In the past 2 years, we have had a range of stories about various aspects of the growing influences that urban culture has on the evolution of sports, streetwear, music, and youth culture lifestyles in America -with a ripple effect that’s felt around the world. Reflections can be seen in new crossover sport evolutions, as well as the growing marketplace for streetwear and now contemporary street fashion. It’s even impacted heavily the trade show business as shows such as ASR (Action Sports Retailer) suffer from the splintering of smaller, perhaps more relevant shows such as Agenda that cater to crossover street fashion businesses.
However if you look at the landscape of American youth culture of 13-30-year-olds, 40.2% based on our North American Youth Culture Study describe where they live as Urban. This is followed by 30.3% that say Suburbia;19.1% Rural/Country; 4.9% Beach/Coastal; and 4.3% who say the Exurbs (meaning the sprawling, growing areas on the outer rims of the Suburbs). It makes sense therefore that as sports grow, they evolve based on the greatest demographic, or in some cases, coolest demographic, along with other cultural dynamics such as the influence of martial arts and street dance and rise in Urban Freeflow, for example, or the push for environment and changes in transportation and rise in Fixed Gear urban cycling.
Some people mark the crossover of urban culture and the start of the evolution with skateboarding. (Note: To be clear, when we say urban, we do not necessarily mean one ethnic identity because all sorts of ethnicities live in urban areas.) Skaters, who were from urban markets, that simply did not (and still don’t) relate to the vert skating scene, competitions, or other aspects of what the traditional action sports industry may have associated with skateboarding. As Nat Thompson wrote for Label Networks in 2006 about skurban or skate urban movement, the growth of the movement came from people such as rap icons Pharrell Williams and Lupe Fiasco who presented skateboarding as an integrated part of their personality and style. With skateboarding itself already a pop cultural phenomenon, urban fans incorporated the fashion and lifestyle of skateboarding, experimenting with both skateboarding as a look and active sport.
With sneakers as both a skate and urban staple, skate shoes have become an easily adopted and significant element of this urban skate trend, or skurban. Pharrell William’s skate brand Ice Cream, with both casual and functional skate models, has become a highly visible element of the crossover, found on both style-focused and active participants -guys and girls. Other footwear brands working in this category include Reebok’s DGK, or Dirty Ghetto Kids, a collaboration with Philly pro skateboarder Stevie Williams. The brand offers apparel in addition to the footwear, all in Stevie Williams’s signature urban style that’s straight from the street. As part of Reebok’s “I AM” campaign, Williams was featured next to urban icons like Jay-Z and Allen Iverson.
Even Vans had a name in the new urban skate market, in part to a tribute song, “Vans” by Berkeley, CA’s “The Pack.” The song became a MySpace favorite and made the skate brand an urban favorite in the streets of the Bay area hip-hop scene and moved nationwide as MySpace users posted pictures of themselves in their favorite Vans on the group’s profile page.
Latino pro skater Paul Rodriguez has also contributed to a skate/urban crossover, presenting an image that mixes the two attitudes. His “P-Rod” model skate shoe for Nike has been a successful model for Nike’s skateboarding division, Nike SB. The various Nike SB models can be found on skateboarding feet throughout New York City.
Key city destinations in New York for urban skaters looking for shoes and apparel, on through decks and hardware, include shops like Blades, Supreme, Yellow Rat Bastard, Dave’s Quality Meats, KCDC, and even Union, for a pricier take.
Apparel-wise, both longstanding and upstart brands worked the intersection of skate and urban, resulting today in a plethora of streetwear fashion brands that originated from the crossover. New York City-based skate brand Zoo York has been a staple of skate brands with an urban attitude for years. Newcomers recognizing and pushing this new hybrid include the aforementioned Ice Cream by Pharrell Williams, as well as a handful of smaller urban/skate upstarts (for example small independent T-shirt label Palis, DCMA, and a slew of others as indicated by the growing brands trying to get into shows like Agenda). T-shirts are a staple of the look, be it branded designs or a simple white tee. New Era fitted caps in traditional shades or even wild patterns can top them off.
A key element of skateboarding apparel marketing of course has long been sponsorship–a technique that we’ve seen in many of the brands mentioned, as well as larger urban brands looking to tap into the skate market. LRG for example, regularly sponsors pro skaters such as Chico Brenes and Adelmo Jr., right alongside popular hip-hop artists like Kanye West and the Wu-Tang Clan’s Raekwon, presenting a perfect mix to represent this emerging consumer market’s taste and style.
The style of urban music and skate was also seen also last year at the Transworld Skateboarding Awards. As we wrote then, “New energy was clearly on hand when the Board Bangers music duo showed up and talked about how skater Pharrell Williams got them jump-started on his record label. The Zenetti team came with a posse of skaters who were completely amped on being a part of the awards ceremony, including Terry Kennedy who talked about what he thinks is going on with the Ice Cream Skate Team, then flashed a smile to reveal a fresh grill not unlike his fresh new wheels.”