Streetwear fashion spawns global market and local legislation
by Gentle Jones, originally published in the News Journal
“Streetwear” is commonly used to refer to the casual clothing worn outside of a working environment, but is also a term for a flourishing youth culture which commands a billion dollar global industry.
Today’s youth market is a powerful consumer group with a vibrant lifestyle and disposable income, which means big money in a fashion industry responsive to changing tastes. On November 14th agents seized $20 million in counterfeit streetwear which was manufactured in China for sale in the United States. The bootlegger ring was importing the knock-off gear through Los Angeles to New York with fake “Coogi” and “Rocawear” labels.
The real Rocawear line, created by Def Jam CEO and legendary rapper Jay-Z, boasts annual sales of $700 million. "Hip-Hop has survived when people thought it was a fad," Jay-Z said. "[Likewise] Rocawear continues to grow and expand.”
Modern streetwear fashion came from hip-hop culture and was adopted by youth across the world, informing the look of sportswear and club culture. Tastemakers throughout the fashion industry have taken note.
Torrel Harris, the pioneer of the reversible sweat suit, is the first African-American to be licensed by the NBA and NFL to create fashionable apparel. Recently, he teamed up with Nintendo, Japan’s third largest company, to launch the video games giant’s new apparel line, which aims directly for the urban streetwear market. “I’m very excited to launch this line,” say Torrel, “This has successfully combined the heritage of Nintendo with modern style.” The line debuted last week with much fanfare at a fashion show hosted by the Nintendo World Store in NYC.
Like many youth movements, streetwear culture is not without controversy. In years past, casual clothing styles were considerably looser and the baggy trousers were worn in a sagged fashion. Though popular among the youth, the style has been attacked as indecent, with lawmakers in at least 8 states including Georgia, Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas having considered legislating against them.
In 2001 an unarmed Timothy Thomas was shot to death by Cincinnati police for reaching to pull up his sagging pants. The case led to the city’s worst civil unrest since the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
“Saggy pants” legislation won approval in the Virginia House in 2005 only to be later rejected by Senators who said that international press reports on the subject had embarrassed the state.
Wilmington City Council agenda item #2871 currently looks to address the style by amending chapter 36 of the city code and classifying the exposure of undergarments to be indecent as the genitals they cover, punishable by a $250 fine. The ordinance includes language which gives police more discretion in issuing citations. Currently a complaint by a civilian has to be filed in order for police to respond. The amendment would allow officers to make their own judgment call and write a ticket on sight alone, with a lodged citizen complaint no longer being required. In the event that a minor in the city of Wilmington were to be ticketed, the citation would go to the parents who would be required to pay the fine.
"These types of ordinances are obviously aimed at African-American male youth," said Holly Dickson, staff attorney for the ACLU in Arkansas, who warned USAToday that court challenges over racial profiling could rise out of attempts to enforce the proposed legislation.
The ordinance is scheduled to be debated in a public meeting next month. Fashion police take heed; the point may already be moot. Streetwear styles have become increasingly fitted over the past several years and studded belts with huge, ornate buckles to hold up pants have since become the rage through artists like Kanye West, Nas, Jim Jones, and Jay-Z opting for a more mature edge to their personal style.