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Highsnobiety Commentary August, 15 2013
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The Irony of the Tastemaking Process

Streetwear is a lot like high school. There are numerous individuals navigating the treacherous landscape in hopes of graduating and ultimately moving on to bigger and better things with an understanding and basic game plan of how to enact a strategy in order to achieve goals. But during that tumultuous period, a person will undoubtedly unlock the inner workings of said “world” – noticing the pack mentality that shapes how and why certain things are deemed cool – while other noble pursuits are deemed stale and marked as outcast behavior. As more and more streetwear brands pop up on the daily thanks to the ease at which limited run items can be made and social media allows one to serve as his/her own publicist, the world of tastemaking and those deemed to be in charge stays pretty consistent. Thus, as the landscape shifts, we as consumers continue to rely on a certain number of voices that are more like an echo than a breath of fresh air. With a collective 20+ years in the editorial realm, our team provides a little insight into our role as tastemakers and in certain cases as the ones being shut out. No soup for you!

Read part 1 and part 2 on the ongoing roundtable discussion.

David Fischer – Founder & Publisher

When I started Highsnobiety eight years ago I would have never thought that we would come this far. Even though I do work in this field for a while now, I certainly could not have predicted the emergence of social media and the effects it would end up having on our business and our global reach. Many people do call us “tastemakers” and even if it is true on some level, I am still not a big fan of the word for some reason.

I guess there are different types of tastemakers. The ones that are looked up to by others because of their sense for style and their image of being an early adopter. The ones that are celebrities in film or music and therefore influence others and if you want to put us into a category, it is probably a more “work”-related and structured influence that we built up. We built a channel that reaches early adopters and other influencers or at least intend to. Last but not least social media made everybody an influencer and tastemaker, because everybody now has an audience and a certain reach. Theoretically that is at least true, in reality there are still the ones that stand out and seem to have actual influence.

I think the most important part of being a tastemaker is honesty. No matter into which category above you fall, you have to be honest with yourself and your audience. Every piece of information you put out there is a decision that you take and you have to decide whether or not you want to put it out there. All these decisions add up and help others to form an opinion about you. I am not saying that all the decisions we have taken over the years have been spot on, but we have tried hard to make good decisions, to keep our audience in the back of our heads with every single decision that we take. With millions of people seeing what we put out there though our site, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest and other channels, the reach is too important to dismiss and one has to keep that in mind at all times. With the push of a button information travels to thousands of people, hundred thousands. Still hard to believe and something I have to remind myself of every now and then in order to continue to make good decisions.

Pete Williams – Editor-in-Chief

From the outside, a big part of the “taste-making” game revolves around the transfer of free shit. From a brand or PR side, there’s no doubt that certain endorsements will benefit your cause, but I think it’s crucial to take the time to understand who exactly you are seeding and if they’re down for what you’re selling. Simply blasting out a ton of gear and hoping something comes back is pretty amateur in my opinion. If you take the time to know who you’re working with, to understand their personal preferences, tastes and sizes (you’d be surprised), you’re going to see a much higher ROI.

Yes, I do personally receive my fair share of gear in the mail each week, as do many of my peers, but I think most would agree in saying that we really only end up wearing a small percentage of that, and end up sharing an even smaller fraction on social media (which is a big part of the game today). In reality, receiving an unwanted item can be more hassle than good, so think twice about what you’re sending out and who you’re sending it to. Free shit is fun at first, but it can quickly become a burden (yeah, #firstworldproblems). If you’re trying to reach a legitimate “celeb” with your seeding, think about how many other brands are dropping boxes off at their door on the daily. If you’re not giving them something they really want, your efforts are likely wasted. 

Free shit is fun, and I’m sure getting paid to wear things is nice, but the brands who really win are the ones that people with “taste” will still pay for. I know David would agree in saying that the best stuff we own is always the stuff we buy ourselves (or the very rare gifts that we would have paid for anyways). I imagine this statement holds true for most individuals who are considered “tastemakers.” Which is to say: true brand allegiance is priceless. Think of all the rappers who wear one sneaker brand under contract but switch right back into AF1s and Js when the cameras turn off.

So, I guess the takeaway here would be this: focus on making your product undeniable and those with influence will support you on the strength. In the end this is infinitely more valuable than any seeded or paid endorsement.

Luis Ruano – Art Director

If I’m speaking from a place of honesty, I’d like to announce that the word “tastemaker” has officially entered the cornball lexicon. I mean, who’s really qualified to brand someone as a tastemaker? A very select few, if that. We all have taste. You the readers and I, the guy writing this past the copy editing deadline. The real question should probably be, do you have good taste? That’s up to you to decide. In one way or another, without even realizing it though, we influence others and we definitely influence each other (in a positive light I hope). Even when we get hated on or verbally assaulted in the comments section, we take something away from it. While accepting the fact that I’m bashing this term, I’d also like to acknowledge that I’d be lying if I didn’t say it feels great to be included amongst my “tastemaker” peers.

Building off what David mentioned, honesty is always the best policy. I firmly believe the true influencers are the people who say “no” more than “yes.” Not because they’re assholes, but because they have integrity. It’s the ones who are confident enough in their abilities that they don’t need to please everyone. I feel like too many folks play it safe nowadays, wanting to remain neutral and not hurt feelings, when being honest usually helps everyone out in the long run. There’s too much of an emphasis on being “golden” in everyone’s book. The ones who say “no” are usually not the most popular, but they’re respected by the people who’s opinion’s matter.

Alec Banks – Editor

I suppose my journey is a little different than my compatriots. Before landing at Highsnob I was at another lifestyle company similar, but different to this one. With both, I’ve been able to see just how much a boost a brand can get by being featured for the first time, or having the mutual understanding that most, if not all of a brand’s material will get a placement. The dumbfounding part isn’t that certain brands get preferential treatment, it’s that web portals will continue to push their social agenda even if the staff doesn’t necessarily “feel” the season or genuinely like the people behind the company. The irony is that the site and the brand are mutually exploiting one another, thus creating a vicious cycle where the elite/buzzworthy maintain their position, and the website remains a juggernaut because they continue to have the numbers the advertisers want.

Personally, as a freelancer, I’ve been on the other side of things. While I’m not pushing my brand, I am promoting myself and have to actively pursue various writing channels with ideas thatI deem “correct” for that particular outlet. Where as a person probably shouldn’t ask Highsnob to feature women’s lines, similarly I wouldn’t pitch a story about modesty to Maxim. Thus, it’s learning how to play the game. Editors/tastemakers are in place so there’s no changing that. My biggest piece of advice is to start small and work your way up; leverage placement from one site onto another. Then, when you’re asking the big boys for placement (with a nice, personal email to one of the editors) you can provide links to other places you’ve been featured so that there is a little credibility to your pursuit. Mos Def once questioned, “Why do I need I.D. to get I.D.?” I suppose that’s just how it goes.

Selectism