Consumerism and the fall of ‘grassroots’
By Brittney MacDonald, Life & Style Editor
In part one of this series I mentioned that the original “grassroots” definition of streetwear was outdated. In part four I hinted at why when I said it had become “overridden and confused.” This installment will cover the reasons.
To put it in the most basic sense, it all has to do with consumerism. As the demand for trendy streetwear rose, this inflated the prices, but the fact the garments sold well initially is not what brought them to the high price tag they are at currently. Although I hate to admit it, the fashion industry is run on the theft of ideas—and nothing is easier to replicate than streetwear.
For consumer-friendly labels like H&M and Urban Outfitters, following trends is what they do. Usually they will see a popular item and replicate it to create their own, budget-friendly version. Now, I realize this type of marketing apparently relies on the idea that the prices of the original garments are high to begin with, which goes against what I said about the origin being grassroots, but that is not exactly the case.
Since many of these consumer-friendly labels have in-house international distribution, they have no issue selling their versions of things worldwide at their own stores. However, that is not how it works for an original design. Smaller design labels rely on stores for their distribution. Depending on a multitude of factors (what country they hail from, the cost to make the garment, and/or import laws), the cost to sell the item could outweigh potential earnings. This can prevent stores from adding the original item to their inventories. This means that the secondary, replicated item will sell better internationally and thus earn higher visibility—which is the prime source of advertisement in our digital age.
It isn’t only consumer-friendly labels either; the reverse can be just as effective when it comes to consumers. Since our modern streetwear is so heavily influenced by the brand-specific fashion of South Korea, a trendy item that boasts the insignia of a notoriously high-end label can also drive sales. This means that a tracksuit originally designed and produced by Champion can be replicated by Gucci and sold at a higher price since it is covered in the Gucci logo. This isn’t even taking actual counterfeits into consideration.
Fashion capitals like New York City and South Korea have notorious counterfeit cultures. Whether it is because of stringent import laws or just because of cost, counterfeits are a world unto themselves. They can range from obvious knockoffs to products so true to the original that it becomes impossible to tell which is which. However, when it comes to counterfeits there seems to be only one rule: To make them as quickly and as cheaply as possible.
This then influences actual labels like Nike and Adidas, which began as more affordable brands, to continually improve their quality. They do this by seeking out better fabrics, better designs, better garment-specific technology, and more recognizable faces to sell their clothing. All of these factors combined leads to a higher cost production ratio, which is reflected in the price tag.
So, the term “grassroots” isn’t really applicable when you have so many versions of the same design floating around. The fact that labels are now producing things at a high cost, in order to set themselves apart and increase their own visibility and quality, means that the price to the consumer must inflate. This, combined with the higher cost of living, makes current streetwear trends fairly unaffordable unless you have some serious disposable income—which defeats the original purpose of the streetwear movement.