NEW YORK — Given its name and the audience it targets, Hypefest, the first shopping event and festival put on by Hypebeast, was unexpectedly somber.
The two-day event, which took place this past weekend in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, was spread between two buildings, which were filled with about 50 brand booths. The marketplace was complemented by talks, food and live performances from a stage outside.
It’s a formula that’s been proven successful for Complex’s ComplexCon, which started in 2016 and generated $20 million to $25 million in sales last year, and other shopping events including Yo’Hood in Shanghai, which was founded in 2013, and Sole DXB in Dubai, which started in 2010.
In its first iteration, Hypefest was a smaller version of those festivals — last year’s ComplexCon drew 50,000 visitors while Hypefest brought in around 10,000 — and was devoid of the running, onsite reselling and frenzy turned into safety hazards that spurred criticism of ComplexCon. In an Instagram caption that’s now deleted, Bobby Hundreds, founder of The Hundreds, was upset by the insatiable desire for product at ComplexCon, and grown men toppling over younger ones to get it. “You could smell the oils of commerce in the air,” he wrote.
Kevin Ma, the founder and chief executive officer of Hypebeast, attended ComplexCon and wanted to take a different approach with Hypefest. He made show tickets free, and worked with Frenzy, a sneaker and streetwear app owned by Shopify, on the Hypefest app to eliminate long lines, crowds and chaos. While some booths did allow customers to walk away with product, most of the shopping had to take place in the geofenced Hypefest app and brands were responsible for shipping the items to customers. Chris Gibbs, owner of Union, had attempted to thwart lines outside of his booth last year at ComplexCon by utilizing the Frenzy app, but because customers were able to pick up the product from the booth, the strategy was unsuccessful.
“Our designers and our artists put a lot of effort into their booth and if people are stuck in line, then no one can experience the installations,” said Ma. “Shopping is a part of the experience, but we also want people to connect.”
Attendees were split on the app experience. Calvin Lee, who flew in from California to attend the event, liked it. Having been to ComplexCon, he appreciated not having to wait in line or carry around products he bought. Richard Cox liked it in theory, but once he got to Hypefest, he changed his mind.
“If I want to shop online, I will shop online. But if I’m here, I want to have the product in my hand,” said Cox. “I know it’s a safety hazard, but maybe they need to figure out a way to distribute product at the end of the festival.”
Another festivalgoer, who requested anonymity, wasn’t pleased with the experience. The teenager, who has also attended ComplexCon, was attempting to purchase the Off-White x Rimowa luggage to resell and ran into issues with WiFi connectivity, the product selling out before he could connect, and not being able to make multiple purchases from multiple vendors at the same time, which caused his bank to issue a fraud alert.
“There weren’t enough drops to choose from,” said the dejected-sounding teen. “It can’t be Hypefest with no hype.”
How customers want to shop is a looming question for retailers, and the streetwear industry has conjured up excitement and sales around drops and a release schedule that other brands are trying to emulate. But as the streetwear audience broadens, brands are tasked with pleasing a younger customer who feeds off the frenzy and an older customer who avoids it.
That push and pull was at play at Hypefest, with a brand mix that ranged from Ray-Ban, Diesel and G-Star to Billionaire Boys Club, Needles and Sacai. Sarah Andelman, founder of Colette, who was on the Hypefest festival committee — she held a similar position at last year’s ComplexCon — was partly responsible for the brand curation, which she said was similar to ComplexCon but more elevated. In her view, this is how people want to shop now and she has no aspiration to revisit permanent retail.
“There’s no separation between street and fashion anymore,” said Andelman, who was having trouble purchasing an Expert Horror T-shirt from the Hypefest app as she fielded questions. “I think it’s clever that people don’t have to carry product.”
Higher-end brands were integrated in a way that mostly made sense. Rimowa debuted its collection with Virgil Abloh; Sacai presented a collaboration with Paradise Garage, and the New Guards Group was out in full effect with booths from Marcelo Burlon, Heron Preston and Palm Angels, which is collaborating with Moncler. MCM set up a branded yacht outside and Marc Jacobs, who attended the festival, let shoppers customize mouth masks, a collaboration with artist @hey_reilly.
Custom or special product was a prevailing theme at the festival. Needles drew a lot of attention with its T-shirts and flannels made from strips of fabric — at the booth designers demonstrated how they were made. More commercial brands such as Diesel and Lacoste also let shoppers customize product. Lacoste partnered with Chinatown Market on a popular activation that let shoppers personalize Lacoste polo shirts with an EBS Handjet Portable Printer or have it airbrushed by an artist.
“We were really looking for a way to hack the brand,” said Mike Cherman, founder of Chinatown Market. “I think right now you are seeing a lot of new brands pop up, but there needs to be some substance. We can all make good product, but it’s also about creating community and connecting with people.”
Ma said that was another aim for Hypefest and fittingly, while being asked questions, a young boy approached him, offered him a sticker, and asked him about working for Hypebeast.
“How else can you meet these designers that you admire,” said Ma. “I mean, you can find their cellphone number and send a text, but who knows if they will respond.”
Adidas, which will also be participating in ComplexCon this year, used Hypefest as a platform to preview its Never Made campaign, which will debut on Tuesday. The brand didn’t make any product exclusive to the festival, but let attendees purchase, via an Adidas app, one of the eight new styles that merge old and new uppers and soles. The booth, which was the largest brand activation at Hypefest, included a Makers Lab where customers could work with designers to create prototypes of their own sneakers — Jonah Hill participated; a T-shirt and tote bag customization shop; and a cobbler shop that showcased designers such as Jack the Ripper making shoes in real time.
“As a cultural moment, Hypefest has provided us with a platform to engage with our audience directly. Connecting our community with Adidas designers and inviting them into the creative process is invaluable to us,” said Alegra O’Hare, vice president of global communications at Adidas Originals.
Puma will also be participating in ComplexCon and used Hypefest to relaunch its Puma Cell franchise, which includes the Endura and Venom silhouettes, and release exclusive colorways of both styles that were designed in collaboration with Mita Japan founder and creative director Shigeyuki Kunii. In the Puma Cell Lab, visitors were able to design renderings of their own cell style and the brand previewed an extensive collaboration program for the franchise, which includes partnerships with MCM, BLENDS, Rhuigi Villaseñor of Rhude and Scuderia Ferrari. This line will have high-end distribution and be released on a monthly basis throughout the year.
“Hypefest is a catalyzer of the culture we are in,” said Yassine Saidi, who launched Puma’s collaborative arm, Puma Select, six years ago. “We are distinguishing ourselves by allowing designers and artists to create new silhouettes. With this series of collaborations, it was important to me that it wasn’t segmented and it was a global initiative. Not just something that is U.S.-based.”
Nike didn’t participate, but John Elliott sold his Air Force 1s for the first time within his booth, and Alyx, which is designed by Matthew Williams, drew long lines by letting customers purchase a Nike x Alyx hoodie to enter a raffle to purchase his Air Force 1s. Japanese streetwear brand Verdy, with the popular slogan “Girls Don’t Cry,” previewed its Nike SB Dunk Lows that will be available at a later date.
Online Ceramics, one of the smaller brands that let customers take home product, set up a wagon next to its selling area, which is indicative of how they operate in the rapidly growing streetwear space. Online Ceramics, which only does wholesale with Union and Dover Street Market, typically takes up to 30 days to ship its custom tie-dye T-shirts to customers. And when asked how they want the brand to grow, cofounder Elijah Funk didn’t seemed concerned.
“That’s not on our minds right now,” said Funk. “We are just happy we don’t have to work and can create art.”