Reddit bills itself “the front page of the internet.” In the world of fashion forums, it may just be. Some of the site’s biggest communities – “subreddits,” as they’re called – are nothing more than aggregators of garment gab, some comprising close to a million users.
Then, there’s /r/streetwearstartup.
At a hair under 33,000 readers, reddit’s community of city-wear customizers may not be the largest by numbers, but its story is that of its big brother: the 600,000-strong /r/streetwear, one of the largest streetwear forums in the world – and by far, the fastest-growing fashion subreddit.
That explosive growth was of course only made possible by streetwear’s rise to prominence offline. Unless you’ve missed the forest for the /r/trees, the last decade’s worth of fashion has witnessed nothing short of a streetwear epidemic. The fever point: Virgil Abloh’s recent appointment at Louis Vuitton. Much of that rapidly-spreading virality can be attributed to streetwear’s aptitude for DIY.
For the members of /r/techwearclothing (all 11,000 of them), that’s far from ideal.
“Techwear” is best described as an umbrella term. Broadly, it describes clothing made from technical fabrics like nylon, GORE-TEX, or Polartec fleece. This clothing is typically designed with a functional benefit in mind, such as weather resistance. In a narrower sense, “techwear” can also describe a specific aesthetic: one that shapes clothing into forms inspired by ’80s cyberpunk films and modern-day cityscapes. Famous techwear brands include ACRONYM®, Guerrilla Group, and Arc’teryx Veilance.
“I'm not really a fan of graphic T-shirts, so that was never really an option for me,” says Jeremy Ke, a Philadelphia-based programmer. Ke (known better as @jdotkdot) turned an interest in tailoring into a small side hustle, making functional clothing for friends and followers.
“I remember looking at some Japanese streetwear posts and really liking the look of the noragi — loose, drapey, and relaxed,” Ke told Highsnobiety earlier this month. His proudest creation: the military-inspired outfit he made from scratch, complete with DIY Vans.
Unlike the tees and hoodies which form most Platonic ideals of “streetwear,” the “techwear” wardrobe consists – by definition — of technical apparel. In its simplest form, this means dry-fit sweatpants. At its most advanced, GORE-TEX Pro hardshells. In fact, outside of a cult-classic “meme tank,” non-ventile cotton is essentially verboten. Plus, Futura x ACRONYM notwithstanding, the matte techwear aesthetic doesn’t leave much room for graphic customization, either.
Through this lens, techwear may seem doomed to esoterica, its proliferation blocked by the complexity that provides its character. Yet, to a burgeoning community of technical tinkerers, the only barrier is imagination.
“I get a lot of inspiration from galleries of dystopian, cyberpunk, neo-futuristic imagery,” says Ender Severin, a Vancouver, BC designer who goes by the moniker @techwear.intern. Last month, Severin — a second-year Technical Apparel Design student — made headlines for creating the world’s lightest technical jacket, a shell weighing just 85g. While the jacket certainly grabbed attention, it was but “Day 30” of Severin’s month-long “creation a day” challenge, one that connected him to a growing global DIY tech community.
“Since I started posting the 30-day challenge, I've connected with dozens of techwear makers from all over the globe,” describes Severin. “No matter where you look, from Cairo to Maine, there’s mind-blowing talent.”
In the realm of technical footwear, there’s perhaps no greater DIY talent than Hong Kong-based Ziv Lee (@ogreziv). A fashion merchandiser by day, Lee’s eye-popping custom sneakers first blew up last November. Since then, he’s designed ultra-high KMTR’s gifted to Errolson Hugh, and even led workshops at NikeLab Shanghai. Yet despite his talent, Lee never formally studied design.
“My first custom shoes, I made when I was in secondary school,” he reports. “I didn’t do any design programs, but I’ve never messed up a shoe while customizing. I just think clearly before I start. If there’s no idea, I don’t take action.”
Given the complexity of the shoes Lee manipulates, mistakes would be forgivable, if not expected. The idea of untrained enthusiasts leading the charge on make-at-home function-wear – and succeeding, to boot – should truthfully even raise a few eyebrows. Instead, it is perhaps the relative difficulty of making DIY techwear that trims all but the most capable and committed.
“It all stemmed from me being a cheap ass, really,” reports Steven Thomas (@crkdsaint). Back in 2016, Thomas was introduced to techwear by lurking on fashion forums. Around that time, he also discovered he needed a quality, everyday bag that carried everything he needed to work multiple jobs. Thomas decided to make his own.
“I thrifted a bunch of different bags, took them apart, reassembling and modifying them. I found that it was fun and surprisingly simple, so I stuck with it.”
Years later, Thomas has made a name for himself selling high-quality custom bags. A recent project of his: a waterproof messenger made on commission. The bag is made from waterproof X-PAC fabric and seals with water-resistant YKK zippers. Every part of the sling – from its compartment to its strap system – is adjustable and made to hug the body.
While the DIY tech scene is unhindered by the genre’s advanced constructions and materials, the one trait it can’t escape is techwear’s notoriously-high price point. A custom hoodie off /r/streetwearstartup may cost as little as $30. A sweater from even a larger-production techwear startup – like the C7/M1 from GARUDA-SS – goes for $220.
“Conceptually, I just wanted to take menswear classics and push them as far as possible from fabric to function,” explains Suhail Sahrawat, GARUDA’s owner and designer. “We just want to make stuff that you don’t want to take off, and the fabric definitely helps us achieve that goal.”
GARUDA-SS produces a wide range of tech garments, some of which are even made-to-order. When orders outpaced production, Sahrawat shifted production from New Zealand to his home city in India to scale the collection. Even with newfound capacity and labor savings, the relatively complex construction required of technical garments causes DIY tech to price far above its streetwear equivalents.
Will this gulf in prices mitigate how effectively custom techwear spreads the trend? At the present, almost certainly yes. However, that’s not to say the recent surge in DIY functional-wear won’t help push – and expand – the boundaries of the tech community.
“At the risk of sounding elitist, techwear rarely varies in looks, and relies too much on specific brands,” observes Ke. “I'm more interested in clothes that match human articulation using avant-garde sewing techniques, as opposed to ones that rely on waterproofing.”
On any given Thursday, /r/streetwear is a kaleidoscope of brands and styles, all of which fall under the same broad category. Each of those styles appeals to part of the group without necessarily appealing to all of it. Each of those brands – from Supreme to Steady Hands – was started by an individual with a vision. The forum itself even once had a single user.
As techwear gains attention, a growing community of makers appear ready to expand the aesthetic all the same.