Materialism in Hypebeast Culture

In pop culture, ”hypebeast” is a derogatory term used to describe an individual who collects luxury apparel, shoes, and accessories to increase their status. Hypebeasts usually wear a mishmash of streetwear name brands such as Supreme, Off-White, Vetements, Antisocial Social Club, and Bape. If Los Angeles has Melrose Avenue and London has Soho, then Tokyo has Urahara―a paradise for hypebeasts and fashion enthusiasts alike. But then this begs the question: how did hypebeast culture come about?

Hypebeast culture is a subgenre of streetwear culture―a clothing style that emerged from Californian surf and skateboard lifestyle. Streetwear blends casual clothing such as t-shirts, oversized sweaters, hoodies, jeans, and sneakers, with sportswear and hip hop elements. Beginning with a small surfboard business that sold and printed logo t-shirts in Los Angeles during the 1980s, Shawn Stussy of Stüssy is often credited with transforming streetwear from a subculture into a high-end luxury style. The streetwear movement grew worldwide in the 1990s as more and more streetwear brands were launched. In Japan, this was marked by a pivotal shift towards the creation of urban clothing lines by Urahara pioneers like Nigo, founder of A Bathing Ape (or “Bape”). Those early consumers of streetwear formed the first wave of hypebeast culture. Much more laid-back than modern-day hypebeasts, the first wave enjoyed a culture that was about self-expression, belonging, and a genuine love for the community. Nowadays, this isn’t always the case.

Hypebeast style varies across the world. For instance, Japanese hypebeasts are known for focusing on individuality, whereas Chinese hypebeasts tend to emphasise the trendiest items. Brand preferences also differ from one place to another: American hypebeasts tend to purchase Jordans and Supreme, while British hypebeasts are more keen on Yeezys and Palace. Hypebeasts don’t think twice about purchasing streetwear items worn by their favourite celebrities. Streetwear brands have to generate brand value to stay competitive—and in this day and age, this is done with celebrity endorsements. With the help of the Internet, social media, and streetwear-clad “off-duty” celebs, streetwear goods can go viral overnight. So it should come as no surprise to hear that items worn by celebrities sell out in seconds.

Image courtesy of Hypebae.

This sense of exclusivity cultivates materialistic tendencies—the more expensive and scarce the goods are, the greater the prestige.

Streetwear brands also cultivate brand value through “drop culture”, which was first introduced by Supreme. Drop culture involves releasing limited-edition products or capsule collections at select stores, without advertising. Driven by the illusion of scarcity, hypebeasts queue for hours to get their hands on these lucrative goods. Some camp out overnight or travel across the world just to purchase these items. This sense of exclusivity cultivates materialistic tendencies—the more expensive and scarce the goods are, the greater the prestige. Hypebeasts ultimately find themselves buying these goods—Supreme hammers, Supreme air horns… Supreme bricks!—just for the sake of buying them.

And if you didn’t manage to buy in-store―there’s always resale! The boom of streetwear has created a demand for a secondary resale market dedicated to buying and selling streetwear items for profit. According to online reseller thredUP, the resale market is expected to reach $41 billion in the next three years and has expanded 21 times faster than the regular retail market since 20161.


Image courtesy of Hypebeast.

This rapid growth has driven individuals to resell streetwear goods on sites like StockX or GOAT in order to capitalise on the trend. Sellers do not hesitate to sell at triple the RRP—especially if it’s limited edition. For instance, the limited edition Melody Ehsani Jordan 1s released on 15th November 2019 initially retailed at 13,000 yen. On the resale market, sale prices were as high as 93,500 yen—the cost of rent for many a Tokyoite! The main problem is the growing lack of appreciation for streetwear culture itself. Conversations centre on how much the goods are being resold for, instead of a genuine love of the product.

Hypebeast culture used to be a laidback cultural activity. The persistent use of “drop culture” and celebrity marketing to cultivate brand value by streetwear brands has, over time, turned the culture into a materialistic pastime. Nowadays, hypebeasts are increasingly encouraged to consume in order to stay “hype”—and they’re willing to do whatever it takes to do so. In the end, the most important thing is to be more conscious of the materialistic tendencies of hypebeast culture. The underlying motivation behind why we consume and how we consume streetwear makes all the difference.


Written by Vania.
Featured image courtesy of Highsnobiety / Eva Al Desnudo.

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