This story was first published on Glossy, Digiday Media’s new publication devoted to how technology is changing the fashion and luxury industries.
From the buzz around Kanye West’s fashion line to the rise of brands like Supreme, urban streetwear has never been more in vogue.
Major credit goes to streetwear media websites.
Over the past few years, these sites have played a behind-the-scenes role in elevating streetwear to prominence, curating updates often from meager beginnings in college dorm rooms. It was only when web traffic began to spike that they realized there was a dire need for nuanced coverage of streetwear trends, ultimately transpiring to lucrative publishing ventures rife with advertising opportunities.
Complex: When a celebrity beef turns to media gold
In 2013, the rapper Wale had a bone to pick with Complex Magazine. He hadn’t been selected for its 50 Best Albums list, edged out by the likes of Big Sean and Daft Punk.
Wale, famous for songs like “Ride Out” and “Ambitious,” felt so snubbed that he called Complex to talk it over, and from the misunderstanding, “Sneaker Shopping” was born.
Joe La Puma, director of content strategy at Complex, decided that in order to mend the relationship with Wale, he would head down to Miami and film a segment of the rapper shopping for shoes and talking about his personal style. After the first video was well received on YouTube, the team decided an ongoing series could be “a piece of content fans would enjoy.”
The videos — which are posted monthly and feature Macklemore, 50 Cent and Amber Rose, among others — have upwards of 5 million views, in part due La Puma’s charm and the organic nature of the discussions.
The video series complements Complex’s Sneaker and Style Verticals, which spotlight the latest news on streetwear styles, where “the editors really have their ear to the streets,” according to La Puma.
Complex places a heavy emphasis on social media and engaging its audience through a variety of platforms, led by its social media director, Julian Patterson. La Puma said it’s not just enough to have a website — staffers need to be out in the city getting Snapchat videos of the opening of a pop-up shop or Instagramming the latest fashion-line launch.
“Our audience is coming through social first and foremost, so we always have an editor who’s on call and ready to deliver our content on social platforms,” La Puma said.
HighSnobiety: From the dorm to the streets
While in college in Zurich in 2005, David Fischer, CEO and publisher of Berlin-based HighSnobiety, was dismayed by the lack of menswear style blogs on the internet. So he decided to start his own.
The blog began as a hobby, with Fischer filling webpages with things that piqued his interest, which largely consisted of write-ups and accompanying photos of sneakers and streetwear.
Within a few months, he noticed web traffic on the site was unexpectedly ramping up. It was then that he realized his site was fulfilling a void in media. Later that year, he got his first advertising deal — $75 for a banner website he put up on the site.
To supplement the modest income he was making from the site, Fischer started working in sales for the streetwear brands he was covering, conducting business for U.S. brands that weren’t yet represented in Europe while still operating the site in his free time.
“For quite a while, I was so convinced that the site might grow and become bigger, but I wasn’t exactly sure it would be my main job forever,” Fischer said. “There were not many examples in those first few years of blogs and websites that turned into significant businesses.”
Despite his hesitancy, by 2006, readership went from 3,000 a day to upwards of 15,000. In 2007, Fischer left sales to focus full-time on the site, later creating a spinoff site focused on clothing and lifestyle called Selectism. Overtime, he merged the two, creating a holistic lifestyle site.
“I was getting a little tired of writing about sneakers and t-shirts,” Fischer said of Selectism. “I wasn’t sure I could write about high-end fashion and sophisticated fashion on HighSnobiety. The funny thing that happened though [is that] over the last decade, high fashion and streetwear became so close to each other that it made sense to talk about the same thing together.”
Today the company is just under 40 people, with 15 people working on the editorial side and the rest focused on sales, marketing and operations.
“We always see ourselves as a site that picks things up really early on the street and make sure the market knows what’s going on in the street, and what’s the next big thing to hit the mass market,” Fischer said.
Hypebeast: Passion project leads to IPO
Like Fischer, Kevin Ma also started Hypebeast as an extracurricular activity back in 2005, a creative outlet from his job in finance. Little did he know that in just a few years, his site would have more than 46 million views a month and rappers like Lupe Fiasco and Kanye West would be blogging and tweeting about his site to the masses.
The Hong Kong native first became aware of the impact of Hypebeast when he was lined up outside for the launch of a new sneaker line and the guy in front of him leaned over and asked, “Hey, did you read about this cool sneaker on Hypebeast?”
Ma told Forbes, “I kept quiet and nodded. At that point I knew Hypebeast had influence.”
As his readership grew, he delved into the advertising realm, realizing the site had real business potential. He started small, signing up for Google AdSense and saw the clicks keep on coming, he told Racked.
In early April, the company filed for an initial public offering on Hong Kong’s stock exchange, listing 500 million shares at HK$0.13, eventually closing at HK$1.05, according to Bloomberg. Hypebeast became Asia’s best-performing debut stock of 2016 and raised HK$65 million to exceed its expectations of HK$29.7 million.
“We looked at private investors and venture capitalists, but we felt more comfortable going this route,” Ma told Business of Fashion. “It was a personal choice, I guess. We met the requirements for the exchange, so we thought, why not try this out?”
The success of the IPO reflects Ma’s strategic growth strategy. The site has expanded to cover an array of topics, spanning fashion, footwear, automotive, arts, sports, food and tech, among others. Ma also launched spinoff sites like the women’s fashion page Popbee and a music site called Hypetrak. He also publishes a Hypebeast print magazine that often sells out.
Beyond editorial content, Ma launched a digital store called HBX that sells more than 8,000 products. Ma told the Business of Fashion in 2013 that 78 percent of his readers were buying merchandise from HBX after first reading about it on the blog, showcasing Ma’s business acumen.
Nice Kicks: Master of the taglines
Since he was a kid growing up in Fresno, CA, Matt Halfhill, founder of Nice Kicks, always overheard his friends complement each other’s footwear with an emphatic “nice kicks!”
The saying stuck; in 2006, he decided to use the catchphrase to launch a site that showcases the newest streetwear shoe styles and news, including profiles of famous athletes and a feature called “Celebrity Sneaker Stalker.”
“I was very frustrated as a consumer that the only way you could get information on upcoming sneakers was off message boards and forums,” he said. “They’re great because everyone can contribute, but they’re also really bad because everyone can contribute.”
Nice Kicks has a total of eight employees spread across Los Angeles, Portland and Austin. It produces most of its revenue from display ads and sponsored content on both the site and social platforms, where the company has 7.5 million followers across accounts.
The company also bolsters sales from its retail arm of the business, which launched in 2010, and includes a brick-and-mortar store in Austin, TX.
Halfill also played a role as the unofficial creator of the “Throwback Thursday” phenomenon, in which social media users post vintage photos to their accounts. In 2013, Sports Illustrated credited Nice Kicks as the first to use the saying on a post about old basketball sneakers in 2006. The rise of “TBT” came later, around 2012, and the first-ever Instagram with the hashtag appeared in 2011.
“There’s been a whole lot of pop culture that has been influenced by the streetwear community,” Halfill said.
SneakHype: Bringing ‘dopeness’ to the masses
Like HighSnobiety, SneakHype also has origins in a dorm room. Founders Patrick Galbraith and Eric Giroux were students at University of Kansas in 2008 when they started a blog designed to “encompass not just sneakers but art,” said managing editor Ty Sechler.
Within a few years, the site, branded as “Your Daily Dose of Dopeness,” started to take off. “We started ramping up our content and reaching out to brands more often and featuring upcoming streetwear as well as artists. We realized there was more to it than just a hobby,” Sechler said.
SneakHype’s staff is relatively small, comprised of a staff of three full-time employees and an intern. Seckler primarily handles day-to-day operations and editorial content, while the co-founders handle sales and business. The site partners with Gannett, owner of USA Today, to manage its advertising network and help with site design.
The company has also worked with a number of brands on sponsored content and social posts, including Captain Morgan and Adidas, as well as has a line of branded merchandise used for promotional purposes.
Sechler said the site focused on four main pillars of content: streetwear, sneakers, art and architecture, though it certainly strays from this core, including a section titled “Girls” that features stories like “5 Girls You Should Follow On Instagram” and “Featured Hotties.”
Photo courtesy of HighSnobiety