Redefining the Cache of Streetwear in China

Interview and Written Feature by Anita F., Concordia Applied Journalism


Over the past few years, the young people (“年轻人”: nián qīng rén) of China witnessed the rise of something unprecedented. While people of similar ages in the West grew up lining up for Nike's 1985 Jordan 1s, the introduction of streetwear fashion took the Chinese demographic by storm only a few years ago. The sheer size of the Chinese population and their respective interest redefined the exclusive and subversive cashet of streetwear. 

Sean Dube, a long-time streetwear enthusiast and former streetwear reseller, attributes the massive influx of streetwear demand to its very nature of being exclusive and subversive. In his career, he had sold hundreds of pairs of highly sought out sneakers and clothing garments. Unsurprisingly, he is able to understand that almost every popular streetwear brand – from Supreme to A Bathing Ape to Off-White just to name a few –  relies on their limited supply of products to create interest by (quite literally) playing the game "hard-to-get." 

"Before, streetwear wasn't that common in China," Sean admits over a recent Zoom interview. "If you saw a celebrity wearing it, and if you had it, people would think that you were someone reputable or important because not everyone could get their hands on it. But now, it's a different case."

Sean Dube is a streetwear enthusiast and former streetwear reseller (image supplied)

It is difficult to pinpoint the exact year, product, or person that magnified the streetwear interest in China; however, it is no question that social media played a huge factor in that debut. Since many successful streetwear brands do not use conventional marketing and advertising techniques to promote their products, they rely on media personalities and celebrities to be walking advertisements. "Streetwear is self-reliant," according to Dylan Majerus from Hollywood Branded. "The products speak for themselves through the exclusivity of who is wearing and advocating the product," on social media. 

Sean uses the example of media personality, Kylie Jenner, who has over 174 million followers on Instagram and recently flaunted the Travis Scott Nike SB Dunks in a photoshoot at her Holmby Hills mansion. The traction for the shoes from this photo caused its number of Google searches to increase by 500%. Predictably, when I interviewed strangers on the streets about fashion, many of them named Instagram to be their primary source of fashion inspiration [see related video in this feature]. However, Instagram is only one of the many channels for people to become exposed to the latest trends in streetwear. 

"I would definitely say that it is hip-hop music that has influenced people to acquire the taste in fashion that they have now,” explains Sean. “Fifty percent of hip-hop is rapping about name brands." As it is easier now than ever for Chinese artists to collaborate with Western artists, many Chinese listeners are able to assimilate Western taste and style through their earphones, albeit subconsciously. Sean expressly acknowledges Kris Wu, a Canadian-Chinese actor, artist, and model, for doing this. "Whenever Kris Wu is seen wearing something, every girl wants to buy it," Sean says, laughingly. 

One would assume that the rise of streetwear demand in China would come with the growth of local Chinese streetwear brands. However, when asked why we don't see many famed Chinese streetwear brands in the streetwear scene, Sean's answer was simple: "The way that the Chinese make streetwear is that they try to dip into Western culture[…] they're so focused on trying to remake different variations of what other [Western] brands are making." Sean believes that directly copying Western styles isn't only violating designers' artistic integrity, but is counterintuitive, as consumers are novelty-seeking. Especially as China became infamous for its fake product market, a lot of peoples' hope regarding whether China could one day be a real player in the streetwear fashion industry is lost. 

Fortunately, Chinese designers such as Uma Wang, owner of her eponymous brand, are taking inspiration from Western influence without exploiting it. Local Chinese brands such as Ms Min, Angel Chen, and Ming Ma are also starting to compete for floor space with Western brands such as Calvin Klein and Stella McCartney. Akane Okutsu from Asian Review proudly explains that "these relative newcomers are not the cheap imitations China was once known for… It is a sign of how China's fashion industry is coming into its own, and challenging Western brands on quality and design rather than price." Sean agrees with this potential, hoping that Chinese designers become less afraid to "make what their [country] represents in their clothes."

Streetwear is supposedly a convergence of California's surf/skate culture, New York's hip-hop scene, and Japan's athleisure couture. Could it one day include oriental vogue? 

Anita F. is a student of Concordia Applied Journalism