Ranking the most powerful people in streetwear is a daunting task. For starters, “power” isn’t the same as “popularity,” and the people on the list needed to be an active part of their brand, which means the majority of famous faces behind “celebrity-designed” lines like Trukfit, or rappers known for co-signing buzzed-about brands simply didn’t make the cut.
It’s common knowledge that a person or brand’s success right now does nothing to guarantee their longevity in the business. While experience in the game overall is a factor, we also took current influence into consideration. Streetwear, at the end of the day, is about selling product, but we wanted to look beyond sales, as well to determine who has the potential to shift the aesthetic and opinions of others, both in and out of the industry. Who is driving the conversation, and who is simply a part of it?
Find out who made the cut, and who tops our list of The 25 Most Powerful People In Streetwear.
Who He Is: Co-Founder, Black Scale
Founded in 2007, Black Scale really came into its own in the past year. Alfred De Tagle and MEGA started the brand as a side hustle from their gigs at HUF. In fact, Hufnagel was MEGA’s industry mentor in many ways. Embracing dark colors and occult imagery from the start, the brand found itself a part of the currently popular street goth aesthetic —as their snapbacks and T-shirts easily paired with designers like Rick Owens. Black Scale’s fan base grew exponentially in the past year, due in part to the endorsement from their most famous customer to date,A$AP Rocky. As the story has it, Rocky began to wear Black Scale after the label opened a store in New York City in 2011. And while not exactly parallel in their trajectories towards stardom, MEGA and Black Scale have certainly benefited from the Harlem MC’s success.
Who He Is: Designer, SSUR
While his “COMME des FUCKDOWN” merchandise made SSUR a household name to hypebeasts everywhere, Russ’ status as a member of the OG streetwear community is undisputed among cool guy inner circles—dude’s had a brick and mortar shop in NYC since 2009. Born in Soviet Ukraine, Russ grew up in Brooklyn as a fan of Shawn Stüssy. He adopted Stüssy’s graphic-based apparel early on, feeling it was the perfect medium to display his artwork. It was only some time before the subversive messaging now synonymous with SSUR came along. For the moment, it’s nearly impossible to not see SSUR gear clogging a Tumblr stream or Instagram feed—whether it’s a Rolex parody tee or Futura collab. But those aren’t his only claims to fame—the SSUR “Ne Blatuy” T-shirt is legendary.
Who He Is: Designer; Co-Founder, #been #trill
One of the undercover talents behind the striking visuals of performers like Lady Gaga and Kanye West, Art Director Matthew Wiliiams and his fellow #been #trill cohorts find themselves calling a lot of the shots in streetwear these days. Case in point: their popular collaboration with Stüssy, which gave the neo-dadaist faux movement some validation. Other projects of his include album cover design and video direction, namely the polarizing Hood by Air Spring/Summer 2013 lookbook video which capitalizes on the dark, high-fashion-inspired look he championed. This diverse skillset makes him someone who currently plays an instrumental role in the direction and aesthetic of buzzed-about gear.
Who He Is: CEO, Bread & Butter Tradeshow
How do your favorite streetwear brands get their gear into stores across the globe season after season? Well, in part thanks to people like Karl Heinz-Muller, who founded the streetwear-heavy trade show Bread and Butter Berlin. Despite the global economic downturn, B&B continues to grow and now plays host to over 600 brands per season. Without this massive show, it would be infinitely harder to give smaller streetwear brands a foothold in new markets.
Who He Is: Founder, HUF
The semi-eponymous collection of skateboarder Keith Hufnagel, HUF was founded in 2002 and has retained notoriety since. Hufnagel remains one of streetwear’s most prominent and authentic contributors, perhaps due to his pro-skater roots and more recently by way of Odd Future’s endorsement of the label. While Odd Future’s fame has certainly helped diffuse HUF across America and internationally, its members are just a small sampling of fans whom have contributed to the years and years of success HUF has enjoyed.
It is this success which has earned the label collaborations with Converse, Nike, and Jansport. Although HUF has moved away from brick and mortar retail—shuttering popular stores in LA and SF—it maintains a strong wholesale business and has grown into new areas, like a full sneaker line. Year after year, the label puts out solid offerings like its near-ubiquitous “Plantlife” socks and caps. At the end of the day, Huf values skate culture over clothing trends, which is how it’s maintained its integrity for so long.
While Matt George is a name you might not be familiar with, you’ve definitely seen his work. The Canadian creative is the talented mind behind retail spaces like Nomad, Stüssy Toronto, and the shuttered Goodfoot. The shoes he designs under the Ransom by adidas label are one of the consistently best-looking collaborations. These small yet frequent projects are what drive his influence on streetwear, yet most know him for his role as as a creative consultant to Kanye West, where he assisted Yeezy in the development of his womenswear collection, as well as the defunct Pastelle line.
Who He Is: Founder, Agenda Tradeshow
If you’re a streetwear or action sports label looking to expand your reach, then you go to Agenda. Founded in 2003 as a humble 30-brand trade show, Agenda has now expanded to over 300 brands with shows set up at locations across the globe. Aaron’s relentless dedication to quality while always giving new labels their fair share of respect has led to Agenda’s success as the pre-eminent streetwear trade show.
Who He Is: Designer, En Noir
Rob Garcia came up with Mega as a designer for Black Scale, yet it’s his new venture, En Noir, that got him noticed. Launched in 2012, capitalizing on the baroque themes that were ubiquitous in streetwear and high-fashion during the past year, it found instant fans in celebrities and style addicts alike. En Noir is unique because it sits in that grey area between high-fashion and streetwear—especially since some of the garments are prohibitively expensive to people used to buying graphic tees ($1,000 leather shorts, anyone?). That in mind, Rob’s reputable background in streetwear and En Noir’s current popularity means he definitely knows what he’s doing.
Who He Is: Head Designer, Stüssy
Nick Bower is part of a strong team of creative individuals like Art Director Adam Jay Weissman and Brand Manager Fraser Avey that make Stüssy the streetwear powerhouse it is today. Nick was educated at London’s prestigious Central Saint Martins, which counts designers like Christopher Kane and Alexander McQueen as alumni. He followed that up with stints at Valentino and Versace before a love for surfing brought him to California.
At Stüssy, he signs off on everything from T-shirts to caps, and was instrumental in the creation of Stüssy Deluxe, introducing a higher-end line to accompany the ubiquitous streetwear label, and a new breed of customer. Quality was the goal instead of relevance, and he continues to be an integral part of the homegrown team that keeps Stüssy doing what they do best—making classic clothes on their own terms, while cultivating a massive, but totally organic following.
Who She Is: Founder, MadeMe
As Supreme’s Production Manager, Magee oversees the production of everything from camp caps, to hoodies, to woven shirts and pants. That means the quality we have all come to expect from Supreme rests largely in her hands. 2007 marked the year that Magee launched her own brand, MadeME, where she designs quality streetwear for women that reflects her menswear-inspired style. As owner of MadeMe she has collaborated with Schott, Vans, and Stüssy. Make no mistake—she’s not just one of the most powerful women in streetwear, she’s also giving everyone else in the business a serious run for their money.
Who He Is: Founder, FUCT
20 years later, FUCT continues to have lasting impact on the world of streetwear. Its name alone is arguably responsible for the use (or overuse) of the F-word in streetwear, but the counter-culture themes are just a part of what make Erik Brunetti a great artist and FUCT a great brand. Brunetti’s relentless authenticity to himself as a person and as an artist have been constants in his work and what have kept him relevant all these years later. In a Hypebeast interview, Brunetti states, “In order to remain relevant in this industry you have to do things on your own terms.” It’s evident that he’s doing just that.
Who He Is: Designer, Pyrex Vision
Despite the criticism hurled towards his most recent collection, one thing can’t be denied—it sold out instantly. Thanks to his close ties to rappers like Kanye West and A$AP Rocky, Virgil’s gear has reached astronomical levels of demand. He’s also one of Matthew Williams’ #been #trill cohorts, a troop that’s worked for streetwear heavyweights like Stüssy and high-fashion venues like Milk Studios. While it’s too early to tell his lasting influence, there’s no denying that Virgil’s a figure to watch as the line between streetwear and high fashion continues to thin out.
Who He Is: Owner, UNION Los Angeles
From his early days working SoHo’s legendary shop scene when Stüssy, Union, and Supreme basically ran shit, Chris Gibbs learned his trade under the best. And he’s since come into his own, taste-wise. Remember when visvim was only available in Japan? American enthusiasts rejoiced when UNION LA began to stock the legendary Japanese label. Chris’ well-rounded knack for style and understanding of trends is largely what has made UNION LA such a success. Today, Gibbs remains a leader in terms of finding new quality labels like U.S. Alteration, Tantum, and Anachronorm. Essentially, he finds all the blogs’ favorite brands before the Internet does.
Who He Is: Founder, KITH
The cult footwear designer also heads up one of the best up-and-coming New York brands around. Of course, the store always stocks Ronnie’s latest footwear collaboration, whether it be with Supra, Asics, Doc Martens, or Puma, which according to Matt Halfhill of Nice Kicks, makes Ronnie one of the most influential people in sneakers right now. But Kith is also putting out quality apparel and racking up collaborations with top talent. From day one, he managed to get covetable gear like a leopard print varsity on celebrities like Justin Bieber, and now he’s stepped up his game with products from it-brands like BWGH and heritage labels like Harris Tweed.
Who He Is: Founder, Diamond Supple Co.
Better known as Nick Diamond, 2012 was the year Diamond Supply Co. went from just another skate brand on Fairfax to one of the most popular labels on the market. Whether it was mainstream exposure from industry heavyweight Karmaloop, to higher-end collabs with shops like UNKNWN and celebrity co-signs from Kanye West and Curren$y, Diamond Supply Co. made some power moves this year. Their apparel game was ramped up considerably, take for example, the ripstop camo chinos that had Complex staffers gushing about the quality and fit. 2013 is aiming to be a big year for the house Nick Diamond built.
Who He Is: Co-Founder, The Hundreds
Founded in 2003, Bobby and Ben Hundreds have since built a company with a loyal following, with hard numbers to back it up. By 2008 they were expected to generate $4 million in revenue by Inc. magazine, a number that’s gone up exponentially since then. Besides having a strong bi-coastal presence in Cali and New York, what really keeps The Hundreds in the conversation is the following they’ve generated on the Internet. Besides the brand’s popular blog, which gives a glimpse into Bobby’s stream of consciousness, they’ve amassed huge followings on social platforms like Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr. It doesn’t hurt that Bobby is a true scholar of the industry either, penning our list of The 50 Greatest Streetwear Brands just about two years ago.
Who He Is: Co-Founder, Undefeated
Back in 2002, Eddie Cruz and James Bond started Undefeated as a sneakers-only shop, but soon branched out into apparel. Since then, the only thing harder to come by than a pair of limited-edition sneakers at the store is someone who doesn’t own at least one piece from the Undefeated label. Today, Undefeated is one of the most well-known and respected streetwear brands on the market. It got there because of Eddie’s expertise in the business—something he picked up while working for iconic brands such as Supreme and Stüssy. Undefeated’s consistent quality offerings and collaborations with brands like PUMA, as well as Cruz’s own occasional sneaker designs for Nike, shows how the brand lives up to its unbeatable name (see: the best sneaker of the 2000s). And with Eddie at the helm, that’s unlikely to change anytime soon.
Who She Is: Founder, Married to the MOB
In 2004, streetwear was not only a predominantly-male world, but women in the industry were harder to find than the newest limited-edition sneaker. Nearly nine years later, women in streetwear are doing their thing and in some cases calling the shots for some of the most well-respected brands on the planet. This shift in streetwear gender roles can largely be attributed to the efforts of Leah McSweeney, who founded her label Married to the MOB in 2004. The label’s strength has always been combining female-centric graphics with a middle-finger-to-the-world attitude.
Today, Married to the MOB is still one of the strongest and most diversified streetwear labels on the market, and has inspired an innumerable amount of women’s brands in the process. She didn’t do it alone though, as her sister Sarah McSweeney is one of the hottest girls in streetwear, and Futura progeny Tabatha McGurr provides the brand’s voice through her writing. With a crew like that, perhaps Leah is holding the crown as the reigning “Supreme Bitch” of streetwear.
Who He Is: Designer; Founder, Fragment Design
Getting caught up in the day-to-day hustle of copping limited-edition streetwear makes it easy to forget how the culture of limited-edition runs all started. While many think of the cult-craze as something that began with James Jebbia and Supreme, truth is that Hiroshi Fujiwara did it first. In 1993 he opened a store called Nowhere (with the help of some kid named Nigo), a place which helped establish Japanese streetwear culture.
Fujiwara’s role in the Tokyo chapter of the International Stüssy Tribe is what inspired him to create his first brand, GOODENOUGH in the late ’80s. Today, Fujiwara uses his elite reputation to put out top quality merchandise, from apparel to phone cases, under the Fragment Design label, while collaborating with fellow legends Tinker Hatfield and Mark Parker on Nike’s HTM series. Though his reputation is what carries him, his consistency of quality outputs combined with his lasting impact on streetwear are what make him an icon.
Who He Is: Senior Designer, Nike Streetwear
Gemo Wong and the entirety of Nike Sportswear has been crushing it for years, providing products that no other streetwear brand is even capable of. By reconsidering what Nike is as a brand, they’ve not only taken athletic apparel out of the gym and into the streets—they’ve taken it into the future. They channeled old world manufacturing with the NSW Pinnacle collection, while championing technology in garments like the 21st Century Windrunner. Gemo Wong and the NSW team have done an exceptional job of creating tech-inspired, wearable garments that perform extremely well—and look pretty damn good, too. Although Gemo wasn’t involved personally, Nike Sportwear’s Gyakousou collaboration with Undercover was one of the most creative and visually appealing capsule collections released in the past year. We’re sure Gemo’s talents will serve him well when he moves on as Design Director of Energy Product at Jordan Brand later this year.
Who He Is: Founder, Staple Design and Reed Space
Since it opened in 2003, Reed Space has become a streetwear institution in New York. Its owner, jeffstaple, not only launched his own in-house label—Staple Design—but also edits the in-house magazine Reed Pages. His ascent to streetwear superstardom can be traced back to 2005, when Staple designed one of the most highly-coveted Nike Dunks of all-time, the “Pigeon Dunks.” Since then, the Pigeon logo has graced both Staple Design clothing and a handful of other collaborative efforts, including a New Balance 575 sneaker and Kangol 5-panel hat. As for Reed space, the store carries some of the best streetwear labels on the market, such as FUCT, Acapulco Gold, Norse Projects, Fragment, Reigning Champ, Undefeated, and nameless others. As both a designer and a curator of quality product, jeffstaple can’t be stopped. The combination of these two talents are what put him in the top 5, where he should remain for years to come.
Who He Is: Director of Marketing, Supreme
Sure James Jebbia, founder of Supreme, deserves a spot on his own for keeping his brand relevant for nearly 20 years, but Angelo is the guy who sets the modern day direction of Supreme. While they’ve always invested in a non-marketing marketing strategy—relying on quality products and word-of-mouth to do the selling for them. This sub rosa approach worked well in terms of keeping the brand in the right circles, but definitely didn’t stop corny people from shelling out the dough to cop some gear.
Angelo’s history as manager of defunct, similarly underground brand Nom De Guerre means he knows a thing or two about low-key marketing methods and how to keep a brand relevant. If hype can indeed be explained as a mathematical equation involving notoriety, mystery, and exclusivity, then Angelo seems to be a whiz who has that shit down to a science.
Who He Is: CEO, Karmaloop
Love him or hate him, Greg Selkoe is the king of mass-distributed streetwear. While some accuse Karmaloop for “killing streetwear” by taking it mainstream, others say he democratized the industry. Beyond graphic tees and small brands, Selkoe knows how to turn a dime into diversified dollars—just look at his newer ventures like PLNDR, Boylston Trading Co, and Brick Harbor. He even lets smaller brands get a piece of his pie, thanks to Karmaloop’s Kazbah consignment program. Whether he’s hailed as a shrewd businessman or the game’s biggest sellout, it’s clear that as long Selkoe is the one steering the ship, Karmaloop will continue to reel in boatloads of money.
Who He Is: Founder, Hypebeast
In 2005, Kevin Ma started an online magazine dedicated to tracking the release of highly-coveted sneakers. With a name built on somewhat self-deprecating humor, Hypebeast quickly became a main source of information for streetwear enthusiasts looking to know where and when they would be able to get their next sneaker fix. With 3 million unique views per month, Ma is arguably the most important person on the Internet when it comes to dictating which streetwear brands are worth knowing about. With an audience as large as Hypebeast’s, a single post can be validation enough for a brand to be successful.
Last year, Hypebeast not only has launched a print magazine, but also an e-commerce store —diversifying the brand’s reach while monetizing the very goods it champions. Hypebeast is a true game changer, minimizing the reach between brands and consumers and creating the type of hype atmosphere we’re ranking in this very list. In addition, the Hypebeast forums have served as schools for streetwear knowledge—and trolling.
Who He Is: Founder, BBC/Ice Cream
In 2005, Pharrell leveraged his superstar status to begin a BAPE-inpsired collection of tees, hoodies, and sneakers. With Nigo as his mentor, Pharrell’s involvement with his label definitely runs deeper than most celebrity lines. He’s more than just the face of the brand, he’s sitting in meetings and signing off on designs, and actually running a business. Although Nigo’s own BAPE line faltered and was eventually sold to I.T. Group Hong Kong in 2011, BBC remains a private, independent venture.
It doesn’t hurt that in 2011, Jay-Z partnered with him to take the brand to the next level. From a collaboration with Palladium boots that resulted in an exploration of post-earthquake Japan, recruiting Complex Style’s Man of Next Year Mark McNairy to design the high-end Bee Line for Billionaire Boys Club Collection, or his role as Creative Director of KarmaloopTV, it’s clear Williams not only has finger firmly on the pulse of streetwear and youth culture, he’s still the most prominent voice in the conversation.
* via Complex Style