Designer Sweats: How Kanye West Helped Make Streetwear High Fashion

At his Easter Sunday Service during Coachella last weekend, Kanye West sold “Church Clothes” merchandise. One of the pieces he sold was a $225 maroon sweatshirt with the words “Holy Spirit” printed on the front. A couple of years ago, if someone told me they bought a sweatshirt for that much money, I would have been concerned for their well-being. But, of course, Kanye’s sweats sold out. He had the traction to do this for two main reasons: limited editions and his fame.

When you pick up Kanye gear at one of his shows, you know that it won’t be available anywhere else. All of his apparel is produced in small batches and distributed only to those with immediate and remote access. This is how he began to brand Yeezy.

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Twitter

Yeezy is Kanye West’s streetwear label. From this tag, he enterprises a variety of trendy sweatshirts, sweatpants, t-shirts, and sneakers. The clothes themselves don’t seem to reinvent the wheel, but still manage to be some of the most coveted styles in the world. Because of Kanye West, people spend hours trolling the internet to purchase a new drop and resell it for ten times the face value. His clothing appears on runways in Milan and New York and no one questions how they got there.

Sweatpants on a catwalk is a bit odd, though. High fashion has historically been defined by inaccessibility to the masses and incapability to copy what gets presented. So, streetwear is a new concept to high fashion.

The look has been on the up-and-up in high fashion for a year or two now, but what most people don’t realize is that everything we see now was inspired by skaters and surfers in the early 1990s. It’s what African American hip-hop artists and athletes wore. Brands like Stüssy and Supreme started then as opportunities for the founders to channel their creative energy and give their friends something cool and unique to wear when they took videos at the skatepark.

Streetwear is a grassroots fashion movement defined by what’s happening on the streets, meaning each brand is started on a small scale, made for people who couldn’t afford to wear name-brand clothing. Designers were mostly young people who would make cool pieces as a side hustle and give them out only to friends and certain people they wanted to have their designs. This is how streetwear became known for limited edition drops. It’s so hard and so expensive to get certain pieces from Yeezy or Off-White because they’re only making and releasing so many pieces at once. Even though these brands have the resources to make as much output as they want, they preserve the idea that streetwear is selective, which is also why it can translate so well into high fashion.

It took a while for it to get there, though. Before we saw photos of Kendall Jenner and Bella Hadid wearing branded beanies, streetwear was a mode of fashion primarily marketed to those of lower socioeconomic status. People who devoted a lot of their time to skating usually didn’t have a lot of money. Hip-hop and basketball subculture was dominated by African Americans who didn’t have access to the same high fashion outlets that privileged white artists and athletes did. Marginalized groups wore streetwear because it was what they could afford to wear while maintaining the cool guy image they wanted to convey.

As these groups started to gain popularity, streetwear rose with them. Kanye West was a really big part of this. When he became successful, it was important to him that he be an artist in multiple senses of the term. He sought out a creative director for his new brand Donda, which is how the world was introduced to the mind of Virgil Abloh, and years later, led to the creation of his highly recognized streetwear brand Off-White and Kanye’s second feat, Yeezy. The two of them set out to bring aspects of their culture into the public eye. Like all streetwear, their vision began as self-expression and a release of creativity.

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High Snobiety

The spreading popularity of streetwear had added so many dimensions to the meaning of the clothing. It is a large part of the androgynous fashion movement and marks progress towards a more creative and free-thinking world. In itself, it is a byproduct of the American Dream, proving that something starting off as clothing for those without access to fashion can make it big.

And while, yes, it is making it big, it would be impossible to completely erase the roots of the trend. It grows from the bottom up, and every day new kids are trying their hand at iron-on transfer sheets and bootlegging brand logos.

Because of this, streetwear is becoming one of the most accessible high fashion movements in history. It is able to exist in the hands of Kanye West and Kim Kardashian, even though it began with your group of local skaters drawing logos and making slogans to put on tee shirts and beanies.

If you want a look at the grassroots side of streetwear that I love so much, a few brands to check out are Strayrats, Bandulu, Apathy, aintnobodycool, At The Moment, and hswld (homieswonderland).

COVER PHOTO: Twitter

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