Streetwear Gains Respect

NEW YORK — Urban is meeting suburban.<br><br>In the lucrative junior sportswear market, there are many opportunities for launching lifestyle brands and it seems to be the hip-hop lifestyle that is fast becoming a junior sportswear leader....

NEW YORK — Urban is meeting suburban.

This story first appeared in the July 11, 2002 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

In the lucrative junior sportswear market, there are many opportunities for launching lifestyle brands and it seems to be the hip-hop lifestyle that is fast becoming a junior sportswear leader. Although it’s only a small sector of the fashion world, the urban fashion market has become a $5 billion industry that combines hip-hop music and style to create a fashion image.

They began in the men’s wear category, but brands like Karl Kani, Enyce, Rocawear and Ecko soon found a place in the women’s wear market and launched junior versions of the men’s lines.

Since teens have such diverse tastes in style, urban-rooted fashions have been embraced by retailers and consumers, and brands like Fubu now hang in the Macy’s junior department next to lines like LEI and Mudd. Although pieces on the J.Lo, Fubu and Baby Phat lines tend to retail at higher prices than a pair of Dollhouse jeans or a Rampage top, according to industry executives, the junior customers are buying what they like.

While these brands have been typically known as urban or hip-hop wear, the lines between urban and junior are surely blurring. Besides, teens in suburbia listen to hip-hop music just as much as teens in cities do, so why wouldn’t they want the clothes?

So, in the second half of 2002, whether it’s Rocawear advertising in Teen People magazine or Fubu launching a home collection, these urban-rooted brands are heavily concentrating on marketing to the masses.

At New York-based Baby Phat, a division of Phat Fashions, a major print advertising campaign is in the works (see sidebar) and looking to raise its profile, the company is aggressively searching for a cosmetics licensee. According to Michelle Perez, marketing director at the company, they are also looking to open their own stores, but those plans have been put on hold until the company’s creative director, Kimora Lee Simmons, has her baby in August. For now, the company is planning its next show at 7th on Sixth in Bryant Park in September, hoping to run the show back-to-back with Phat Farm, the company’s men’s line, founded by Russell Simmons, who strongly believes in marketing his brands to the masses and hopes to become recognized by the CFDA.

“The urban market has been separated from the rest of the industry through organizations like Soul Train and BET, and now the Urban Fashion Awards,” Simmons said. “A separate celebration is fine, but why wouldn’t we be recognized by organizations like the CFDA? Kimora is a real designer who deserved a CFDA nomination, but in what category? She goes to work on Seventh Avenue everyday, is involved with every button, every detail. This is serious design and I don’t think we are taken so seriously.”

Simmons admits that the CFDA’s president, Stan Herman, has been open to meeting with him to discuss getting more recognition for these designers and the two have a meeting set for next week. Herman said he sees Simmons as “a very important man with a very valid point” and looks forward to hearing what he has to say.

At New York-based Rocawear, marketing to every junior customer is the mission before the end of the year. Owned by rapper Jay-Z and entrepreneur Damon Dash, the $200 million company has invested heavily in print advertising. Dana Hill, the company’s marketing director, came to Rocawear from Vogue magazine with a mission to introduce the brand to a mass audience and has been successful so far.

“We have really made great strides,” she said. “We are in Macy’s now, when five years ago that seemed unheard of. We have further to go, but today I see people wearing Rocawear that I would never imagine would wear it.”

The company’s fall 2002 ad campaign clearly represents the image Hill wants to create with Rocawear. It was shot in Paris by Alexei Hay and will be featured in Vibe, Source, XXL, Stuff, One World, Gear, Honey, Teen People and Slam; along with billboards in Manhattan and Los Angeles.

“The images are little more sophisticated and upscale, while still maintaining our urban essence,” she said.? It’s important for our brand to maintain our integrity in the eyes of our core consumer. Therefore, we will always have that urban edge represented, but with an upscale twist.”

The Rocawear brand has also recently been picked up by Bloomingdale’s.

Leslie Short, president of marketing, advertising and public relations at Fubu, is gearing up for a big few months ahead. The brand is celebrating its 10th anniversary by launching a home collection.

“At the end of the day, this is a business and we are just trying to appeal to the market we are trying to reach,” Short said.

While urban clothing has been labeled as a branch of fashion geared to a hip-hop-music-loving consumer, today that means the consumer crosses ethnic boundaries.

Marc Ecko, designer of the New York-based Ecko and Ecko Red collections, said: “Urban fashion is born from hip-hop culture, which was a gift from a generation of Black and Latino Americans who empowered themselves through music, dance and ultimately commerce over the last 25 or so years. This gift has spawned a new America: a generation of kids like me who grew up in the Eighties in communities that were racially diverse.

“Now there are millions of white boys just like me, forever effected by that time in our lives. I think differently, talk differently, vote differently, will chose to raise my kid differently, all because I have hip-hop in my life. So, does urban fashion reflect a race? I suppose so. But when I look in the mirror, I see a white boy wearing Ecko.”