By  on April 5, 2007

Hip-hop fashion has grown up.

Inspired by the vibe of the streets, so-called urbanwear is veering away from logos and celebrity names. Brands such as Baby Phat and Rocawear are filtering deeper into mainstream retailers and consumers are demanding more design and better quality, although the clothing styles may still be inspired by what artists like Jay-Z or Beyoncé Knowles wear.

"In order for a brand to succeed, it needs to come from authenticity, inspiration, from the heart,'' said Russell Simmons, a pioneer in the category as founder and chief executive officer of Phat Fashions. "A brand can no longer come from a celebrity name alone. Who cares about the logo? It's the design that's important."

Simmons said being a designer requires 100 percent dedication to fashion — possibly more so than music.

"I'm sitting here on Seventh Avenue every day," he said. "If you aren't doing that, you aren't a designer. It's as simple as that."

At the start of this decade, hip-hop-inspired fashion became the business to be in. As artists such as 50 Cent, Jay-Z, Kanye West and Eminem became more popular in mainstream media, many young suburbanites adopted their styles along with their music. As these people became more interested in the music, the fashion business followed. By 2003, hip-hop fashion brands cashed in when major companies such as Liz Claiborne bought Enyce and Kellwood got behind Phat Fashions. Just this week, Iconix closed a deal to purchase Rocawear.

The urban clothing business clearly has grown as it has moved from the streets to the mainstream, although statistics for this apparel are difficult to pin down.

Challenges for the market remain. Many urbanwear executives come from the music world and are still learning the apparel business. They must keep a balance between mass appeal and street cred. And, many firms have seen their share of tough times on their way to the mainstream.

Sean John, which runs a successful men's line based on Sean "Diddy'' Combs' lifestyle, has promised to launch a young contemporary brand since signing with G-III Apparel Group in March 2006. Ceo Bob Wichser said the line is on track to hit stores for holiday. Sean John closed its Sean by Sean Combs women's contemporary brand earlier this year.

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