What’s the most expensive outfit you’ve ever worn? Unless you’re very into high fashion, it can’t be worth much more than what Dave Zhou is wearing: a Supreme x Louis Vuitton parka (easily $10,000), Nike Air Yeezy 2’s ($2,500 on a good day), and a BAPE hoodie and designer jeans for good measure. If you were to paper your body with $100 dollar bills—$18,400 or so—you’d barely have enough money to buy the clothes off his back.
Zhou is manning a table of what he calls “his product”—stacks of BAPE hoodies that, combined, must be worth over $10,000—at Sneakergreet Boston.
Self-described as the “dopest sneaker event in Boston,” Sneakergreet descends upon a Holiday Inn in east Somerville on Feb. 3rd. It promises a raffle— the grand prize: $1,000 in a Supreme backpack—along with a space for sneaker and streetwear enthusiasts to buy, sell, and trade their (often high-priced) goods, ranging from Yeezys and Jordans to Supreme hoodies and Versace loafers.
Rick Ross and Migos blare from speakers as gangly pre-teens and middle-aged fathers inspect one other’s outfits, examine sneakers for defects, and haggle over prices. A man wanders around peddling a pair of Yeezy Powerphases. “$120, size 10,” he intones.
Yet beyond this bazaar of street culture and fashion, Sneakergreet and its attendees offer a unique way to discuss streetwear’s inherent contradiction: the conflict between the creative spirit it preaches and the avaricious, deeply consumerist attitude evident in its price tags and many of its disciples.
Streetwear is ostensibly a fashion style, emerging from the beaches of San Diego and Los Angeles, and from the streets of New York and Shibuya; out of skater and surfer culture, and out of hip-hop and basketball. Those are only a few of its influences: Streetwear has its origins in disparate places, whether that be haute couture, Americana, or cyberpunk. This hybrid forms what designer Virgil Abloh called in a 2017 interview “a sort of camaraderie, a sort of collective, a community” that extends past fashion—an art form that embodies what it is to be “creative in limited means.” A neon red long-sleeve hangs behind Abloh in his interview. It reads “post-post modern.”
This interdisciplinary spirit is alive and well at Sneakergreet: Past the tables lined with Yeezys, Jordans, and price tags, several streetwear startups are selling not just their branded apparel, but their own brand ethos. Eli T. Mook describes his “lifestyle brand” Hundo Life as embodying the “need to represent yourself 100%, keep it real at all times.”
“We do more than clothes,” he says. “We do music, we host events, we just building, man. That’s what we’re here to do.”
For Haven Prescott Jr., streetwear aims to “bring like-minded individuals together, whether that’s [through] art, music, or fashion.” He cites a collaboration between his brand, Syndicate, and an Italian olive oil company—selling bottles of oil at $200 a pop— as an example of the brand “unifying the culture.” And what is this culture? “Streetwear culture, it doesn’t matter what it is.” He smiles, and offers me a business card.
From the least dismissive perspective, streetwear can be seen as embodying an odd mix of irony and sincerity. It’s relentless: Supreme releases t-shirts with “Fuck You We Do What We Want” emblazoned on the front; BAPE announces a new partnership with Spongebob or the Minions; or Balenciaga releases a Bernie Sanders-inspired “Berncore” collection, walking models in $400-t-shirts across the runway. It’s all a big joke and absolutely serious at the same time. It’s infuriating.
If you buy into this artistic view of streetwear as transgressive commentary, making Ezra Pound’s modernist command to “make it new” into something new itself, then maybe all of these staggeringly expensive clothes and shoes are necessary evils. Maybe that’s the point. Maybe.
But there’s another perspective: Prescott denounces those who “want to run around wearing what everyone else is wearing”—the people he dismisses as “robots” and “hypebeasts”.
There’s certainly a vein of exhibitionism at Sneakergreet. Alex J. Drinkwater is wearing a Supreme box logo hoodie swimming in stars and stripes, along with another pair of Nike Air Yeezys, worth only $1,000 or so. He’s chosen his outfit simply to “flex on everyone else,” he says, spreading his arms and smirking. He unabashedly declares his favorite brands are “mainly the hype [ones]—call me a hypebeast, whatever you want, I don’t care. It is what it is.”
He’s there to “sell and collect,” and so is Dave Zhou. He wants “to sell all [his] Bapes, try and make some money,” he says. Someone interrupts to ask how much the BAPE facemasks—flimsy cotton with sharktoothed mouths printed on—go for. “$80. Cash,” he says. These facemasks, along the iconic hoodies, he bought by the suitcase-load in Japan for hungry American consumers who will pay well above the Japanese retail price.
Scott M. Smaller is another vendor at the event, dwarfed by the selection of Gatorade-blue-tinted Yeezy Boosts he’s selling. His toddler son sprawls next to him, sporting infant-sized Yeezys and a confused expression. Smaller has packed his table with Adidas not because it’s his favorite brand, he says, but because “that’s what other people’s favorite brand is currently. That’s why I have it, so that I can make some money.”
Funnily enough, even Abloh, champion of streetwear as an art movement for our age, understands that “all these words that I’m saying, you can take these words and put them into a product.”
But who’s saying streetwear can only be one or the other? Does its move to the mainstream, its constant self-commodification necessarily compromise its own artistic ambitions? To Edgar Arty, organizer of Sneakergreet, the event should be “more than just opening the doors and taking money and collecting from the tables—I think there should be an entertainment aspect to it.”
Abloh himself says streetwear is not “limited or degraded by this youth obsession with a box logo t-shirt.” Instead, he says, “It’s a way of thinking, [and] there’s new roads to be made in that, and we’re at the cusp of it. We’re only like five years deep.”
Krista L. Lawrence is one of many moms at Sneakergreet, accompanying her two sons. She sits behind their table, looking bewildered and resigned all at once. It’s hard to hear her through the obscene Young Thug lyrics emanating from the DJ’s booth. He keeps interrupting to shout about Timberlands, while a cluster of pre-teens vapes furtively in the far corner of the room.
I have to ask: What does she think about all this?
She surveys the room. “I personally think it’s crazy, but to each their own,” she says. Her smile is either exasperated or patient, it’s hard to tell. “Other people spend their money on jewelry or drugs—I’d rather have my kids spending it on something they enjoy.”
I ask her 14-year old son, Kyle W. Lawrence, why he collects sneakers. “I—” He pauses, looks down at his customized Adidas NMDs. “I honestly don’t know. I like it.”
— Magazine writer Alan R. Dai can be reached at alan. firstname.lastname@example.org. This is the second installment of his fashion column, Live Fresh or Dai, in which he travels around the city to various events that are, however obliquely, fashion-related. Follow him on Twitter @dai_alan_dai.