What the Zalando + Highsnobiety Deal Says About the Rising Influence of Streetwear

Streetwear-loving writer Seun Areoye shares his opinion on the collision of two worlds...

Published by: Little Black Book
Written by: Seun Areoye
Date: 16/06/2022

On this week’s episode of ‘Didn’t see that coming’, German fashion and beauty e-tailer Zalando acquired a majority stake in Highsnobiety, for an undisclosed sum. In a collision of two worlds that exist in the same universe, but in different solar systems, the question is simple: What does this all mean for the past, present and future of streetwear as a pillar of the fashion industry?

Disclaimer: A conversation is incomplete without two things - questions and speculation. The read below includes both in abundance. The facts are there for all to read, just not necessarily here. Below are the opinions of a (relatively) young, streetwear-loving writer who’s decided that his opinion somewhat matters.


Is this acquisition simply a story of scale?

Plainly speaking, the goal of business is to address a gap in the market, do that well and then size up. When it comes to commentary around streetwear, Highsnobiety’s voice is pretty booming. They’ve established themselves as this observer-turned-e-tailer that people turn to for opinions, but also to make purchases.

Had they stuck to their editorial roots, with no direct e-commerce push, would working alongside a retail giant like Zalando make sense? Probably not. However, when you realise that the newer side of their business is the ballpark where Zalando are big players, it all begins to hold water.

What does it say about the rising influence of streetwear?

Are we talking about 'streetwear' or streetwear? The late and great Virgil Abloh’s comments about the two and how they’re different turned many heads, but he couldn’t be more right. Where streetwear is rooted in community and collaboration, 'streetwear' seems rooted in hype, overindulgence and is not really much different from the often-demonised fast fashion sector. The hope is that Zalando is buying into the former, but it’d be quite naive to assume that’s solely the case.

Currently, an important facet of the streetwear community is its existence away from the mainstream. As more and more of these moves occur, I think rather than focus on streetwear’s influence on fashion, I question whether mainstream fashion’s influence on streetwear is what requires more interrogation…

What does it say about the commercial value of street(wear) culture?

The question to really ask is this: is the value of streetwear still attached to mainstream fashion spaces?

I draw discernable parallels between the streetwear and crypto spaces. Branded as these individual, decentralised platforms that place human expression first, they’re seen to be where the world is moving, giving back freedoms to the consumers. However, when we look at the crypto space, it’s still heavily reliant on its mainstream predecessor: the stock market. When the stock market goes down, so does the value of cryptocurrencies. Whilst unrelated, this is how I view the streetwear scene, it seems to be a child free to explore on its own, but still heavily reliant on its parent (the wider fashion industry).

Acquisitions like this are amplifications of the scenario we’re in. It feels like when you get to the top of the streetwear game, the next move is to be dragged up by a big player in the fashion world. On the other hand however, what Zalando brings to the table is unquestionable: more people, more expertise, more investment. Which leads nicely onto my next question..

What could this acquisition mean for physical spaces and IRL moments?

Dominating the virtual space is one thing, but transitioning into physical spaces can be difficult: especially for the globally recognisable figure that Highsnobiety is. Its new increased skill set and piggy bank gives Highsnobiety room to expand and redefine the physical experience, and really make a definitive step into the physical space.

And it’s already signalled that intention, with a deal announced this year to see HighSnob bring its curated Gate Zero concept stores to airports, through a joint venture deal withtravel retail giant Gebr Heinemann. And the publication’s competitor Hypebeast have gone physical with a seven storey HQ-slash-retail space in New York, highlighting the rising appetite and demand to break into the physical space, so it’d certainly be of interest to see if the Zalando investment gives Highsnobiety the opportunity to roam into new land.

Perhaps we could see an exponential growth of Sydney-based design group Semi Permanent, who Highsnobiety formed a strategic partnership with to grow online and physical experiences for its communities. Beginning in Australia, will we see an accelerated global expansion as a result of Zalando’s involvement? Only time will tell.

Last words

This acquisition is without a doubt an interesting move on both sides - you can see how they’re complimentary, showing strength in the other’s weaker positions. In the best case scenario, this could be a great opportunity for both businesses. Highsnobiety could continue to dominate the editorial streetwear space whilst also becoming the go to (physical?) retailer for all things streetwear, whilst Zalando grab cultural credibility that they currently lack.

I’ll borrow two quotes to explain what the two sides of me are saying. The optimist in me says 'You get the best of both worlds' - Hannah Montana (2006). The pessimist however says 'What goes up, must come down' - Isaac Newton (a long time ago) particularly considering that this isn’t Zalando’s first foray into the streetwear space, their acquisition of Kickz.com in 2017 consequently ended when they sold it again three years later.

The streetwear scene definitely doesn’t need big money endorsement to exist as it’s bare self, but perhaps this is what could help it become a solid pillar of the fashion industry.

Find out what happens on the next episode of Highsnobiety...

Seun Areoye is a copywriter at Amplify and editor at Gauchoworld.

To read the full article visit Little Black Book.