Streetwear has evolved from a subcultural movement to a mainstream fashion trend. It’s hardly even necessary to label it a global phenomenon. A leader in the space, Supreme might have arrived in China for the first time in November 2022, via Dover Street Market Beijing, but it’s far from being the mainland’s introduction to streetwear.
When it comes to streetwear consumption, China’s Generation Z are steering a culture that’s taking a different shape to the West. A fact that’s partly down to the U.S. and Europe’s hip-hop history not resonating in China in the same way. Driven by a combination of national pride in “Made In China,” internet trends, and the eclectic pockets of subcultures present in such a populated nation, there is a rising number of local streetwear brands gaining a cult following.
From Roaringwild and Sankuanz, to Randomevent and Melting Sadness, the names-to-know might not appear to have millions of Weibo followers, but their popularity comes from the community and foreign brands partnering with them
Global sportswear names such as Reebok, Fila, Adidas, and Puma are all increasingly collaborating with these Gen Z-loved local labels, as a result of a growing number of influential Chinese headquarters.
As iconic sneakerhead Jeff Staple said in a 2022 interview with Jing Daily, “China is becoming a main sales driver for these brands, so collaborations get green-lit way more often than they did in the past. Even Wilson and Salomon, which are historically American and French, respectively, are wholly now owned by Chinese corporations (both owned by Anta group). Now, it’s not that they are No.1 or 2 sales drivers, they’re the boss.”
With these sportswear brands instilling confidence in Chinese streetwear, global awareness of them is growing day by day. As such, now is the ultimate moment to introduce the most exciting players on China’s burgeoning scene.
Founders: College friends Cy, Mimi, Qiao, Ppl, and Reika
Bio: Born in Shenzhen, Roaringwild is a celebration of Chinese street culture, combining the influences of art and music. Featuring effortlessly cool construction, the seasonal collections each have an air of urban minimalism.
The collective behind the brand urges its consumers, mainly Generation Z, to “roar,” using its clothes as a means of self expression. And it’s carved a distinct aesthetic which has been tapped by a long list of global brands, including Puma, Casio, Adidas, and Vans.
Roaringwild started selling on Taobao back in 2010, but it’s definitely seen surging popularity in recent years, becoming one of the most well-known in the local realm of streetwear.
Founder: Younker Hong
Date launched: 2012
Bio: Another well-known label to come out of the mainland is Randomevent, which is now stocked in 23 cities, including Beijing, Changsha, Hangzhou, and Shanghai, plus Milan and New York.
Presenting a youthful brand image, the ready-to-wear features slouchy silhouettes, colorful shades, and solid staples like fleeces and cargo pants. According to founder Younker Hong, the brand’s inspiration comes from 1990s popular culture, an aesthetic popular among Chinese Gen Z and millennials.
Household names like Mizuno, Gramicci, Reebok, Puma, and New Balance have all strived for a slice of Randomevent’s cult following through collaboration. The brand even launched its own Be@rbrick for the 2020 Year of the Rat.
Founders: Shimo Zhou and Une Yea
Date launched: 2015
Bio: At the premium end of the streetwear spectrum, Staffonly was created by two friends hot out of graduation from Royal College of Arts in London and London College of Fashion.
Thanks to a rise of collaborations with names such as Onitsuka Tiger,Ugg, Monopoly and Puma, Staffonly has become associated with the local streetwear space. The vibrantly playful collections pair track pants with shirts while experimenting with various textures, from leather to shredded sleeves.
In 2022, it released a series of NFTs for the first time, co-created with Studio Office Creative and featuring Ugg Tasman footwear — a project that really reflected how the brand pushes the boundaries between digital and physical.
Founder: Tuff Leung
Date launched: 2015
Bio: Crafting looks that are fit for an apocalypse, Hamcus is a Guangzhou-born techwear brand. Each collection is built upon the idea of characters equipped for an otherworldly universe, and features head-to-toe military attire, ballooned puffer jackets and exaggerated head gear.
Known for having its radar tuned into local talents, Adidas unsurprisingly collaborated with Hamcus on a Fall collection at the end of 2022.
Across Weibo, you’ll find photos tagged with #hamcus# of Gen Zers posting their OOTD (outfit of the day). Collectively, they portray a moody grunge aesthetic that you’d expect to see on a typical art school campus.
Founder: Liang Dong
Date launched: 2015
Bio: Attempt is best known for functional minimalism and experimenting with various techniques and fabrics. It’s the brainchild of Liang Dong, who started the brand after graduating from Hubei Academy of Arts.
Boasting 19,000 followers on Weibo — impressive for a streetwear name in China — the brand’s cool sci-fi identity has attracted a loyal fanbase. As a result, it released clothing and footwear with the likes of Ugg and Puma. The former was unveiled in January 2023, reflecting the brand’s signature focus on architectural design.
The founder said in a 2018 interview that fans wear streetwear in China because they want to embody a unique lifestyle. “I try to focus on designing clothes that can adapt to different situations and be worn in a variety of ways,” said Dong.
Founder: Shangguan Zhe
Date launched: 2008
Bio: One of the more mainstream names out there, Sankuanz is sold through global retailers like Farfetch, Ssense and Yoox. In a similar vein to brands such as Attempt and Hamcus, Sankuanz has a dystopian feel. Think faux bulletproof vests and hybrid functionality.
On the high-end side of the spectrum, the label has shown at Paris Fashion Week since 2016. So, though it’s best known for streetwear cuts, there are tailored elements fit for the Parisian streets too.
There have also been a fair few global footwear releases from Sankuanz, including crossovers with Crocs, Puma, and Adidas.
7. Melting Sadness
Founder: Zhang Quan
Date launched: 2013
Bio: Enter the world of Melting Sadness and you’re welcomed by the cartoon gang of Kuka, Babo, Best, Messy, and Karoro, the latter of which was recently featured in Valentino’s Year of the Rabbit campaign.
Quan has garnered a growing fanbase, assisted largely by an ongoing partnership with Adidas, launching the most cheerful fashion there is. It all started when Quan graduated from Nanjing University of the Arts, merging the worlds of art and fashion. And it’s a formula that continues to hit sweet spot of youth culture.
Known primarily for its clothing collections and secondarily for its incredibly huge, sculptural installations, Melting Sadness’ retail spaces are made to be photographed.
Founder: Wu Wei
Date launched: 2015
Bio: Back in October 2022, FMACM released a capsule with DHL, which naturally placed it into a similar category as Vetements, which did the same in 2016. Forever pushing irony, it’s a brand that toys with the ideologies of contemporary culture and art.
The jeans are big, the props in the lookbooks are sometimes weird, and the imagery plays on old tech references that only feel “nostalgic” to millennials and Generation Z.
Slogans across T-shirts take the form of “fast or west, home is best” and “stop making stupid people famous,” with a brand mission to eliminate prejudice.
Fun fact: The acronym actually doesn’t mean anything. A happy accident for the surrealist nature of this local streetwear name.
Founder: G Ming
Date launched: 2016
Bio: Famous for being a Beijing-based clothing brand and retailer, Soulgoods made headlines in 2022 for being the first Chinese name to collaborate with Nike. The Dunk Highs were thus a moment in history.
Within two years of launching, it had already become one of the most known multi-brand streetwear stores in the mainland. The whole ethos was to evolve the dated, and slightly negative connotations of the label “Made In China” into something stylish. A new era.
The first ever drop, for example, promoted Chinese pop star Teresa Tang, along with musical inspirations such as old school hip-hop group The Fantastic Five, punk rock singer Darby Crash and Prince.
With its finger fully on the pulse of what Chinese streetwear fanatics are shopping for, it’s a match made in heaven for Soulgoods to be Nike’s first local collaborator.
10. Avenue & Son
Founders: Stephen Khou, Jeremy Hu, Boss Xie and Dan Leung
Date launched: 2014
Bio: Just like every authentic skate brand, Shanghai’s Avenue & Son is the work of four professional Chinese skaters. The ethos promotes “fearlessness, freedom and perseverance,” with tongue-in-cheek promo videos and clothes comfy enough to skate in. The Shanghai flagship even has its own ramps for fans to practice on .
Combining striking visuals and colorful palettes, the brand evokes a sense of ‘90s streetwear. So far, it is just Vans that has recognized the potential, releasing a capsule with the local skate crew.
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