Streetwear's Obsession With the Outdoors is Just Getting Started | The Sole Supplier

2022-04-24 07:26:59 By : Ms. Jane Yang

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E arlier this month it was announced that Ye (formerly Kanye West) had made a new appointment at his iconic Yeezy brand. Nur Abbas, who had been Design Director at Nike’s All Conditions Gear (ACG) label, is set to join Yeezy as Head of Design, a role that will have him overseeing the entire Yeezy empire, from special projects like the Stem Player, to apparel, Yeezy GAP, and adidas Yeezy footwear. The French-American designer had held previous positions at Margiela, Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Uniqlo before moving to Nike and Nike ACG. But it wasn’t the fact that Ye had poached Abbas from adidas’ sportswear rival that formed the most interesting part of the appointment – designers move around all the time. What was potentially more interesting was that Ye had looked to an outdoor-focussed brand to shape the next part of Yeezy’s journey, and we all know that as soon as Ye starts to adopt something, it tends to stick around.

Streetwear’s obsession with outdoor clothing has been bubbling away for a while now, and it makes sense that the two have intertwined. Thinking back to streetwear's early days, designs revolved around being comfortable, easy-to-wear for long periods of time, and easy to move in, much like sports and outdoorwear always have been too. Borne from urban influence and borrowing heavily from skate culture, you could say that streetwear and outdoor wear has always been linked, especially when you look at brands like Stüssy, which revolved around outdoor activities like surfing. Similarly, brands like The North Face have always been a firm favourite amongst the streetwear crowd – but more on that later.

Of course, outdoor clothing exists on a slightly different scale. The conditions on a California beach are very different to those you’d find hiking up a mountain, or running a trail. For that, you need highly functional and technical clothes, and it’s these that appear to be the culture’s new fixation. Dubbed “Gorpcore” by fashion enthusiasts (standing for good old raisins and peanuts, a popular trail snack) the move towards high performance clothing has been pretty hard to ignore – in fact, Google searches for the trend increased by an incredible 211% over the past year. Key styles include technical rain jackets, hiking shoes and pretty much anything with an excessive amount of pockets, styles that are built to withstand even the harshest weathers and environments – all conditions, if you were looking for the call back.

Now Gorp has far succeeded the hiking crowd, powered primarily by Canadian outwear brand Arc’teryx. Known for their high-quality outdoor and climbing wear, the Arc’teryx brand had been gaining traction within the fashion scene since the illusive Frank Ocean was spotted sporting a branded beanie at Paris Fashion Week in 2019. Months later, in 2020, school of Ye alum Virgil Abloh sent the Hadid sisters down the runway in Off-White dresses that were fused with Arc’teryx jackets. The outerwear brand dismissed the assumed collaboration as being unofficial. Nevertheless, within 48 hours of the show, fashion insights company Stylight stated that Arc’teryx clicks had increased by 61.54% on their platform.

Despite the brands apparent dissatisfaction with Abloh’s take, and vocal condemnation of the streetwear scene, it wasn’t long before Arc’teryx eventually gave in to a collaboration with Palace Skateboards later that year. Hailing from London, Palace’s inner-city skate vibe is a far cry from hikes and hills, but this hasn’t stopped them from hopping on the trend. Not only did they collaborate with Arc’teryx, but they also joined forces with technical footwear brand Salomon, and cycling brand Rapha. Unsurprisingly, the collab was more well-received by the streetwear crowd than Arc’teryx’s typical crowd of outdoor enthusiasts, and it’s a sentiment that continues to plague them. A quick scroll through the Arc Subreddit condemns the brand’s new-found approach, claiming that the brand has fallen into making “douche uniforms for hypebeasts,” and accusing them of “making overpriced items and marketing to fad chasers.”

But really, the ‘fad’ was only just getting started. If Arc’teryx had enjoyed a successful 2020, 2021 was about to get much bigger for them. As a high-end brand, Arc had managed to lock down a premium, ski-ready collaboration with Jil Sander, but on the other end of the spectrum, the brand had caught the attention of Gen Z. Likely fuelled by the Palace collab and traction from fashion meme pages, Arc’teryx’s waterproof jackets took TikTok by storm. Standing under their showerheads, TikTok teens wore Arc’s GORE-TEX treated jackets whilst water rained down all over them, with the videos accompanied by audio of rapper YT’s track “Arc’teryx”, and captions stating that the ‘just beads right off.’ No shit, right? They’re built for that. Although TikTok’s erratic use of hashtags can skew figures, video views for videos that include the Arc’teryx hashtag currently sit at over 2.256 million views, with 5.4k videos uploaded.

If the Palace collaboration had upset Arc’teryx’s core fanbase, the TikTok teens pushed most of them over the edge. The brand had been bought out by new owners in 2019, and it was clear that a change in direction had taken place. One angry Reddit user accused Arc’teryx as being “the next The North Face,” and said that they “hoped it was worth it.”

It’s hard to talk about outerwear without mentioning The North Face. The brand that was dreamed up by hikers and named after the most unforgiving side of a mountain is now a staple within the streetwear scene. Its signature “Nuptse” jacket gets its name from the mountain that neighbours Everest, and has been reworked countless times by streetwear brands and affiliated artists, including Supreme and KAWS to name a few. Whether inner-city streetwear fans need a 700-fil goose down jacket is debatable, but nevertheless, it stuck.

During the early part of 2022, The North Face dropped a capsule collaboration with Italian fashion house, Gucci. The famed Nupste formed a part of the collab, along with accessories like practical backpacks, and a tent. Whilst you’d assume that the collection was designed for the rich and elite Aprés Ski crew, it obviously caught the attention of streetwear fans even more so. It begged the question: who is benefitting more from these collaborations? Is it the outdoor brand capitalising on the highly engaged streetwear audience, or the streetwear brand now able to offer more technical better-quality product whilst riding a trend at the same time?

To Gucci’s Alessandro Michele, the collection was ‘simply a way to share his love for the great outdoors.’ “We are a big brand, so we have to take responsibility for our industry,” Michele told Vogue, claiming that the house had moved towards the ideation of giving fashion a longer life. His previous capsule collection, Gucci ‘Off the Grid’ had been compromised of recycled, organic and sustainably sourced materials – arguably more outdoorsy than creating a camping collection for the super-rich.

But why are so many brands looking to the great outdoors for inspiration? It’s simple really, isn’t it – this is the first year in a long time that most of us have been able to go outside again without limits, connecting with nature, and in turn, our roots. It’s a movement that has seen designers everywhere draw inspiration from, and the narrative that nature is healing goes well beyond fashion. Arc'teryx and Gucci x TNF price points aside, the trickle-down effect has seen brands like ACG make looking cool outdoors become more accessible to all. Abbas’ move from Nike to ACG in 2022 could be significant, timing-wise given the amount of time we were locked down for, and it could even be a similar story for frequent New Balance collaborator, Salehe Bembury, who left his position of Vice President of Sneakers at Versace the same year. Abbas’ new role was entirely based on creating products that were outdoor-ready, whilst Bembury’s designs were clearly inspired by nature and trails; his New Balance 574 “Yurt” prioritised function, whilst his collaboration with Crocs, the “Pollex Clog” was inspired by nature and suitable for trail wear.

This brings us back to Ye. Having famously ditched LA’s Hidden Hills in favour of two ranches in Wyoming, the mogul had dreams of bringing his entire Yeezy production line to Cody. Whilst he sold off one of the properties, he retains ownership of the other, seemingly living between there, Miami, and well, opposite Kim in Calabasas. More to the point though, is that the purchase of the ranch seemed to spark something new in Ye, encouraging Yeezy to take a slightly different approach to how they thought about their products. Though earth tones and mineral references have always played a part in Ye’s designs, things stepped up when it was revealed that the controversial Yeezy Foam RNNR actually used algae from Ye’s ranch in the original “Sand” colourway. Algae was also used in some of the iterations that followed, although not from the Cody ranch. Many Yeezy styles now incorporate more sustainable materials, a step forward in looking after the world outside.

Ye continues to spend most of his time in Miami, and he does so in Balenciaga. It’s no secret that he has the high-fashion market in a chokehold, but his name change and uniform have likened his public persona to performance art. Abbas’ impressive CV has shown he clearly has talent outside of ACG and outdoorwear too, with experience in both streetwear and luxury fashion, so could his appointment suggest an overall more stable, grounding era is on the way for Ye? One thing is for sure, Ye doesn’t usually follow trends, he sets them, and if Yeezy is about to look to the outdoors for more cues, they’ll continue to do so in ways unlike anything we’ve seen before. If not, whatever it does means for Yeezy, it's still a breath of fresh air for the brand.

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