Off the streets of NTU

By Kimberly Ng

Streetwear has been making waves in Singapore in recent years.

Big street brands like Off-White and Supreme have a large local following, and the term ‘“streetwear” has become ubiquitous among youths.

Joshua Ng wearing his favourite mask that he purchased from an artist on Instagram. PHOTO: NICHOLAS KOO

However, many are unable to pin down the term’s exact definition.

According to Bobby Kim, co-founder of American streetwear label The Hundreds, it is difficult to define the specific look of streetwear.

“While it’s a bit sporty and athletic, it’s also skate and hip hop, but it’s not exclusively any one of these things,” said Kim in an article he wrote for the American youth culture media platform, Complex.

“Everyone has a different definition of streetwear — it’s very subjective. For instance, Japan has its own streetwear culture, Korea has its own, and so on,” said Joshua Ng, a streetwear enthusiast and second-year School of Humanities student.

Chan Jun Xiang wearing his favourite photo tee of Forrest Gump from London streetwear brand, Palace. PHOTO: NICHOLAS KOO

For example, Japan’s version of streetwear consists of baggy pants and loud, bright colours, while Korea’s version of streetwear consists of oversized tops and tight, ripped pants, explained the 25-year-old.

“For me, I take different bits of the various street cultures and integrate them into my own style,” he added.

He does so because not everything in a specific culture suits him thus he only picks out the best parts of each culture.

History of streetwear

According to online streetwear marketplace and blog Draped Up, streetwear is defined broadly as a form of casual clothing that has been popularised in urban settings. With its roots in urban subcultures, like the American skateboarding and hip hop cultures, streetwear is typically characterised by sneakers and baggy or oversized apparel.

Though it has been around for over 30 years, streetwear recently started gaining popularity in the global fashion community because of hip hop and social media.

In particular, the hip hop culture in Asia has been growing consistently in recent years and has even blown up in countries like China, following the 2017 Chinese reality show The Rap of China.

Rappers and hip hop artists like A$AP Rocky, Drake, and Kanye West are often decked out in streetwear, and rap about different street brands. As these influencers have a large social media following, fans naturally try to emulate their style by donning more streetwear.

Chan Jun Xiang, a second-year School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering student, is one such fan.

How Jun Liang (left) and Chan holding black Snoopy toys from Uniqlo’s KAWS x Peanuts streetwear collection, a collaboration between the American pop artist and the popular comic series. PHOTO: NICHOLAS KOO

“I listen to a lot of hip hop music and artists, and that was where I first started gaining exposure to streetwear brands. For example, I first saw Supreme on the hip hop collective Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, and Stone Island on Drake,” said Chan, who has been a streetwear enthusiast since 2015.

A hip hop collective is different from a typical hip hop group in that its members do not regularly perform together, and are instead like-minded colleagues or collaborators.

The 23-year-old added: “I gradually started dressing like these artists, and even went beyond clothes and got accessories like chains and grills.”

Grills are a type of jewellery worn over the teeth. They are normally made of metal and are removable.

Though these accessories are not a common sight in Singapore, Chan sees accessorising as a form of self-expression. While he likes to wear his chains with different outfits when he goes out, he rarely wears his grills as they are troublesome to put on.

Modern-day streetwear

Apart from wearing streetwear and rapping about these brands, many hip hop artists have gone on to collaborate with existing street brands to create their own line of streetwear.

One of the most popular collaborations to date is between Kanye West and Adidas, which saw him creating the Yeezy Boosts.

Even though these sneakers were first released in 2015, they continue to sell out every time a new colour or design is released. As with many other streetwear brands, Yeezys are sold in very limited quantities, and buyers have to ballot for a ticket to buy a pair before they are released.

Because of the current hype surrounding street brands and streetwear, such apparel come with a steep price tag.

Various streetwear apparel that Ng has purchased over the years. PHOTO: NICHOLAS KOO

For instance, a simple T-shirt from American streetwear brand Supreme costs $100 while a sweatshirt from London brand, Palace, costs over $200.

Though there are many replicas available for a fraction of the original price on the market, many youths, like second-year School of Humanities student Dhya Syarah, are still willing to invest in the genuine product.

Syarah grew up dressed in genuine streetwear that her fashion-forward mother had bought for her from a young age. And now that she makes her own fashion choices, she continues donning only the real McCoy.

Though the clothes can be costly, the 20-year-old, who is a fan of labels like Stussy and Nike, said: “Designers work so hard to build their brand, and it’s not nice to rip them off by contributing to the fake market in any way.”

But some students have also found ways to support original streetwear labels on a budget.

24-year-old Charmaine Low purchases a new outfit every month, but tries to keep her expenditure below $100.

“My brother lives in Cambodia, so I go there very often to get factory rejects for brands like Adidas. I also like to go thrift shopping when I go overseas – it’s really easy to find cheap, unique pieces in places like Japan,” said the second-year School of Art, Design and Media student, who has been a fan of streetwear for the past two years.

Despite the consensus against purchasing fakes, some students are willing to bend the rules for deliberate fakes, like the parody label Vetememes.

Parody labels are brands that release merchandise mimicking the designs or logos of notable fashion brands. They are meant to poke fun at originals and are priced lower than branded apparel.

“Though I would personally never purchase replica streetwear, I’m okay with buying parody brands, as these brands are humorous and there is value to the items that they put out there because they are unique, unlike replicas,” said How Jun Liang, 22.

However, the second-year Nanyang Business School student continues to look up to owners of original streetwear brands, and makes regular purchases from them.

“The founders of big brands in the current street scene all started from similar humble beginnings, but with vastly different backgrounds and upbringings. As a result, the designs they release are rooted in real-life stories, which I really appreciate, and it really inspires me to continue to better understand and pursue streetwear as a lifestyle.”

Favourites in their closet

With so many brands and styles of clothing to choose from, it can be difficult for students who are newer to the streetwear scene to decide what to invest in first. Here, students share their favourite apparel and accessories.

Chan: “I really like this Palace photo tee of Forrest Gump. I love Forrest Gump, so it immediately resonated with me. I also like how Forrest Gump is wearing a Palace cap in the photo, because it’s such a simple but fun take on the original picture. Palace always puts a very funny spin on their designs.”

How: “My favourite article of clothing would be my Adidas NMDs. I always view a person’s outfit from the bottom up, which means I base my first impressions of people off their shoes, so I always pay the most attention to my shoes in any outfit. NMDs aren’t very new, but they are still trendy and very comfortable, which is why I like them.”

Low: “My favourite item would be this Adidas jacket that I got from the factory in Cambodia. I got it at $17 because of some defect but it retailed for $120 in Adidas stores. I really love it because it was such a steal, and also because it’s super comfy and classic — it really adds an oomph to every outfit.”

Ng: “My favourite item would definitely be this mask that I bought off the artist, @inq_, on Instagram. He painted his own version of the Bape (an alternate name for Japanese clothing brand A Bathing Ape) logo on it, so it’s technically a bastardised fake. But I really like it because it’s a limited piece and not many people in the world have it. It’s also very functional — I have a very sensitive nose, so I use this mask a lot when I have allergies.”

Syarah: “My favourite thing to wear would be my X-Large hoodie. Not many locals know of, or like, this brand because it rivals Bape, which is quite popular in Singapore. But I prefer X-Large because their designs are simpler and more versatile. I actually wear this hoodie everywhere — to school, to shop, or to any kind of event or place. I just throw on a pair of tights and I’m pretty much good to go.”