At the start of the decade, hip-hop was on fire. Record sales were booming, chart-topping artists seemed to pop up daily and the music generated a whole new fashion look. Musicians and producers like Jay-Z, Jennifer Lopez, Sean "Diddy" Combs, Beyoncé Knowles, 50 Cent and Eve were eager to extend their brands into apparel, spawning labels such as JLo by Jennifer Lopez, Rocawear, Sean John, House of Deréon, G-Unit and Fetish. The result was what seemed to be a newly formed urban women's apparel sector, boosting the industry's revenues by hundreds of millions of dollars.
Today, record sales are plummeting and many music artists' lines are struggling. As hip-hop's popularity has dropped, so has that of the apparel brands that rode the wave — labels like Deréon and JLo have gone through numerous reinventions; Liz Claiborne Inc. said it would stop production of its Lady Enyce brand beginning with 2009 deliveries; Pacific Sunwear of California Inc. continues to close its 154 D.e.m.o stores; Sean John stopped producing women's apparel for the second time; rapper 50 Cent and Marc Ecko parted ways on the G-Unit brand (although rumor is they could be getting back together in some form), and independent urban specialty stores have either shuttered or scaled down. (See WWD List, page 16.)
Perhaps part of the reason for this is that hip-hop had to become more mainstream in order to grow — focusing less and less on urban specialty stores and more on department stores such as Macy's and Dillard's. That in turn alienated those consumers who wore it because the look was considered to be cutting edge. Now, once-notorious rappers like LL Cool J are doing collections for retailers like Sears, which will introduce an LL Cool J-branded junior, young men's and children's wear for back-to-school selling. And even at their height, these brands often wrestled with the "urban" identification, fearing it would turn off consumers and insisting on being called "streetwear." Now even that is seen by many of them as pejorative, as they recast themselves as junior or contemporary brands.
In the women's category, brands like Baby Phat, Southpole, Akademiks and Apple Bottoms continue as top labels in the junior market. Their secrets of success are clear — they've evolved with their customers, integrated themselves into the mix of other junior brands in department stores and changed with the trends. And that gives vendors and retailers hope the urban market hasn't gone away but is simply smaller and more focused — and going by another name.