With a crisp breeze circulating through the Windy City, summer is in the air.

As 2020’s halftime rolls around, with brands again shining on full display, the seasonal shift has a way of reminding us that the world of fashion cannot and will not standstill. Fashion is a category with enormous consumer spending implications and little margin for error (or ordinary) as space clutters. The essence of brand loyalty is always earned and always fluid, but never guaranteed, especially for consumers as fickle as Millennials or Generation Z.

Fashion has become less and less about wow-ing consumers with transactional promises, and more about triggering consumers behaviorally by inviting an aura of invincibility while brokering a tangible connection that’s driven by emotion. Cohesive, unified design is a catalyst for purpose-driven fashion brands with lofty visions of community impact and eye-catching cross-cultural collaborations shaping the category’s trajectory.

Design’s roots in fashion are formidable, with aforementioned younger generations gravitating towards icons like design wizard Virgil Abloh or beloved Nike shoe designer Tinker Hatfield. McKinsey & Company’s annual “State of Fashion” report outlined several meaningful trends and topics for 2020, highlighting digital recalibration and inclusive culture amongst the most pivotal themes of the year. Whether it’s brand identity, messaging/personality or product differentiation strategies, the world of fashion has become a tremendously competitive space to navigate successfully.

While the marketplace saturates with all kinds of challengers looking to capitalize on rising direct-to-consumer activity and volatility, compelling design attributes are what can separate the best from the rest. Here are some of today’s larger-than-life fashion heavyweights whose voices continue to make plenty of noise.

Paper Planes

Roc Nation is a brand that’s already decorated. But becoming synonymous with empowerment and symbolic of an aspirational lifestyle within the inner sphere of pop culture is a special status to uphold. The entertainment giant manages to pull that off with their apparel brand Paper Planes, and the results have been nothing short of sensational.

Paper Planes strikes a delicate balance of sharp brand attributes with an inspirational personality, headlined by sleek checkered logo design and thought-provoking tagline (“Greatness is a Process”) that’s tailor-made for creative merchandising and applicable to a variety of audiences. The brand capitalizes on practical product placement by leveraging the renowned Jay-Z’s global influence and is also often repped by several other high-profile affiliates fixed within pop culture’s inner circle.

Jay-Z performing with headwear by Paper Planes [Credit: The New York Times]

Maybe even more impressive is Roc Nation’s resounding organizational commitment to empowering youth, which paves the way for Paper Planes to tie in their core design attributes and imaginative “Let’s Soar” theme with serving underprivileged communities and fighting social injustices. As an example, just last year, the brand partnered with the Dallas-based Too Fly Foundation to help fuel and encourage young creative students’ travel abroad endeavors (particularly those in need of financial support). The alliance was complemented by limited-edition apparel & merchandise opportunities (specifically, “The Peace Program” line) directly contributing to the mission.

Simply put, Paper Planes is a force in modern fashion that’s woven into the fabric of pop
culture – propelled by memorable, mission-based design attributes and unparalleled cultural influence.

The Paper Planes logo is multi-dimensional [Credit: pickup on Adobe Stock]

The Hundreds

Because of The Hundreds™ and the brand’s approach to strategic design principles, more clarity exists about consumer attitudes that personify the world of streetwear fashion. Founded in 2003 and one of the most respected brands in streetwear culture, Los Angeles-based The Hundreds has a youthful personality translating to an engaging communications strategy and coveted direct-to-consumer promotions that hit like a brick. Co-founder Bobby Kim, aka Bobby Hundreds, has introduced responsive SMS messaging – not only to offer core audiences an early glimpse at new releases but also to accelerate as a community advocate that rises to the challenge of doing good in the world.

The Hundreds brings tremendously authentic design concepts to the table, highlighted by flavorful content in addition to vibrant thematics and custom illustrations for every collab or seasonal release. The Hundreds breathes fashion credibility by leveraging design attributes to advance relationships with consumers on a deeper “family” level beyond just apparel (this equitable relationship is well-documented in Kim’s memoir This Is Not a T-Shirt, published in 2019). Its signature Adam Bomb logo has set the tone for a number of timeless product releases and collaborations that span across categories like music, film, cartoons, festivals and plenty more.

As a community voice & platform, the beat goes on for The Hundreds. This legacy has been true to form in 2020, with two of this year’s collabs spotlighting generational community artists including gifted painter Blue The Great and graffiti specialist Kenny Scharf. In May, The Hundreds teamed up with psychotherapist Liz Beecroft to re-imagine the animated Adam logo and promote #MentalHealthAwarenessMonth (via t-shirts and posters) by addressing mood swings.

The Hundreds™ x Liz Beecroft [Credit: The Hundreds™]

It’s difficult for fashion competitors to match the energy of The Hundreds, whose on-and-off slogan “Looking Back, Moving Forward” unwaveringly resonates through times of prosperity as well as times of turbulence. With an inviting personality, unmistakable brand attributes and a pulse on cultural perceptions/viewpoints, The Hundreds embodies a “people over product” mentality as it continues to leave an extraordinary impression on a new era of streetwear fashion. Expect the brand’s relatable approach to design, and ability to transcend apparel, to evolve.

Sprayground

Perhaps no fashion statement has reverberated louder in recent memory than NYC-based Sprayground®, which burst onto the scene in 2010 and has quickly ascended into a dynamic fashion powerhouse with design at the heart of its philosophy. Make no mistake that Sprayground has arrived as one of fashion’s undisputed power players with elite mojo and global retail ambitions that have scaled dramatically in a short period of time.

Characterized by a palpable swagger and polished “sharkmouth” logo design featured on a variety of products, founder and creative director David Ben-David (DBD) has revolutionized the consumer appetite for fashion accessories to carve out considerable positioning and deliver an alluring, ingenious merchandise strategy that seems to be just getting started. The brand was founded upon a vision to create backpacks so that street artists could easily transport their corresponding art supplies like spray cans. Says Ben-David: “I think the design mentality for how I launched the brand was just to always offer fresh daily and consistency in product. It’s very important and I think that’s what separates us because we’re non-stop with the product.”

Sprayground, which celebrates its 10-year anniversary this month, boasts a world-class lineup of influencers (often athletes and musicians) to complement its diverse product line and artful product packaging. The brand’s core product remains backpacks, but Sprayground has delicately finessed its scope of offerings to play on a “rebellious trendsetting” narrative and includes other adventurous product concepts like luggage/duffels, stylish cold-weather accessories (i.e. ski masks, neck warmers & gloves), outerwear, purses, pencil cases, tote bags, toiletry bags and many more flashy ideas keeping audiences guessing yet pleasantly surprised. Strategic licensing partnerships, such as with entities like Nickelodeon and Marvel, add a friendly splash of cultural relevancy and tasteful design appeal to limited edition one-time-only releases. Consumers are always chomping at the bit. Exceptionally responsive to the COVID-19 crisis, Sprayground has admirably supported local Bronx-based artists and models by mirroring these artists’ designs (with a touch of their own brand firepower) on exclusive face mask drops, as well as an assortment of other designed-for-safety apparel, that sell out in minutes.

Sprayground® x Alvin Kamara (RB, New Orleans Saints) “Mardi Gras” Collection (2019) [Credit: The Source]
“Sharkmouth” face masks against COVID-19 by Sprayground® [Credit: The Moodie Davitt Report]

Behind every fashion statement lies a more meaningful, more complex brand story rooted in breathtaking design. While fashion has long been a category defined by exclusive lifestyles and status symbols, today’s most dominant brands in the space are demonstrating that inclusive culture is now the name of the game. There’s been a realization that, when design and fashion collide, iconic identities and inspirational creativity can emerge. Although not every fashion brand is meant for every individual persona, the most polarizing brands in modern fashion are settling the score with brilliant design strategies that are purpose-driven and, subsequently, embraced by loyal communities worldwide. Creative opportunities to engage “fashionhead” consumers are limitless.