Streetwear has always had a unique position in our culture. There aren’t many other sectors that have managed to evolve and stay current while still honoring its origins and the iterations that came before it. Originating in California skate and surf culture, it has been influenced by New York hip-hop culture, international runway fashion, and around-the-way comfort. It’s prominence rose in the 90’s, with brands developing cult-like followings through collaborations with other brands, designers, and celebrities, and limited-edition and exclusive drops.
Not every brand needs to be a Supreme and not every item needs to be a brick or water bottle that retails for $300.
I’ve rounded up 15 affordable (and affordable-ish) streetwear brands, and even better: they’re all black-owned.
The creator of Denim Tears, Tremaine Emory, has been championing black culture and racial justice for a long time, but he also pushes all the brands he collaborates with to do the same. Most recently, he posted his design of Chuck Taylors on IG, inspired by David Hammons’ ‘African-American Flag’ painting. He then outlined the conditions of release to Nike requiring they push to defund police departments and put minorities in leadership roles within the company.
Starting as a retail and restaurant concept in Washington,D.C., Diet Starts Monday was only intended to last three months. The success the space experienced had it up for over a year, and when the location closed, it continued to operate pop-ups across the country. They have partnered with various companies to release $45-$55 collections as well as $90-$200 collections. Their latest releases feature anti-police brutality messages and an array of “Stop Killing Black People” tees.
London based designer Samuel Ross started his British streetwear label A-Cold-Wall with functional design, fabric, and architecture in mind but as the climate changed, so did his focus. As Black Lives Matter protests crossed the ocean, the brand reacted by not only making a donation to its BLM financial aid program, but by creating 10 grants in a myriad of categories, from fashion to urban planning to public administration to food services.
Stocked with comfy shorts and cozy-cool hoodies that won’t break the bank, Brownstone is already on the radar of Lebron James, James Harden, the cool kids at Complex, who put it on their Brands to Watch for 2019 list, and the Roots; Brownstone was even enlisted to create the official merch for the Roots Picnic 2020. If that doesn’t make you want to get on board, they even designed and sold a shirt that raised over $45,000 for various BLM causes.
As Renowned LA debuts their third collection this summer, creative director John Dean continues to push menswear to new heights by focusing on diversity and sustainability. The collection, entitled “Against All Odds,” explores the American Dream and features powerful graphic t-shirts like the one shown here, featuring pinnacles of black culture since the Civil Rights Era. All proceeds will go to The George Floyd Foundation and Reclaim the Block.
Zac Clark, the creator of Fuck the Population, started his brand when he was only 15, creating t-shirts for his friends to wear in school (the shirts said “FUCK” but backwards because you know, teachers and stuff.) The line has remained highly controversial, as well as the founder himself. Clark, a gun enthusiast, once posted so many images of his firearms on social media, it led to a raid of the FTP warehouse by the cops, resulting in an arrest and $415k bail. Another interesting tidbit: hesitant to be the “face” of the brand, Clark wears bandanas to shield his identity.
Niyi Okuboyejo strives to design attractive products. “I want to make products that people like because they like the way it looks. Then once they pick it up, they can start learning about the story.” And what a story. A true labor of love, Post-Imperial uses Nigerian artists who hand paint patterns on all the clothing before fabrics are hand dyed through a process developed by the Yorubas. When done, it’s all shipped to New York where everything is cut and sewn. Whether it’s beautiful button up tops, patchwork shorts, or galactic pocket tees, there’s a breathing taking design in his collection that’s waiting for you.
Walker Wear isn’t new, even if this is the first time you’re hearing about the brand. After seeing the success of Dapper Don, founder April Walker started her own brand in Brooklyn — a trailblazer in streetwear, her brand has been worn by Jay Z, Aaliyah, Biggie, Tupac, and LL Cool J. Bringing transparency about the racism that exists in the fashion industry, you can read her brilliant and insightful essay here and shop some of her cool designs below.
Referring to his company as a “South Central” brand, founder Kacey Lynch is a strong advocate for storytelling. Sitting on the idea of Bricks & Wood for a whole year before putting it out, Lynch thought his idea for a clothing brand was a “dope idea” but refused to put it out there before he had cemented the story he wanted to tell. Focused on high quality cut and sewn garments, each item is meant to promote balance and can be worn by both men and women.
The motto of the brand Cross Colours feels extremely timely: “Clothes Without Prejudices since 1989”. Started by entrepreneur Carl Jones with the later edition of graphic designer Thomas Jones, the brand was a vehicle to get out messages of racial unity, rebuking gang violence, and promoting education. The brand even has an HBCU Mentorship Program that connects students with resources to get into fashion and entertainment.
Based in Brooklyn, every Crime Club piece is hand-printed and created in house. Their latest collection includes t-shirts and hoodies that speak to systemic racism and police brutality, including an Uncle Sam-inspired “I Want You to Help Us Stomp Out Racism” tee and the above “No Cops” tee, in which the brand has promised to donate 100% of the proceeds.
If you’re feeling this year’s big tie-dye trend, you should check out Come Back As a Flower. Featuring cool rainbow and bleach tie-dye sweatsuit sweats, this LA brand is super sustainable, going as far as to use 100% recycled cotton for their one-of-a-kind hand-dyed pieces. This ethically produced brand is already loved by trendsetters like ASAP Rocky and Big Sean.
Playful illustrations and colorful graphics make up the spring/summer collection of The Good Company. Sold out of a tucked away Lower East Side storefront, this space also functions as a hub for the community of creatives that frequent it. Acting as various environments from radio broadcast studio to music venue, founders Quinn Arneson and Kumasi Sadiki have provided a home-away-from-home for many aspiring artists, giving them a platform they might not be able to find elsewhere.
It doesn’t feel right to mention black owned streetwear brand without recognizing the late Nipsey Hussle’s brand, The Marathon Clothing. Started by the rapper with his brother, Samiel Asghedom, along with A&R of Def Jam, Steve Carless and marketing strategist and public figure Karen Civil, was another endeavor in Nipsey’s mission to empower his community and people. While the clothing store closed down last year, the online retailer is still up and running.
Sold at streetwear staples like Dover Street Market and MRPORTER, Martine Rose founded her brand in London in 2007. Inspired by her Jamaican-British heritage, Rose’s aesthetic mixes fun fabrics with clean silhouettes. Her brand also participated in Get Up, Stand Up Now — London’s exhibition to celebrate 50 years of Black British excellence. She’s also developed a bit of a cult following in the menswear world, hosting fashion shows in unconventional locations.