercialized the brand, allowing it to meet the demand, but it suffocated creative input from Camella, killing the authentic cultural roots that the brand once stood on. With much of the creative freedom gone in the name of commercialism, Camella decided that it was time to leave the brand as well.
Currently the Triple 5 Soul brand isn't making much of an appearance on the radar stateside in the U.S..Triple 5 soul still operates with a functional online Canadian based website with clothing available to purchase.
Cool blog post…totally forgot about ENYCE - threw me back to old days of arguing with my boys about it being pronounced (Eh-knee-Chay) vs (NYC).
I did get a little side tracked and noteable jumped to the end about 45% through the post. Said top 5 but felt
Longer than that for whatever reason.
I was completely caught off guard by someone who looks as if they cannot properly season chicken being so culturally in touch to birth the iconic Triple 5 Soul brand. Also hype af for the Pac movie, even though he’s not a top 5 rapper.