Bad and Boujee

In a world where streetwear has become just as reputable as designer brands, the line between inspiration and cultural misrepresentation continues to blur. While the West has partaken in the subculture-no-more known as “street”, “Asian” street has become particularly influential. While street fashion itself isn’t evil, it’s increasingly bourgeois — or boujee in street slang — industry has allowed the opportunity for bad companies to cultivate the practice of cultural misrepresentation, implicitly influencing youths to believe that it isn’t an issue. Born from the desire to differentiate from the older generation and to cultivate something that is solely theirs, the current generations of youths have created a culture of their own–an individuality that unfortunately comes at the cost of a people and their culture.

Given the fact that Hypebeast, the leading digital curator of men’s contemporary fashion and streetwear, is headquartered in Hong Kong, it isn’t particularly hard to understand why Asian aesthetics may dominate street fashion. However, in looking East, the world has often mistaken appropriation for appreciation. Asian — particularly Japanese — culture has been appropriated and misrepresented in order to create the ideal street aesthetic. Though it can be argued that both Western and Eastern brands engage in an equal partnership that continuously draws on one another, the West and the issue of cultural theft acts differently due to historical imperialism. This was from a time when their customs and cultures were introduced and implemented in a vast majority of the Eastern Hemisphere. Additionally, the way inspiration is drawn often resembles the reduction of cultures that are inherently not something to take, such as misused characters and stereotypical Japanese imagery.

This is visible in both the smaller, more “authentic” street brands, as well as certain mainstream brands. SuperDry Japan — a British brand — adorns their clothing in meaningless phrases, translated from English using basic software like Google Translate, to appear authentic to its name. Even Asian-run brands like Sydney’s Nothing can fall to misrepresentation, evident in their use of Japanese imagery, characters, and the schoolgirl aesthetic on their Instagram. This is part of a trend where cultural images are glorified in a manner that is inconsiderate of its past. Yakuza art is utilized without any thought to the very real dangers it represents in Japan. The rising sun flag is scattered throughout magazines, advertisements, and clothes without understanding its offensive connotations in the rest of the Eastern Hemisphere. The list goes on, but the issue here lies not in the “appreciation” but in the cyclic perpetuation of certain Japanese stereotypes.

Appropriation segregates the acceptance of other cultures. The parts that have been proven to be economically profitable are hailed as edgy, whereas the more real, imperative aspects of the Asian experience — such as daily prejudice and government erasure of certain political issues — are pushed aside and ignored. Though there are aspects to modern Japanese culture that are inherently problematic, its origins being wrong doesn’t make their misrepresentation right. The “Japanese” aesthetic is indeed intriguing as long as it is sourced from the right people, with the right values, knowledge, and understanding of what they’re doing while straying away from the bad and boujee. Street brands that are positively celebrating Japanese culture include Osaka’s Evisu with their use of traditional art and colouring, Shinsuke Takizawa’s NEIGHBOURHOOD, whose aesthetic described as “badass sophistication”, Tokyo-based Wacko Maria and their music-inspired pieces, and of course the original Japanese heavyweights Comme de Garcons, Yohji Yamamoto, Cav Empt, and BAPE.

Cultural misrepresentation problematizes itself by being without respect and sensitivity for its aesthetic origins. It discredits its origins, where Western brands profit off of Japanese imagery and the Asian sweatshops the products are (most likely) made in. Moreover, it denies Japanese people the opportunity to represent themselves in the way they desire to the world. As someone who holds Asian-style Street near and dear because it is different and unique, there still comes a time where everyone needs to question what they’re paying for.