I’ve heard that in the music world, there are two ways of recognizing talent. To put it simply, you either do something familiar, really, really well, or you do something completely different and new.
Written by Jian DeLeon (@jiandeleon)
Suffice it to say, for every Kanye West or Daft Punk there are about a hundred other people clearly influenced by them. Clothing brands are pretty similar, especially when you look at the realms of menswear. No, I don’t mean the double-breasted blazers and bench-made Cordovan footwear that comprise the “#menswear” subculture, but any sort of brand who strives to outfit the average guy in items of clothing. That includes you, streetwear brands.
Good brands come from a balance of honesty, taste, and self-awareness.
When I interviewed Karmaloop CEO Greg Selkoe earlier this year, we talked about what makes a good brand. What’d he have to say? This: “A lot of brands do the same fucking thing over and over again. Unless you’re the first one to do something, you’re generally not going to be known for it.”
Each day it seems we're exposed to a variety of new brands claiming to fulfill a gap in the market. For menswear, that means well-fitting shirts and pants. One brand I think is doing a really good job balancing good style, superior product, and delivering something truly unique is Outlier. If you're not familiar, they put out button down shirts and pants that combine a slim fit with technical fabrics that have been treated for resistance against the elements, odors, and stains (we shot this video that demonstrates what they're all about).
Why do I mention them? Well, because this article on menswear-related Kickstarter projects contains two companies—a shirtmaker and a guy that makes pants—that make essentially the same thing as Outlier. Both are touting to be extremely unique, but the thing that makes Outlier cool is that they've researched what's already out there. They know what stylish guys were already wearing, and re-interpreted it with new fabrics to make these versatile wardrobe staples even more practical. If you're a new brand, and you claim to be special, and I can think of at least three other people doing the same thing, it makes me think that you probably haven't done your research.
Good brands come from a balance of honesty, taste, and self-awareness. That means if you know your ideas aren't truly original, at least own that and find a different selling point. Look at companies like SSUR and Black Scale. SSUR's now-ubiquitous "Comme des Fuckdown" gear, when you really think about it, isn't the most original idea, but it's still fly because on the one hand, yes it's a parody, and on the other, it's a middle finger to high-end fashion labels and so-called "premium streetwear." Even before the A$AP Mob co-sign, Black Scale had been on the whole dark design tip, often using gothic imagery—but the "Fuck Swag" T-shirt was still pretty hilarious. Both brands make streetwear staples like graphic tees and hats, but they've found humorous ways to tap into other markets, namely, fashionistas and hypebeast haters (or hypebeasts with a flair for irony).
Humor can get you a lot of places that screenprinted skulls and logos can't. Take Mark McNairy or Jeremy Scott's cheeky collections, for instance. People aren't really sure if they're being serious or just trolling the world. Matador-inspired track jackets? T-shirts emblazoned with "MANIFEST DESTINY?" Regardless of whether or not they sell, at least these designers show that they have enormous cojones—that or they have quite simply ran out of fucks to give. And really, that's what separates the wannabes from the real. Don't worry about trends, whether following them or setting them, that sort of irrelevant bullshit is probably determined by a secret Illuminati computer bay of soulless machines, anyway. Just do you, first of all, and second, figure out a way to present your ideas honestly and uniquely to the masses. That part isn't so cut-and-dry. Good luck.