Why Community Is Key To Streetwear's Consumer Engagement Prowess
PSFK sat down with Brendan Dunne, deputy editor at Complex Networks, for his thoughts on why the category has been so successful at generating followings and sustaining engagement—and what other retailers can learn from 'the drop'
PSFK: Start us off with a little about your work at Complex.
Brendan: I am a deputy editor at Complex, where I do a variety of things. One of them is I lead our Snapchat Discover platform. On the sneaker front specifically, I'm a co‑host on Full Size Run, our weekly sneaker talk show, and then I also do a weekly sneaker podcast here at Complex.
The podcast is something we just started in December 2019. We had a live version of it at ComplexCon in Long Beach the month prior. But basically, we have all these long‑winded and deep conversations around sneakers in the office on a daily basis. We really bounce ideas off each other and talk about our history and reminisce on simpler times in the world of sneakers.
But often, we don't know how to translate those conversations to the public, so this podcast was a way to transmit those conversations to our followers. It's myself, Joe La Puma and Matt Welty, and for the weekly episodes we discuss one broad topic in sneakers, relating our personal history and views to that idea.
You'll be joining the panel called “Buying Into The Hype.” From your experience, what do you think makes streetwear brands so good at piquing and sustaining consumer interest?
Streetwear brands are adept at creating and sustaining engagement because they generally come from community first. They know what it means to be a tribe—Stüssy literally refers to itself as such. This is something brands outside of the space don't always understand.
There's also the coveted nature of the products and the ability of people to resell them. So much of the interest is driven by the idea of these items as investments—so of course, you have to care about the latest pair of Off‑Whites if you know that you can take them and resell them for five times as much. I think this limited nature that is related to resale prices and secondary market value has a lot to do with it.
Tell us more about the role that community plays in streetwear retail.
If you look at any given pair of limited sneakers, there's an easy enough entry point; on the surface, it looks like you can just add your name in a raffle and have a decent chance.
But to actually secure that pair of shoes, you really do need a deeper knowledge of how you can better your chances. I think that's important, because a lot of this stuff is based on being a community. I think the community aspect is driven by our shared experiences. If you're a newcomer, you don't necessarily have those experiences. You may need to learn some things before just buying a limited pair of sneakers.
What about ways you see brands using content to drive commerce, which can be a big part of following a story or narrative within streetwear? Who do you think does this well?
I think Nike is the best at it—people have always said that Nike is an advertising agency that happens to sell shoes. I think that Nike has long had the best creative strategy, with help from the likes of Wieden+Kennedy, but I don't think it's particularly mind‑blowing or particularly persuasive.
I like to think that people in my lane or people who run sneaker blogs are the ones who narrative more than the brands do, really.
What can more mainstream or other more traditional retailers learn from streetwear retail and culture?
I think one of the biggest things that mainstream retailers have learned from streetwear culture is this idea of a drop, or scheduling a product launch in a way that creates a significant amount of buzz, and how to tease that product drop to get the right people talking about it in that sphere of influence.
With sneakers, we're so used to having weekly release dates and leaks well ahead of that. I think that those sort of tentpole events are something that definitely translated over from the streetwear world, from the sneaker world, into the mainstream.