This is a special guest post from Alina Nguyen, Editor-in-Chief of The Hundreds—who use Shopify Plus for their online store and content.
A lot of people think streetwear is simply a subsect of fashion, or that it’s about hype and clothing. In some ways, it is… but in the overlap of culture, content, and commerce, it’s so much more than that.
Our co-founder and CCO Bobby Kim (more well-known as “Bobby Hundreds”) put it perfectly when he wrote:
Since our inception, The Hundreds has always been a two-part project: a Classic Californian streetwear brand and media platform dedicated to global street culture. Both parts exist separately but are equally as important. Bobby said in his Complex Blueprint interview:
We’re not a T-shirt brand. This is content and culture and community. The T-shirt is just merch.
Streetwear’s relevance and relationship with culture may be more obvious and clear now, but I believe these principles can be widely applicable to all sorts of industries.
People Over Product
I want to start out by talking about Bobby Hundreds’ blog. I can’t stress enough how important Bobby’s blog on thehundreds.com was, especially between ‘03 to ‘12. It was a definitive streetwear resource. Ask anyone who was around and they’ll agree.
It was the blog to check daily for updates because Bobby literally scheduled a post every day at 3 am PST. In many ways, he pulled back the veil; streetwear was elusive—the nature of street fashion is that it is born on the street, evolves on the street, and spreads by word of mouth, communally.
Bobby blogged about up-and-coming brands and releases, music, art, skateboarding, the community figures behind it all, and the rest of us knew we had to pay attention. His co-sign was invaluable. He wrote about brand-building, and about the people behind the scenes of this burgeoning subculture that has arguably become the predominant, popular culture of today.
By documenting the happenings on Fairfax and the underground, Bobby put these stories on the internet during a time when it wasn’t standard for a clothing brand to even have a blog.
Every day he wrote what was previously unwritten: the story of streetwear. Bobby, through blogging about the community, showed how expansive street culture could be. Today, this is still our aim at The Hundreds—to continue to tell that story. One of our mantras is, “People Over Product.”
Obviously now, this blog stuff has completely changed. Today, most brands have some form of a blog; some even go as far as producing a print magazine (we used to have one too). It’s common for even e-commerce online retailers like ssense.com to have a dedicated editorial team and great writing.
Even on the brand-building tip in street culture, today we have rich online resources like /streetwearstartup, the subreddit where young aspirational streetwear participants give each other advice on how to start a brand.
GQ called it “The Reddit Page Where Streetwear Brands Are Born.” It came full circle recently when Bobby did an AMA for them. All of this, I think, anchors what The Hundreds foresaw about the impact of sharing culture through content.
At the core of The Hundreds’ ethos is storytelling on a personal level.
The story that exists on the undertow lays the foundation for everything our brand stands for, and every collaboration and project we do in the clothing sector.
If we do a collaboration with Animaniacs, for instance, it’s because we relate to its irreverent zaniness, and how the Emmy and Peabody-winning animated series broke ground and set a new standard for how a great team works together to produce elevated writing, animation, and music composition.
It was unprecedented, and we are inspired by that backstory, beyond our nostalgic appreciation for the show we grew up with.
So on the current iteration of our blog, we published articles about Animaniacs to tell this story and educate our fan base, and made sure to use captions across social that were narrative.
In 2014, Bobby wrote a widely read blog post called “THE 10 RULES OF BRAND-BUILDING,” where he commented on the value of consistency when it comes to storytelling and personal voice:
“Consistency is what separates the Right Nows from the Forevers. Look at this website. For 10 years, I have updated this WordPress once a day, oftentimes more. I’ve posted from the hospital, airport lounges, from the backs of nightclubs. I’ve blogged when I’ve been sick, jetlagged, on a beach.”
“In 10 years’ time, I’ve amassed 5,000 blog entries, garnered monthly traffic in the millions; the world has come to expect fresh content from us daily and understand us as a consistent voice in street culture.”
And just last year, he wrote, “The future of Brand is people. Behaving like people. Focusing on people… Brands aren’t just the platform, they’re the springboard for people to dive off.”
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Culture Informs Content, Not the Other Way Around
I’m cynical about the word “content” and what it has come to mean, but the state of things is that all writing, imagery, and media on the internet and the nature of how it is consumed makes it content.
That doesn’t mean that The Hundreds aims to produce content. Our aim instead is to document and share culture.
Because of this, when it comes to our role and placement in the bigger picture of streetwear, I like to think of The Hundreds as a reminder that when the hype fades, what Bobby called “the Love and the Lore” will remain why we do what we do.
It’s about the stories. Streetwear clothing—the kind that resonates at least—is just a medium for the story.
Streetwear itself exists like a lens. I had a conversation a while ago about why a T-shirt from a streetwear collaboration with a brand like Coca-Cola, for instance, would carry more value for me than a vintage Coca-Cola tee.
It’s because, through the lens of streetwear, the garment becomes a medium in which we can better appreciate the brand, owner, and/or designer’s point of view.
Their appreciation of the beverage and its heritage. The same way our Animaniacs clothing collaboration will be different than anyone else’s: because of our unique understanding and appreciation of its story.
Internally, every time we have a release, my team makes sure to research the inspirations behind a collection, whether it be West Coast hip-hop, surf culture, or Midwest workwear. If we do a collaboration, we research the entity (artist, brand, label, etc.) we are collaborating with and brief our colleagues on their brand history and heritage.
The result is great, in-depth content and a sincere appreciation for the culture behind the project.
For our collaboration with the artist Kenny Scharf, we published a video interview with the artist. Our FILA collab was released alongside a conceptual lookbook and essay by Bobby on AAPI heritage and representation.
During our collaboration with New York hardcore band BURN, we actually produced a mini-documentary.
Even with smaller projects like a simple T-shirt that was an homage to Wendy’s iconic Where’s the Beef ad campaign, we got a great writer, Alex Wong, to write a brief history of the Burger Wars: “When Burger King Bodied McDonalds.”
It’s not about the clicks—it’s about what we can contribute to the community.
These narratives are the backbone of The Hundreds; without this cultural driving force, we would really just be another T-shirt brand with a blog.
Love and Lore Are Timeless, Start There
For The Hundreds, streetwear is family. Collaborating with artists and other brands is a way for us to express camaraderie, and to tell our shared stories.
We didn’t rip New York hardcore iconography in our designs like some other brands have done. We went straight to the source and collaborated with the record label behind a few of the genre’s pioneering bands.
For our second Revelation Records collaboration, we worked closely with them and bands Bobby grew up listening to, like Gorilla Biscuits and Youth of Today. Bobby Hundreds has been involved in the hardcore community since his teen years, and documented shows extensively on our blog; we did a “Tribute to Hardcore” project in ‘09 and a Revelation Records pop-up at our New York store in 2012.
With The Hundreds X Revelation Records on the content end, I made sure as an editor that we came correct with the stories we produced in support. We worked with a stellar writer, Anthony Pappalardo, who was in a Revelation band called In My Eyes in the late ‘90s; so he wasn’t just a person reporting on the culture, but an active participant.
He actually had pitched us the idea for an interview with members of Youth of Today months before, so it was a story we already wanted to tell, independent from the collaboration.
What resulted is an article that we’re still very proud of to this day, that got more traffic than any other piece we published in the month prior because it was shared so widely in the straight edge community: “Break Down the Walls :: How the Youth Crew Aesthetic & Ethos Disrupted Punk’s Status Quo.”
When we cover niche subcultures like straight edge hardcore, streetwear, or even skateboarding, it’s important to us that we do the research and approach the subject with care. We do it out of love, but it also builds trust between our audience and The Hundreds.
We’ve always stuck steadfastly to this mentality since we began, because integrity is of utmost importance to us, as is respecting the culture and its history. We have a duty to tell the story the right way, especially in this age of noise, fast food, and content mill spam.
We strive to tell stories that last.
For our collaboration with West Coast pioneering streetwear brand XLARGE, former assistant editor Kat Thompson and I read through the entire XLARGE 25th-anniversary book (it’s hefty) to get the full story and scan images, all of which didn’t exist online.
Together, we wrote an abridged mini-history of the brand in the form of an essay, because …
- We were truly inspired by XLARGE’s story (we were excited to learn stuff like Spike Jonze casting an old man he found off the street for their first lookbook)
- We felt a need to help educate not only our customer and readership but the community
- It connects back to The Hundreds and the stories we’re trying to tell as a brand
Our mutual trust with other brands stems from our approach, which again comes from a place of care—we aim to foster the community.
Bobby Hundreds has utilized his blog—which is coming back, by the way! He finally finished his book and is ready to blog again—and social media platforms to comment on and critique trends within the industry. His recent outspokenness about ComplexCon (1, 2), which we were involved in, garnered much discussion and dialogue online.
In his critique of the event, Bobby wrote: “We’re all making money and that’s great. But when the bottom falls out of the marketplace, when trends move on beyond streetwear and reseller culture, the only things tying us together will be the Love and the Lore."
By definition, Lore is a body of knowledge passed from person to person, generation to generation, through the act of teaching and storytelling. Start with what you love and pass it on.
I want to close with another fragment from Bobby’s 10 RULES blog post:
“Impactful branding comes down to a sense of security, which makes it easier for a customer to hand over his paycheck for your product. By staying on-brand and on-calendar every season, what you’re really doing is creating that trust and familiarity with the consumer.”
Having an honest, authentic, consistent, and clear voice when we document the culture behind our releases goes hand in hand with our sales and bottom line. When we don’t inform our customer of the culture behind the release, its inspirations, or the story behind a collaboration, the collection exists simply as just clothing. It lacks an ability to engage with our audience, maintain our loyal following, and have a tail.
Streetwear is a culture that is expansive, living, and breathing, and The Hundreds aims to continue to share that sentiment with everything we do.
About the Author
Alina Nguyen is an LA-born and raised writer and editor currently running editorial at The Hundreds.