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@nyamekyecann / Hemsley London

The Drop: 'Streetwear fashion will be more gender-fluid in the future'

A more diverse range of streetwear designers will cause a "breakdown of the typical masculine domain of streetwear", one expert says.

Liz Ashamu
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"Although streetwear has grown in popularity, it's still very much a male-dominated industry."

That's the view of Emily Gordon-Smith, head of fashion at the global research and trends company Stylus.

Streetwear - fashionable casual fashion birthed in the 1980s and popularised in the 90s by hip hop and surf culture - was pioneered by notable designers like Shawn Stussy and Dapper Dan.

It was once defined as counterculture, but streetwear has now become mainstream thanks in part to a marketing method known as a "drop". This is when a retailer or designer creates a limited-edition product or collection and, using social media to boost excitement and hype, "drops" the products for sale with the goal of selling out quickly.

In 2019, the global streetwear market was estimated to be valued at £139 billion ($185 billion), making it about 10% of the entire global apparel and footwear market. There are now many successful streetwear brands including Off-White, Supreme and Yeezy, founded by rapper Kanye West.

BBC
The BBC Three competition show The Drop showcases a wide range of young streetwear designers. Left to right, judge Blondey, host Clara Amfo, head judge Miguel and judge Marc Jacques Burton

But despite the growth of the industry, there are still barriers for women hoping to make it in the world of trainers, T-shirts and hoodies, experts and designers say.

And Emily predicts that a more diverse range of streetwear designers will cause a "breakdown of the typical masculine domain of streetwear". Instead, she says the industry will be adopting a "more gender-fluid approach to looks" in the future.

The BBC Three competition show The Drop showcases a wide range of young streetwear designers - including designers who put an emphasis on gender-fluid looks.

The nine creatives will be put through a series of challenges to test whether they've got what it takes to stand out to Grammy Award-winning singer and style icon Miguel, who is the head judge on the show. The winner will have their new line stocked in UK fashion retailer Flannels.

'Women can flip streetwear looks and make them look banging'

BBC Radio 1 presenter Clara Amfo - who also hosts The Drop - has always had a passion for clothes, particularly streetwear.

"The thing I loved most about doing the show is just being inspired," she says. "I love clothes, streetwear in particular. So it was my lovely full circle moment to be part of the show."

Clara describes her time on the show as "exciting", especially because of the diverse talent.

BBC
Speaking about the female talent on the show, Clara says, "there's not one of the girls that I don't want to buy a piece from"

"I think the great thing about all of our designers is that they all come from completely different backgrounds.

"Some of them literally started their brands in lockdown, some of them are academically trained in garment making, some of them are self-taught. It is just a mixed bag of talent and they’re all from up and down the UK," she says.

Speaking about the female talent on the show, Clara says, "there's not one of the girls that I don't want to buy a piece from.

"Women can flip streetwear looks and make them look banging and make them cooler."

Designer Sophie, who is taking part in The Drop, focuses on bold, unisex designs in her brand GoGuyClothing. Sophie's collection is about building body confidence and she's even attracted a fan base among drag performers.

She says she enjoyed taking part in the show because it allowed her to think about her designs and her business and it encouraged her to "really break down barriers again".

"When I'm designing a collection, I always think of a theme and then taking that theme and making into a collection," she adds. "A lot of it comes from the 90s like rave culture but then looking at streetwear and mashing it together."

'I don't want to wear printed dresses - I want to be comfy'

Jayne Hemsley moved to London from Birmingham to study and work in fashion before starting her own non-binary streetwear brand Hemsley London.

The company has now shown at London Fashion Week and she's collaborated with sportswear brand Fila.

Jayne's motivation to start her own streetwear brand was sparked while working at menswear brand Martine Rose.

"It was interesting just learning from that because it was a menswear brand that women then wanted to start to buy. There was this crossover coming where females wanted a more baggier fit," she says.

@javvyluu / Hemsley London
"People want to wear well-made clothes and also they still want to be comfortable in them," says Jayne Hemsley (right)

It was when she left Martine Rose and was offered a space to showcase her own designs that Jayne felt she could approach fashion the way she wanted to.

"It was my own creative expression and a sense of freedom to do what I felt I was supposed to do, from a very personal point. I was able to design something that I would want to wear and feel comfortable with."

Jayne recalls how hard it was to break through the industry as a woman.

"It was hard because we do get labelled a female designer rather than a designer. There is this automatic prejudice and stigma still attached to it, especially if you're a female designer designing menswear," she says.

Hemsley London offers genderless fashion clothing items such as hoodies and outerwear with comfortable silhouettes, inspired by Jayne's desire to break social barriers around gender, fashion and identity.

"Womenswear traditionally has always seemed to be so feminine [but] not every woman's like that. We don't all want to wear heels. It's just not me.

"I don't want to wear printed dresses and wrap-over tops. I want to be comfy.

"People want to wear well-made clothes and also they still want to be comfortable in them."

Designer Lula Velasco started designing ten years ago while studying at the arts and design college Central Saint Martins.

After travelling to Los Angeles, she started to customise her own T-shirts and hoodies which then led to her building her own brand Lula Laora.

Lula Velasco / Lula Laora
"I want both men and women to feel super comfortable to be authentically themselves," says Lula Velasco

"I've always really enjoyed experimenting with all types of clothing, and that included men's clothing," she says.

"I love mixing different clothes, different silhouettes, and wanting everyone to enjoy my clothing."

She reveals that a lot of her referencing comes from her passion for movies, but also to ensure people feel comfortable in her clothing.

"I want both men and women to feel super comfortable to be authentically themselves.

"I like to build strong bridges between all the communities around me. Whether I have a unisex piece or super feminine piece, I still try to make sure that it fits most people. It is important that everyone feels welcome."

Reflecting back on her time on the show, Clara adds: "Streetwear lovers will definitely find some of their new favourite designers. Expect high passion, high drama and you might be shouting at the TV a little bit."

BBC Three