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Can Streetwear Promote Kindness and Community?

streetwear kindness inclusivity supreme madhappy krost mobile
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Luxury brands have been master storytellers for decades, if not centuries. Until recently, though, many of these beloved labels, such as Balenciaga and Louis Vuitton, lacked an essential component to building loyal followings among fashion’s youngest luxury consumers: creating a tribe. Enter Supreme and the booming streetwear market. To fill the missing piece in the marketing puzzle, luxury brands increasingly look to streetwear as a rapidly growing and maturing sector of the industry, taking notes from their inclusivity and kindness practices.

Turning the old business blueprint on its head, Supreme specifically leveraged scarcity tactics and designed a drop-distribution model, using it as a vehicle to create a sense of community. With the company reaching a $1 billion valuation with an investment from the Carlyle Group in 2017, as reported in WWD, streetwear’s disruption of the entire industry cannot be overstated. As we see through the confluence of the luxury and streetwear sectors, it’s clear that promoting inclusivity is now the golden ticket to becoming an industry leader. Brands must stand for something that goes beyond the surface level. Aside from addressing important sustainability standards, the emotional life of a brand increasingly serves as the backbone of a successful company.

Aside from addressing important sustainability standards, the emotional life of a brand increasingly serves as the backbone of a successful company.

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Louis Vuitton X Supreme collection drop in Miami, 2017 / Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Unsurprisingly, the most humanized and beloved luxury brands, such as Gucci, have fused traditional marketing tactics with streetwear conventions to attract a cultlike following. Taking the entire fashion world by storm, Alessandro Michele’s understanding of fashion as culture is transforming the industry landscape. Gucci’s $500,000 donation to March For Our Lives, an organization that unites young people to collectively fight gun violence, following the Parkland school shooting underscored the brand’s commitment to supporting humanitarian causes, despite the potential political controversy.

A few months later, in November 2018, Samuel Krost created a company founded upon this community-centric conviction. Authentic to its ethos, Krost has now launched two collections in partnership with March For Our Lives. With the tagline “Support your friends” and a minimalist aesthetic, Krost strives to bring human connection and social ethics into fashion. Utilizing clothing as a communication tool to disseminate a greater social message, the founder reflects on the mission behind the brand and its philanthropic commitments. He says, “I believe Krost is unique because we are one of the few brands that emphasize our sense of community and purpose before our product. I’m a fashion and luxury lover, so I inherently look at apparel as my first vehicle of trying to tell this story and building community. We’re using apparel to bring people together who have similar beliefs—even those we don’t know and will probably never meet. Stand for something or nothing at all.”

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Scott Camaran/Krost

The brand’s tagline has always been a personal slogan of the founder. He continues, “I’m a big believer that there’s enough to go around for everyone, so why not support someone in whatever capacity possible?” As an extension of his core beliefs, Krost’s main mission with the clothing label is to cultivate a community of like-minded individuals.

Bringing a seemingly superficial industry down to earth, kindness is officially in vogue. Also harnessing the power of social support and style is streetwear brand Madhappy. Known for its serial pop-ups and signature hoodies, the brand aims to bring mental health awareness to the forefront of our public discourse.

Through their understanding of fashion as culture, the founders created Madhappy to encourage freedom of expression and creativity. The brand was born out of the founders’ frustration that they “grew up in an age where streetwear felt very closed off and inaccessible,” says founder Peiman Raf. “We started Madhappy with the idea of flipping that narrative around by creating a brand around positivity, optimism and inclusivity. We always wanted to make sure that all Madhappy experiences, both online and offline, encouraged everyone and anyone to interact with the brand.”

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Madhappy Melrose Place Store, 2019 / Michael Underwood/Madhappy

Raf explains how addressing broader social issues through clothing promotes the cultivation of community. He says, “From day one, we never viewed Madhappy as just a clothing company. Madhappy is an optimistic lifestyle community that creates products (like our clothing) and experiences (our pop-ups and block parties) aimed at giving a platform to mental health.”

Like Krost, Madhappy brings the power of positivity and social support to the forefront of the lifestyle fashion market. Both of these brands show a shift in consumer attitudes. Millennial and Generation Z shoppers are drawn to brands that break the barriers among commerce, contribution and community. With fluidity comes authenticity, allowing consumers to engage with brands on a human—rather than merely a transactional—level.   

This authenticity becomes increasingly clear when speaking with Krost about why he decided to partner with March For Our Lives. Inspired by these young people’s tenacity after the Parkland tragedy, he said, “Here are students from across the country who will never meet each other. [Yet] they still support one another because they believe in gun reform and bringing real, tangible change to our society. It’s about supporting each other: Those you know and those you will never meet.”

You see this ethos in his clothing. Featuring sharply tailored suiting in vivid pastel blue and pink shades and elevated athleisure, Krost puts a distinctive, reimagined edge on contemporary staple pieces.

Streetwear brands create communities through shared spaces at product launches, facilitating human connection among the like-minded. Capitalizing on attention and inclusivity, it is fair to say that exclusivity is no longer in fashion. However, to truly integrate themselves into their audiences’ culture, brands must not only appeal to customers’ purchasing habits but also align with their values. For long-term success, they must enter broader social conversations. Through high-quality product and purpose, a brand’s signature aesthetic enables customers to wear their values on their sleeves.

It is fair to say that exclusivity is no longer in fashion.

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Accordingly, elements of streetwear brand marketing have been integrated into Krost’s business model since its inception. Scott Camaran, creative director at Krost, says, “Streetwear will always influence fashion, especially in the luxury space. I believe what makes streetwear so relevant is that the need to individualize one’s look within society is forever evolving and the best way to capture that is from ground zero.”

In the State of Fashion 2019 report, created in partnership with Business of Fashion, McKinsey and Company stress that to survive, collectively, all fashion brands must self-disrupt, following the explosion of small, challenger brands. Due to their shrewd, nimble and vital startup mentalities, brands have made it a priority to intimately connect with their audiences—even if that’s solely through smartphone screens. Millennial and Generation Z consumers have an increasing desire to buy into brands that allow them to express their uniqueness and individuality while simultaneously enabling them to engage with a larger community.

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Louis Vuitton X Supreme collection drop in Miami, 2017 / Joe Raedle/Getty Images

In an oversaturated marketplace, Krost reminds us that “you need to stand for something.” According to a study conducted by Horizon Media, eight out of ten millennials expect their favorite companies to profess a public commitment to good corporate citizenship. Though, with increasing rates of consumer distrust in business, brands must not take their social responsibility commitments lightly. Their philanthropic commitments should be an extension of their already-existing mission and not be used as a marketing ploy to drive sales.

To create a sustainable business, it is crucial for brands to build an authentic and transparent connection with their audiences. Without trust, companies have nothing in this highly competitive and customer-centric digital marketplace.

Krost notes, “It’s a matter of fact that people have taken to our brand so early on because of our brand’s slogan—whether they purchase or not, people are constantly complimenting us on our effort to spread a positive message to the youth.”

By leading with a mission before merchandise, authentic emotional connection and social contribution, fashion brands can leverage the power of community to build audience loyalty well beyond a superficial level.

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