Article taken from The Face Volume 4 Issue 004. Order your copy here.
Streetwear: the term that launched a thousand labels. A buzzword for often over-hyped clothing, sold in small doses, at high prices, via drop dates that service those in the know.
But 2020 – the year nobody could have predicted – has seen a significant shift. Over the past six months, during the ongoing pandemic and Black Lives Matter protests, a cohort of socially-conscious, politically-active streetwear labels have been setting the blueprint for a future that’s anything but the known-normal.
Less streetwear, more streetcare.
In April, Palace Skateboards announced a charity collection featuring its much-coveted Tri-Ferg logo in NHS blue, and pledged to donate $1 million to Black Lives Matter and the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust throughout 2020. Fellow London label Aries also paid tribute to Britain’s health service, putting out a tee featuring a caduceus graphic (a symbol of healthcare). All proceeds from sales went to the Care Workers’ Charity.
New York brand Alife released a hoodie on what would have been shooting victim Ahmaud Arbery’s 26th birthday in May, raising $18,500 for his bereaved mother. Los Angeles-based Online Ceramics dropped a “Good Over Evil” tee, with profits split between various BLM and bailout funds, while in July, Awake NY sold “By Any Means” and “Black is Beautiful” T‑shirts to raise funds for BLM-LA.
Others found strength in numbers. Fear of God founder Jerry Lorenzo released a nine-brand T‑shirt collaboration that featured Off-White, Pyer Moss, Union, Noah, Awake, Just Don, Denim Tears, and Melody Ehsani. All the money raised was donated to the official fundraiser for George Floyd’s daughter.
And some were quick to activate long-term schemes: A‑COLD-WALL* founder Samuel Ross launched a Black liberation programme and quickly selected 10 Black-owned businesses across the fields of fashion, tech, engineering, education and urban planning and gave them a £2,500 grant each.
It’s a much-needed turning point that’s set streetwear labels apart from many of fashion’s luxury houses, who were slow to respond to the coronavirus and even slower to stand in solidarity with BLM. Smaller labels, born from DIY foundations, have been mobilising at rapid speed. By retooling the way in which drop date culture works, agile teams have been able to create new designs, phone their suppliers and fast-track reactive, limited-run products that funnel donations into a number of community initiatives.
Of course, some brands have had justice and social change front and centre since birth. Co-founded in 2014 by Daniel DeSure and Hassan Rahim, LA’s Total Luxury Spa started out as a ’zine platforming under-represented artists. Around the same time, DeSure and Rahim started hosting meditation workshops for their local community. Now they see themselves as “social activists, a clothing brand, an experiment”.
Their trippy T‑shirts, long-sleeves and lounge pants are plastered with prints that riff off wellnesss. Each piece is designed to make people look, stop and think. “As we developed Total Luxury Spa we asked ourselves, ‘Why can’t brands raise awareness? Why can’t they help support communities?’” say DeSure and Rahim.
Much of their profits are fed into community initiatives, such as The Umoja Centre (an organisation fighting gentrification to protect local Black residents) and Summaeverythang (a community centre in South-Central LA). “These foundations and the people behind them are people we’ve been working with, or are friends with, so it felt like a natural extension for us,” DeSure and Rahim say.
Designer, artist, co-founder of No Vacancy Inn and founder of Denim Tears, Tremaine Emory, is another LA-based individual using clothing as a means of political expression. This year he’s collaborated with Levi’s on a collection that explores cotton’s links with slaverya. His “Cotton Peace” T‑shirt features a quote by American novelist James Baldwin for which the proceeds were donated to Know Your Rights Camp, an organisation that provides resources for Black and brown communities, including hiring defence attorneys for anyone arrested protesting police brutality.
Emory has a collaboration with Converse in the pipeline, too: a flag-print sneaker titled “Veil on a Black Coffin”, inspired by political activist Marcus Garvey and artist David Hammons. But in a statement on Instagram in June, he said the release was on hold until parent company Nike “stop all support of the Republican Party while Donald Trump is their candidate”, work towards improving Black employment and leadership within Nike HQ and aid in “the defunding and total reform of all the police departments across America that brutalise all people that they make all of their money from… AFRICAN AMERICANS”.
Welcome to the new dawn of streetwear – one in which labels favour giving back over cashing in.