The growth of the internet and the rise of sites like Highsnobiety has had a globalizing effect on streetwear. The scene is no longer confined to a few core cities such as New York or Tokyo, as it was in the past, while myriad online shopping options have made it easier than ever to get your hands on a Supreme box logo.
Yet, despite this, streetwear remains very much a first-world privilege. It often gets overlooked that there are still places where local hypebeasts haven’t so much as seen a pair of YEEZYs beyond images. And we're not talking about far-flung island states like Vanuatu or contested entities ruled by strange communist regimes like Transnistria.
In Serbia, a country of 7 million people wedged between four EU member states, copping the latest Supreme drop is only marginally easier today than it was in 1994, when the brand's Lafayette Street store opened in Manhattan, and Serbia (then at the center of what was left of Yugoslavia) was an international pariah with its economy battered by sanctions.
“I wanted to buy some T-shirts from Parra, and I added them to the cart, but Serbia wasn’t listed as a shipping destination when I clicked to checkout,” says Stefan Amer, one of the most prominent figures in the streetwear scene of Serbian capital Belgrade. “I was like, ‘What the fuck? There’s no Serbia!’ So I wrote them an email and they were like, ‘Oh shit, we didn’t think that people from Serbia would ever want to buy anything [from us].’”
To be fair to Parra, which has since added Serbia as a shipping destination, this isn’t a misplaced assumption.
“Nobody expected a Serbian guy to pay 600, 700 euros for a pair of shoes,” says Stefan.
“That was for some German collector over there, not for our people,” his friend and fellow hypebeast Uroš Djaković interjects.
Serbia is a country where some 85 percent of the population earns less than the current official average monthly net salary of approximately $520. Not only is streetwear prohibitively expensive, but Serbia isn’t in the European Union, which means that orders from pretty much anywhere are immediately slapped with added tariffs and taxes: a 30 percent markup on anything priced over €70 (approximately $75), with customs officials including shipping, which often comes to around $30, to the total value of the package.
As a result, streetwear is more an uber-niche interest than a fully fledged scene. But its popularity is growing rapidly thanks to the efforts of Stefan and his online streetwear store Minus1.
Launched in October 2017 by Stefan and friends the Djaković brothers, Bogdan and Uroš, Minus1 is Serbia’s first streetwear retailer and almost as old as the Belgrade scene itself, which only started to take shape about three years ago.
“Everybody was looking at me like an idiot because I was wearing YEEZYs,” Bogdan recalls. “I was wearing oversized shit and everybody was like, ‘What are these Kanye West homeless vibes?’”
Minus1 is actually a reselling operation as opposed to a legit e-tailer. Rather than ordering stock directly from brands, the Minus1 guys buy their wares from other sources online and then resell them to local streetwear fans. Realistically, this is something anybody could do, but in Serbia, people are still skeptical about ordering clothes online, creating an opening for Minus1 to act as middlemen.
“Internet shopping is still taboo here,” says Stefan. “People find something, they like something, the price is okay, but people here are still frightened to buy it because they’re like, ‘Oh shit, I have to enter my credit card number — what if I get scammed?’”
There is one key difference that sets Minus1 apart from the ruthless resellers who flip goods at eye-watering markups: they’re not actually in it for the profit. All three have day jobs and the store is more of a hobby than a source of income. As absurd as this might sound to Western readers, there’s a simple reason for this: Minus1 exists primarily to make streetwear more accessible for Serbian consumers and expand the local scene.
“When we’re setting prices, I ask myself, ‘Would I pay this much for this T-shirt?’” Bogdan says. “If the answer is no, I think, ‘What would someone here pay for it?’ and then I might be like, ‘Oh fuck, I’m only making $5 on this $500 T-shirt,’ but I have to do it that way because I want people to love the culture.”
The Minus1 guys met in December 2016 while camping out for a product drop in front of Belgrade’s only premium sneaker store, and Stefan says their ability to piece together a complete outfit of coveted streetwear gave them something in common.
“We were actually the only people that had that shit,” he says. “Not the only people that we’d met — we were the only people [in the country] that had it.”
Since then, the local scene has grown and Bogdan estimates there are now “300 to 500 kids with one or more items of hyped clothing” — and by kids, he means under-18s, with another 100 working-age adults who can afford to buy a piece of streetwear a month. The numbers are still tiny, but it’s a marked difference from three years ago. This growth can be ascribed to Minus1, the guys claim.
“I haven’t earned much from this, it’s just something I do out of passion,” says Stefan. “But when I see people on the street wearing Supreme or BAPE, I know it’s because of Minus1.”
The store’s model is built around seasonal drops that take place every six months. The first drop featured around 40 items, including socks and boxer shorts, that the guys scraped together with a starting budget of €1,250 (approximately $1,400). They didn’t make a profit, but that wasn’t the priority.
“The thing we had to keep in mind when we were buying stuff for our first drop was that we didn’t want to go too high-end and only get items that are super-expensive,” says Uroš. “We tried to keep it reasonable because we knew, let’s say, a Thrasher piece is also pretty hyped for kids here but isn’t at the level that Supreme is. We stocked Thrasher or Stüssy pieces for the kid that doesn’t have the money for Supreme but still wants to be part of the culture.”
Since then, the Minus1 trio have invested in promo videos featuring local hip-hop artists to promote new collections and have even branched into original video content published on their YouTube channel.
Minus1’s content mostly features local rappers talking about their favorite garms, but the store’s most popular video shows a group of local hype kids showing off how much their outfits are worth. The clip made the evening news, where a psychologist was invited on air to offer their thoughts on this vulgar display of consumerism, which goes to show how bizarre the streetwear mindset appears to the average Serbian.
“We wanted this culture to spread in this country because we didn’t want to be the only guys that have Supreme,” says Stefan. “It feels nice when you wear something expensive and people actually know what the fuck you’re wearing. What’s the point of hype shit if nobody knows about it?”
These promotional efforts are all added expenses paid for out of the trio’s own pocket. And like everything else that Minus1 does, they serve the sole purpose of spreading the gospel of streetwear in a country that barely exists on the global hype map. It’s a mission that might seem strange and somewhat obsessive, but it’s driven by a selfless devotion to a culture the three friends grew up admiring from afar via the internet yet could never be part of due to forces far beyond their control.
“It’s dope when I see some kid I don’t know, whose face I’ve never seen in my life, but they’re wearing something that I know went through my hands,” says Uroš. “I packed that piece up in my own house and put it in a box and sent it to them. It’s a good feeling.”