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African Streetwear brands: creating their own lanes.

Updated: Apr 25, 2023

Streetwear is a movement, not a trend, and in Africa, we are seeing so many emerging brands finally get the recognition they deserve for their commitment to the culture. Brands such as Free The Youth Ghana, GRADE AFRICA, Tribe of God, AsheLuxe, Oh OK, Fear No Man Clothing, Complex Dept, Casablanca, Beautiful Boys, Sauve and many more are making waves in the scene.

The origins
Streetwear is not limited to the clothes - its community, the vibe/energy and the culture are all-encompassing. The designs, the collaborations, and the events all hold messages that are in the value of the culture. Simply put, the movement defies the traditional with its unorthodox aesthetic rooted in pride, being unapologetic and dressing outside the box.
Once an underground sub-culture associated with lawless fashion forms has become a recognisable “multi-billion dollar” industry. With community and self-expression at the core and an ecosystem of influential brands and people at the helm, they are respected for leading the culture, including musicians, skaters, stylists, photographers and designers and, with the rise of social media, influencers.
There are many sides to the origins story of the birth of streetwear: in a nutshell, streetwear was born in the 1970s and early 80s and hailed by many as hip-hop scenes of New York, the surf-skate and graffiti culture of Los Angeles. With black culture firmly at the centre, this expression began in the form of sneakers, and baggy jeans; this was the blueprint. Remember FUBU, Sean John, Rocawear and Phat Farm. Those that have followed include Stussy, Supreme, Off-White and Fear of God, to name a few.

“The one thing the luxury market needs to understand is that culture has changed.” Virgil Abloh

Once a niche category, streetwear is now mainstream: keeping up with the demand from consumers buying into the exclusivity and the culture. Scarcity marketing is a technique used to encourage customers to purchase a product before it has sold out. This tactic has made a huge impact on the culture. Capsule collections and limited editions, limited production runs increase the desirability of owning a piece before it’s gone. Supreme are very well known for this, and now Cortiez.

Streetwear brands sustain hype by reinventing themselves through collections and collaborations. Luxury and streetwear, now a match made in fashion heaven, are hugely sought after. The famous 2017 Louis Vitton x Supreme exploded cross-vertical collaborations onto the scene! A trunk from the collection was said to have sold for $104,218 at a Paris auction. Scarcity.

In 2018, Virgil Abloh (Off-White) was appointed Art Director at Louis Vuitton. He immediately changed the tone - including graphic hoodies on fashion week catwalks and making way for high-end streetwear brands like A‑COLD-WALL* and Fear of God. Taking the streets to the catwalk in a way that was never seen before. Luxury & mainstream brands found their way into the streetwear-verse (coined!) through collaborations which are now, [ although hard to get hold of ] … normal. Cultural status symbols. Most recently, we’ve seen Nike Air Max x Corteiz (an incredible roll-out btw! wow).

Africa - streetwear culture on the continent?

Streetwear represents something new, youthful, unique and different from the standard.
In sub-Saharan Africa, a traditionally conservative region, fashion and dressing up in general centred around tradition, practicality, and affordability. In the late 2000s, this changed. With more online & offline connectivity, influences from mainstream media, returnees from the diaspora and an increased understanding of the value and influence of the African youth - society began to shift. Creative industries, to many African parents' dismay, became more appealing for career choices and independence and self-expression began to flourish.

In 2018, streetwear giant Highsnobiety surveyed thousands of people aged 16-34 globally, the study revealed that the idea that real-life experiences could be reflected via clothing was increasingly gaining momentum among the early adapters and fashion-conscious individuals. Et voila. Africa’s growing streetwear culture.

In 2021 Adidas opened its first store in South Africa, 2022, Nike’s 3rd store in Nigeria. Brand ambassadors are not limited to one region - Afrobeats sensation, Davido is one of Puma’s global ambassadors. With or without these international brands, In Africa, across the continent, you will find streetwear brands such as Free The Youth Ghana, GRADE AFRICA, AsheLuxe, Oh OK, Fear No Man Clothing, Complex Dept, Casablanca, Beautiful Boys, Sauve creating their own structures. With some with physical retail stores or pop up shops, global collaborations and partnerships such as GRADE AFRICA x Looney Toons, FREE THE YOUTH x AWAKE NYC . Redefining the African fashion narrative.

Streetwear festivals such as Street Souk, Homecoming and Sneaker Exchange provide platforms and spaces for communities, talented youth, and disruptors challenging the fashion ecosystem - a place to meet, exchange and shop. African youths are courageous and creative people, making up and by 2030, young Africans are expected to constitute 42% of global youth.

The once-niche streetwear industry is growing thanks to the creativity championed by the continent’s young people and influences from the West. With diasporans returning to Africa for Easter and December, popularly referred to as ‘Detty December’, entertainment industries: music and film in particular, making international waves, influences are many. Just as Hip-Hop gave rise to American streetwear, African labels have ties to the underground music scene and skate culture influences, commingling with local styles to communicate their realities.

To the world.

African culture is being transported through lifestyle and entertainment brands by the youth leading the creative scenes. International celebrities are visiting the continent - consuming the culture and exploring it on various platforms, in countries, into their own art. In Ghana, popular streetwear collective FREE THE YOUTH embarked on a global tour last year - touring their merchandise, partnering with brands (across industries) in key markets and hosting events - parties: bringing the authentic FREE THE YOUTH vibes that many experiences when they come to Ghana.
After a successful sold-out pop-up in Dec 2021, the opening of its flagship store in Accra in May 2022, the collective embarked kicked off the tour in Europe, with the aim of taking the experience to there people. All while positioning African youth culture to the world. African streetwear, new home terms. Redefined.

Creativity in Africa cannot be stopped, and streetwear is one of the ways this is being packaged up and distributed. Though emerging into the mainstream in the West, the Streetwear culture on the continent is yet to be appreciated by the mainstream. Which - is fine. Keeping a tight-knit community that celebrates and appreciates dynamism, artistry and expression will keep the energy and community alive.

If you know, you know. Africa to the wiase.

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