ComplexCon Long Beach

LOS ANGELES One would have had to have been living under a rock to have not recognized 2018 was the year for luxury streetwear.

With all the buzz surrounding the category and where it goes next, it begs the question of whether action sports can seize on streetwear’s expected continued momentum this year.

Some are being conservative in their projections while still holding there’s plenty of opportunity for a growth story.

Pierre-André Senizergues, founder and chief executive officer of the multiportfolio skate and snowboard collective Sole Technology, is taking a careful approach to 2019.

“It’s a little bit unpredictable because a lot of things are moving and changing,” he said. “A lot of the trends are extremely fragmented. They come and go extremely fast.”

The founder takes a longer-term view of things, he said, favoring stability and consistency over one-year plans. Etnies, one of Sole Technology’s brands, for example is over three decades old.

Still, the ceo said the potential’s there to rise, especially considering consumers’ love for the Nineties appears to not yet be waning. It’s renewed some retailer interest in some of Sole Technology’s brands, Senizergues reported. “Now, it’s a matter of being careful and structuring the business.”

It’s a key point that’s allowed for many streetwear brands to elevate themselves into luxury status with the price points to match. A report released in December by Highsnobiety, called “The New Luxury: Buying In Is the New Selling Out,” polled 4,984 consumers around the world between the ages of 16 and 34 on a number of factors related to purchasing behaviors, exclusivity and fashion. That was in addition to 2,379 consumers polled in the U.S. and U.K. in the same age bracket serving as a control group of “early adopters and fashion-conscious individuals.”

Highsnobiety’s report called out the top 10 luxury brands with Balenciaga and Gucci taking the first and second spots, respectively with popular brands among streetwear fans appearing: Nike coming in third, Off-White fifth, Stone Island ninth and Yeezy rounding out the list.

Of those surveyed by Highsnobiety, 37 percent said they would pay more for limited-edition items, but that comes with a caveat. There has to be a unique point of view attached to that drop, whether it be via a collaboration between two unlikely brands or otherwise.

Action sports brands are certainly no stranger to collaborations and they’ve got just as many interesting founder and backstories as any streetwear label, so why the market’s not yet seen, say for example, a surfwear brand collaborate with Louis Vuitton is an interesting question.

“They’re too corporate. The streets have typically dictated what is cool and things that are cool aren’t very corporate,” Mike McGlaflin, footwear design director of high-end Malibu streetwear brand Local Authority, said in an interview in the fall when the discussion turned to the question of why action sports hasn’t enjoyed the kind of momentum streetwear has. “It tended, 20 or 30 years ago, to be brands like Freshjive, Fuct, Stussy that were a little more avant-garde. And, at that point, you go to a fashion week and you would see somebody in a Stussy sweatshirt and not a Hurley sweatshirt because Stussy was seen as cooler.”

It seems action sports lost its way by ballooning out via uncontrolled distribution, and the Great Recession only made matters worse. There’s also that age-old question of how brands evolve to nab new customers without alienating the core. After all, Shawn Stussy was a surfboard shaper when he founded the now-global brand and now it’s a “full-blown Stussy international tribe,” McGlaflin said, proving evolution can successfully deliver a cult following if done right. Added McGlaflin: “It’s a tricky, tricky balance.”