In the printwear market, streetwear is in demand for lots of reasons. Street-style apparel is often synonymous with edgy branded clothing or merchandise that makes a statement. Fashion-forward streetwear is also comfortable and relaxed – and versatile enough to be worn for casual occasions, work in the office and even nights out. Streetwear designers also create artwork that’s exclusive and makes people feel part of a community.
“Streetwear’s identified more as life wear for people of the culture, from the culture,” says Andrew Gilliam, CEO at Crypto Boxers (@cryptoboxers). “Just like in hip hop, the wider world is catching on to the vibrant color and statements on the clothing out now.”
We asked five streetwear designers and artists to weigh in on why streetwear – a $185 billion worldwide market – has such a universal appeal right now, what styles are hot, what artwork’s resonating with wearers, and who’s buying street-style promo clothing.
The Streetwear of Now
Streetwear style as an apparel movement has distinctive characteristics.
- Everyday Streetwear Style: More and more, streetwear styles and influence have integrated into other clothing styles. Streetwear has created brands and styles that allow staple pieces to read fashion-forward and appropriate for all types of occasions, from casual to formal. “Haute couture has come down from its pedestal to the street,” says Roy Harper, fashion designer and graphic artist at Ade Koya (@royharper4955).
- Inclusive, Yet Subversive: Streetwear meets and encompasses many cultural trends and movements. These styles also allow communities to express themselves in an in-your-face way. Urban fashion also challenges, changes and tests boundaries, leading to innovative ideas like unisex clothing.
“Streetwear has become synonymous with freedom of expression,” says Chad Montgomery, CEO of Gold & Gems Clothing (@goldandgems_). “As a result, in a country that values freedom of speech, you see people using clothes as a form of expression.” Montgomery, who’s visited 39 countries, has observed fashion trends around the world. “One commonality is that people want to express themselves, and you can see it in their clothes, whether their style is outgoing or conservative,” he says.
- Modern Luxe: Streetwear styles have an effortless timelessness – apparel that remains modern, yet classic. When Louis Vuitton partnered with major streetwear brand Supreme, that signaled a shift in fashion, as streetwear entered the luxury apparel space. Then, Louis Vuitton made further strides by hiring the late, great Virgil Abloh, founder of Off-White, as its artistic director of menswear. Abloh had the opportunity to elevate streetwear design with luxe materials, and also paved the way for young Black streetwear designers to launch elevated brands.
“With the popularity of Off-White, the influence Virgil had at Louis Vuitton has trickled down and impacted the fashion industry in its entirety,” says Dani Diarbakerly, owner and graphic designer at King Production and KingPro (@kingproja). “We can attribute the current popularity of streetwear to what he accomplished.”
4, Practical Comfort: When you’re dressed in streetwear, you look and feel great. “Athleisure and comfort dressing were already gaining popularity as the pandemic hit,” Diarbakerly says. “With stay-at-home orders, people really embraced dressing in street-style tees, hoodies and joggers – and that’s stayed with so many of us.”
What Are the Most Popular Apparel Pieces and Accessories in Streetwear Now?
“With streetwear today, everything is marketable within different niches,” Gilliam says. Two-thirds of consumers report that streetwear products never go out or style, and they’ll spend up to five times more per month on streetwear rather than non-streetwear, according to Strategy& and Hypebeast.
Here are some of the apparel and accessories items to keep in mind when you’re pitching streetwear:
- Hoodies and pullovers: “People wear hoodies all year round now instead of just for a few months as in the past,” Gilliam says. The Gildan Hammer Adult Hooded Sweatshirt and Bella + Canvas FWD Fashion Unisex Raw Seam Hooded Sweatshirt are great options.
- Joggers: We’re seeing designers pair pullovers and joggers. “We use Bella + Canvas joggers for many of the brands we serve,” Diarbakerly says. The FWD Fashion Unisex Sueded Fleece Jogger Pant and Unisex Jogger Sweatpant are two styles to check out.
- Matching tops and shorts/bottoms: “This is a big trend for day and parties,” Montgomery says. “I’ve seen matching sets in solid colors, prints and florals. With florals, It’s always interesting the amount of variations you can make with that influence.”
- Oversize silhouettes: “Streetwear now is oversize everything – shirts, dresses, pants, coats, hats and even shoes,” Harper says. “For instance, check out Billie Eilish.”
- Street-style t-shirts: “The Gildan Hammer Adult T-Shirt is a keystone for my clients,” Diarbakerly says. “The fabric and fit are just perfect for the streetwear vibe.”
- Bags: This season, bags are a staple streetwear accessory, whether it’s a backpack, duffle bag or fanny pack. Montgomery designs and sells signature backpacks and duffle bags.
What Type of Artwork’s Popping on Streetwear?
“Streetwear is basically taking a standard product, like a tee, and giving it a small twist which makes it unique,” Diarbakerly says. When you’re printing, here are a few secret tricks KingPro uses to give designs that streetwear vibe:
- Placement: Drop where you’d print a standard tee 1 inch for an instant streetwear vibe.
- Size: Make your design, including text, big or make it small. “We normally say a standard chest print is 10” wide, so if you make it 12” wide it’ll have a whole new look and feel,” Diarbakerly says.
- Specialty Prints: Neons, puff prints, metallics and more are super easy to accomplish, but they give your client an elevated street-style look.
Today, many streetwear designs also show up as bold statement tees that make viewers face uncomfortable societal truths. “For example, Black Lives Matter or ‘I can’t breathe’ messages gave a clear sign on how wearers feel and what they want everyone to know,” Gilliam says. “With everything happening in the world, a human’s body has become the best billboard.”
Right now, Harper’s artwork is focused on all things Africa. The “Gye Nyame” shirt is Ghanaian and means “except for God, I fear none.” The “Natty Dread” design is a Kuba mask of the Congo and the “Benin Mask” is Nigerian.
New Strides in Streetwear
Some streetwear designers use urban wear for new and unique purposes. Spring Mooney, owner and creator at All Things Mooney (@onemoonmanystars), is the child of the late Paul Mooney, a comedic legend. “Streetwear seemed a logical next step in furthering my dad’s legacy,” Spring says. “As a comedy writer, his work for and with Richard Pryor, Dave Chappelle, and Kenan and Damon Wayans is legendary and his fan base literally spans generations, from old to young. Legacies matter and so our line is a way to keep his name, humor and wit alive.’
All Things Mooney’s street apparel offers “Royal tees,” “Legend tees,” “Woke tees” and “Race tees,” that pay homage to Paul Mooney’s famous comedic takes targeting race relations at the core of America. “We’re happily finding that people across all ages, genders and races, who had a love for Paul Mooney as one of the ‘godfathers of comedy,’ are loving and embracing our brand,” Spring says.
Like many others, Gilliam has added streetwear to his brand to keep it going and growing. Gilliam’s company has created a popular NFT of Tony Weeks, an American boxing referee who has been officiating fights since 1994. “But we’ve expanded the vision by bringing cryptocurrency and clothing together with our new NFT clothing line, which is a new, disruptive revenue source to retail,” Gilliam says.
In today’s market, Gilliam says, it’s no longer just about the fanbase of the person in the image. “With our NFT fashion line, we’ve been able to create new fans of the person in the image used to make the pattern,” he says. “Plus, we’re creating our own programming that takes an image and pulls the power from the photo to create a unique pattern.”
Who’s Buying Streetwear Styles Right Now?
“Right now, streetwear has a universal appeal, with everyone from international bankers to art dealers, to yoga instructors to world travelers wearing streetwear,” Harper says. That’s good news for apparel distributors and decorators who want to pitch the trend to their existing client bases.
Part of that universal appeal, Montgomery says, is because streetwear has transitioned from “aggressive and graffiti influenced” to more laidback. “Now, we see clients pulling out all the stops at work, events and parties,” he says. “Instead of being ‘overdressed,’ people lean on streetwear brands that are more laid back for common mediums. This creates a fun, casual environment.”
For example, merch and uniforms can take on an urban feel to appeal to certain demographics.
“The merch sector is all about streetwear and coming up with new takes to make products look unique,” Diarbakerly says. “We have several restaurant clients who also want to do streetwear-inspired looks to help them sell more retail tees.”
Diarbakerly created these stylish shirts for King Patty’s restaurant staff – and to sell as retail tees for patrons.
Gilliam points out that you can pitch streetwear apparel and accessories to every client, from entertainers to corporate offices. “It’s about the right fit for the project. “Vegan burger chain Slutty Vegan, which started as a food truck, got a shoe deal, so that shows anything is possible.”
Finally, Diarbakerly points to live printing as a huge opportunity in the streetwear space. “The artform itself lends itself to great content for social media as well,” she says.