Board of Education: What Forum Culture Taught Us About Style

Board of Education: What Forum Culture Taught Us About StyleNikeTalk, pre-Huddler design.

PART THREE: You Are SO Getting Negrepped For This

On Supertalk, cultural currency was measured in the form of “rep.” Members could rate each other positively or negatively—the latter was a practice known as “negrepping.” Out of all the forums, Supertalk was the only one to utilize this process where members actually review each other’s contributions to the forum. As founder Wayne Berkowitz explains: "In theory, rep helps the community police itself, though it can be easily manipulated by members. We didn't treat it as seriously as some of the members did. The members on Supertalk exploited it and turned it into as rampant popularity system and we really lost control of it."

On eBay, sellers and buyers rely on feedback to vet whether or not a business is legitimate, or if a potential buyer has a history of not paying. Supertalk’s rep system served the same purpose, but evolved into something a little more nitpicky.

“The rep system was just a way of putting a really crude game-like layer on top of the entire forum experience,” explains Mejia. “It also served to facilitate interaction between members in the Supermarket section, so you knew the used Supreme you just bought wasn't fake.” 

Community members used rep as a way to call out people who didn’t know what they were talking about. An incorrect or ignorant post about jeans, rap, or anything really, was fair grounds for negrepping, while detailed, informative posts on jeans, fit details on obscure Japanese brands, and reviews of recently opened stores could net members positive rep. On the forum, rep was visualized in the form of a bar under each member’s name, which was colored in either a red gradient (mostly negative rep) or a green gradient (mostly positive rep). People with no rep had no bar at all.

 

If someone wants to spend 3 days camping out to flip a pair of sneaks and make $300, go for it. I always thought there were more productive ways to make, in essence, $4 an hour. - Eric Heins, Corter Leather

 

According to Fischer, positive or negative rep did play a part in how many grains of salt one should take prior to reading any given member’s post, but seniority was also a factor. “Join date and rep gave you a quick reference on how serious you should take this person’s bullshit you're about to read. I thought it was fair because there was no restriction on what posts you were allowed to rep.”

Eric Heins, founder of Corter Leather, definitely looked at rep when considering making a purchase from a stranger on the forum, but not so much when it came to taking advice. “I learned just as much from people with low rep as with high rep” he says. “I'd just research the low rep people a bit more if I bought something from them.” Heins’ company remains a one-man operation. He makes a variety of leather goods by hand: belts, wallets, bracelets, key hooks—accoutrements with a patina you have to earn. What separated his business from others is that Heins’ orders would come from fellow members of Supertalk. 

In fact, Heins decided to start making his own leather wallets because he couldn’t afford many of the goods championed by the forum’s other members. Being a design major, he picked up the basics from online tutorials.

“I honestly didn't realize I had started a business until people outside of the forums started writing about what I was up to,” he says. “It was just a cool way to pay for art school supplies and have a bit of beer money.” But people didn’t just use Supertalk to order custom, handmade goods. Plenty of members also wanted to score a deal on secondhand designer gear—people like Ryan Willms. 

With his meticulously-groomed sidepart, he looks like every other menswear blogger of today. Willms is decked out in a navy blazer, chambray shirt, and flannel bowtie. He is turning various ways in front of the camera for director Jake Davis, adjusting the artfully-rolled cuffs on his indigo-dyed selvedge jeans, a pop of fair isle socks separating them from a pair of burnished brogues. The video was uploaded on January 27, 2010. It was the first in Davis’ “Test Shots” series—short vignettes focusing on stylish men and how they dress themselves.

“It was a more intimate option than eBay, and the selection of goods was much more focused,” says Willms of Superfuture's market forum, Supermarket. One of the earlier menswear blogs, Willms launched h(y)r collective in the spring of 2008 as a way of highlighting certain items he liked. At the time, sites like A Continuous Lean and Valet were barely a year old. In terms of sheer information and knowledge, forums still trumped these fledgling menswear blogs. Forums also offered a thriving secondhand market.

“It was a great place to get items I couldn't buy locally for a reasonable price, often slightly worn,” says Willms. “It still is probably the best place to buy something from a brand like Visvim, since most people can't afford to buy it at retail.” Even forums like NikeTalk and StyleForum had kids peddling gear from Supreme and The Hundreds alongside cult Japanese labels, foreshadowing the “buy it then flip it” culture of enterprising hypebeasts today.

“The flipping thing on fashion forums was a bit crazy when Dunks were huge,” recalls Heins. “If someone wants to spend 3 days camping out to flip a pair of sneaks and make $300, go for it. I always thought there were more productive ways to make, in essence, $4 an hour.”

“It just changed the notion a little bit of what is really exclusive,” says Bobby Hundreds. “When I was a kid I saved money to fly to New York to go to Supreme, and ALIFE when it was on Orchard. I couldn’t buy those clothes anywhere else. That doesn’t exist anymore. You can buy anything, anywhere now. That kind of ruined it, but what are you going to do, fight the Internet?”

 

I think the Internet sped up the trend process... and the forum subcultures were a part of this. - Ryan Willms, Inventory Magazine

 

By this time, graphic tees and limited-edition sneakers were starting to get overlooked in favor of hard-wearing jeans and sought-after cult brands like Nom de Guerre, Engineered Garments, and Yuketen. Men like Willms regularly looked at Supertalk and StyleForum for lookbooks, interviews and product shots. Willms was not, however, logging in for style advice.

“It could be a valuable source of information,” he says, “but if you go in there blind, you could end up taking advice from somebody who knows less than you. I do feel that for the most part, there were a lot of uneducated folks passing themselves off as an authority.”

In 2009, Willms met Fashion Director Simon Roe, and the two decided that h(y)r collective needed to be rebranded. They also decided to go into print. In October 2009, the first issue of Inventory magazine was released. Printed on high quality paper, its first two covers were of Yuketens Yuki Matsuda, and Christophe Loiron of Mister Freedom. Inside the pages, brands like Engineered Garments, Nom de Guerre, and Duluth Pack were given shine in a way they had never before seen in North America. Yet, these were the sorts of cult brands that had been buzzed about on forums already for months.

“I think the Internet sped up the trend process and the reach,” says Willms, “and the forum subcultures were a part of this.”

“Superfuture—and forums in general—are usually the first place you see trends emerge,” says Babzani. “So you hear about these brands before they've blown up. Some guy in San Francisco, London, or Tokyo goes and discovers some random brand like Band of Outsiders or Rick Owens and posts a photo online. Now, the guy in Austin or wherever knows about this brand. It had nothing to do with advertising or a blogger or a magazine.” 

Willms begs to differ. “I think that people can get sucked into the forum world a little too much sometimes,” he says. “In the big picture, it is still a very small portion of consumers in the global market. It is interesting because it didn't exist 5-10 years ago as it does now, and it does have a certain amount of buying power and influence on some retailers. However, I don't think its dictating trends or changing the market as a whole.”

Mejia believes that forums’ effect on trends is bigger than many people realize. “I honestly consider forum culture the springboard for almost everything going on in menswear today,” he asserts. “None of what's currently going on in terms fashion media, especially as it relates to menswear, would be happening if it wasn't for forums. Superfuture, Hypebeast, and all the others are where the community-at-large of hyper-attentive consumers came to hone its sense of ever-shifting identity and thirst for all things new. A lot of folks claim they never checked forums in their heyday like it's some sort of badge of honor to them, but really: we all know you're lying.”

Tags: niketalk, superfuture, styleforum, hypebeast, forums
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