There’s something bothersome about the unapologetic way the retail world appropriates hip hop culture. Stores like Forever 21, H&M, Urban Outfitters and Brandy Melville have capitalized on urban clothing and I can’t help but feel some type of way about it, especially when I see shirts like this:
Do people know where these phrases originate? Do they really listen to the Wu-Tang Clan? The answer to both questions is probably no, but that isn’t the real issue here. Retail chains are borrowing from Black artists and exploiting hip hop culture. Below I put together a pros and cons list of the urban fashion phenomenon.
- Retail stores have recognized that this is an important market
- It’s become a part of popular fashion as a whole across the world for all ethnicities
- You don’t have to wait for your favorite artist to come to town to buy merch
- Pays homage to celebrated artists
- The hip hop world has inspired retail fashion
- Retail fashion takes inspiration from a culture that has been historically oppressed
- Customers are unaware of the broader experience and history of hip hop
- Oversimplification of complex issues as they enter the mainstream, i.e. “gangsta rap made me do it”
- Unintentional ignorance
- Hip hop culture isn’t a costume that you can just put on when you want to “look cool” or “fashionable” — there are decades of meaning behind that “gangsta rap made me do it shirt” or that Wu-Tang shirt.