Has streetwear been overdone? The popularity of streetwear has created an opportunity for independent designers to start their brands. The style has allowed interdisciplinary practice in fashion seeing different cultural groups and artistic mediums come together. With drastic changes happening in the industry, the question is how does streetwear stay relevant?
Last month the Business of Fashion hosted a talk titled ‘ The Future of the Independent Fashion Store’. During the talk, one of the speakers Ikram Goldman, owner of Chicago based boutique Ikram stated that ‘after this pandemic people don’t want to wear loungewear or sweats anymore, they want to get dressed up.’ This comment reminded me of Virgil Abloah’s ‘streetwear is going to die soon’ statement made in December 2019. This has been a recurring discussion which comes up in conversation with new designers at Colèchi hangout events and it’s sparked some serious concerns. T-shirts, hoodies and jumpers are an accessible entry point for someone starting a brand, it’s affordable, lets you get your brand concept across and customers act as walking marketing campaigns. The question is, has it been overdone, what’s next and how can new streetwear brands stay relevant?
During Fashion Revolution Week we asked creatives what they want to see from small independent brands and why they shop small. Hazel Hui, founder of streetwear brand Real Haze said “ We have enough clothing out there, why do we need more? I’m not saying that we always have to buy clothing with a “meaning”, like a tank top; but what I’m saying is that independent fashion brands are helping push fashion-forward. Testing new waters and experimenting with new ideas, which is important for the future of fashion.” The movement behind the brand is stronger than the item itself, for example Dior sold out the T-shirt reading ‘We Should All be Feminists’, a well known quote from Chimamanda Ngozi. Although Dior is a large fashion house and heritage brand with great influence, would they have sold out if the T-shirt didn’t reference Chimamanda or donate some of the funds raised to Rihanna’s charity?
Credit for acts like this should be given to new designers, as Hazel expressed earlier, they test the waters and add a new meaning to what clothes can represent. Hazel continues to add that fashion should ‘expand its collaborations with other forms of artists like graffiti, DJs, Dancer, etc, I think we take fashion to a whole new level. Also, what I mean by collaboration is not only making something together but also creating an open space for a conversation. Reflecting on myself, sometimes I get caught up in just focusing on my fashion brand – which is a good thing – however, I think it’s important to communicate with other designers to grow as a community but also reflect on your relevancy and contribution to the fashion world. Questions like, “Am I still staying in line with my purpose? And is my purpose contributing to the culture I’m targeting?” That’s why I feel a conversation is a golden key to growth and success. ‘
Pushing fashion-forward by introducing new ideas, conversations and creating a community has been and can be achieved through new Streetwear brands. It can unanimously be agreed that there is no longer room for inauthentic streetwear brands, however, the movement and message behind many emerging Streetwear brands are significant. The styles often originate from subcultures which continue to have relevance.
Hazel is the designer of Real Haze, a streetwear clothing brand that focuses on fashion, art and the freedom of being the real you. Her brand was founded in Hong Kong and incorporates her Polish and Chinese identities through the use of graphics. I thought it was interesting to find out more about her brand and how she incorporates meaning into Real Haze.
In Conversation with Hazel
Tell us about Real Haze and the different ways you incorporate your Polish Chinese identity.
Where to begin…let me rewind haha. So I was working in Hong Kong at an F&B company where I was working in the design department. I worked there for 1 1/2years and left to explore new opportunities. I wanted to create something of my own and I loved the idea of designing graphics for clothing, and in the future making my own clothing. I love streetwear and I wanted to dive into it, however, I knew that there were a lot of streetwear brands and I wanted my brand to stand out or…to have more meaning, story and purpose behind it. One day I had this random thought of combing my cultures into an art piece. I have never seen Polish folk art combined with Chinese designs on streetwear before, so I thought this might be my opportunity to stand out from the crowd.
I was always curious about what it would be like to combine two diverse cultures into one art piece. There was a lot of research behind each design as I would go through local Polish folk books for inspiration, walk around antique shops in Hong Kong, take pictures around the city and even ask my mom to send some Polish folk scarves to my home in Hong Kong. The most challenging part of the process was how to fit the design into streetwear culture. I didn’t want my clothing to like a folk costume, so it took careful research to find what elements fit together – as well as choosing the right colours.
I first shared my artwork on social media and it quickly got popular. People were saying they could see my designs on a t-shirt/jumper, that it was fresh and they wanted to wear it. With this positive feedback, I decided I wanted to start my streetwear brand and call it Real Haze. The name Real Haze was my nickname in university. I wanted my brand to reflect that being real and true yourself is the most rewarding and freeing feeling that you can have in life.
My first launch of Real Haze was in Hong Kong and it was hosted in an independent store/space called Mahka. I wanted my launch to be an experience or like they were in a party – an evening people wouldn’t forget. With the help of my friends who were singers, MCs and DJs they performed at my pop up and had a big party during the event. People were enjoying themselves, connecting and buying merch. It was a successful night! A month later I decided I wanted to expand Real Haze and find more opportunities in the west, so I decided to move to the UK.
How has the move from Hong Kong to the UK been in terms of your work? Do you feel you have the same audience here and how do the opportunities so far differ?
So after quitting my job in Hong Kong, I began to do freelance design work as well as running my brand. I continue to work as a freelance designer and run my brand. So I wouldn’t say work has been too different from how it used to be in Hong Kong. However, what I’ve noticed in terms of opportunities to collaborate and create events is that it’s easier and faster in Hong Kong. I think the reason is that Hong Kong: A) HK is a small city so you can easily reach and connect to people. B) The creative community is not very big in HK which means connecting with others is a lot easier too. Whereas, in the UK it’s not as fast and it takes time to connect with the right people. Nonetheless, In time, I eventually collaborated and connected with a range of artists and even had my first fashion show in London. In terms of the type of audience, I feel the creative audience is quite similar in Hong Kong and the UK; however, the diversity of creative individuals is a lot bigger in the UK.
How have you created a community with Real Haze and what does that look like?
I try to create a community with Real Haze by connecting with people who have similar interests in fashion, music, design and art. Whether it would be attending events, connecting through social media or collaborating with artists who also share your work. For example, I collaborated with a dancer in California who wears Real Haze at different dance battles, wears it during judging and shares stories on her IG; I collaborated with a dancer in Denver; a popular DJ from the UK; singer in Tokyo; a singer from NYC and more. I try to connect with people who share the same interests but most importantly believe in the meaning behind Real Haze.
‘King of Streetwear’ Virgil said that “streetwear is going to die soon”. Streetwear has been a good entry point for new designers and to enable artists like yourself to fuse art and fashion. What can new streetwear brands do to stay relevant?
I think that new streetwear brands can stay relevant by assessing the purpose of their brand first. Asking questions like what your brand means and what kind of message are you giving? And is the purpose of your brand contributing to the streetwear community? Do you think you’re giving back to the community and helping streetwear retain its true meaning and possibly move it to newer levels? I think some newer brands don’t take the time to assess these key questions and thus lose relevance within streetwear. That’s why I understand why Virgil says “streetwear is going to die soon”. Streetwear flourished with different subcultures that had their own beliefs, identity and self-expression, e.g. skaters, surfers, punk, hip hop, etc. However, nowadays purpose and meaning are overshadowed by money, fame and popularity, i.e. the hype. Therefore, I believe that a streetwear brand can stay relevant by having a clear purpose and DNA, understanding your audience and the culture you’re part of; and be able to spark new conversations.
Real Haze is a young brand demonstrating what the movement of streetwear represents. The brand embodies Hazel’s heritage, artistic expression and cultural interests which are shared by others. Despite loungewear and t-shirts no longer being the highest retail interest, the need to constantly connect and be in conversation with others is never ending. Streetwear can possess a symbolic value for different communities.