6 Ways The Cannabis Industry Can Learn From Streetwear
There's a lot to learn from one of fashion's most compelling categories.
In recent years, streetwear has made the crossover from being a subculture to becoming a global, mainstream staple. Originating from the surf, skate and hip hop cultures as early as the late-70s, streetwear initially only served a niche audience. It existed invisibly to the mainstream world until global brands and executives began taking notice.
History is now repeating itself with a parallel industry: legal cannabis. Cannabis, like streetwear, had its own very specific culture before it became legalized and, therefore, mainstream. I should know, I worked in the streetwear industry for over 10 years, launching and operating Popular Demand, a successful disruptive apparel brand.
With everyone eagerly pursuing the “Green Rush”, it’s interesting that the burgeoning cannabis industry has started off with the reverse story: diluted, instead of exclusive, brand messaging. Slowly but surely, cannabis brands are seemingly beginning to recognize the brand values that establish a legacy. Like streetwear, cannabis has quickly fostered communities all over the world. But, until now, cannabis brands haven't had an opportunity to truly tell their story in order to differentiate themselves from hundreds of thousands trying to sell the same types of products. How does a cannabis brand stand out from the rest of the industry? Naturally, take a few pointers from the streetwear playbook.
1. Storytelling Really Matters
The most important thing a cannabis brand can do to set itself apart and build a lasting legacy is to engage in compelling storytelling. In streetwear, brands often tell their story through their founders or the collectives that make up their brand ethos. Streetwear apparel buyers know the stories of industry leaders like Jeff Staple and Off-White’s Virgil. In cannabis, there's much room for improvement in this area. Many brands seem to think simply putting their products out will bring customers to their door and sell-through. That may have been the case before, but it's definitely not the case nowadays.
Cannabis brands need to begin differentiating themselves by telling a unique, compelling story through content, marketing, and, of course, products that make potential customers connect emotionally with the brand. This will increase customer loyalty in an industry starved for it.
2. Quality Imagery Is Vital
There are a few brands in cannabis that do visual content well. Whether it’s an OG brand like Alien Labs or a newcomer like Airgraft, a limited number of select cannabis brands have proven capable of putting out great content that speaks to their brand. As for the rest of the industry, the streetwear industry offers a must-consider blueprint.
For example, take BAPE. BAPE has long-established their brand aesthetic and poured their souls into producing the best visuals -- so much that it’s attracted and built longstanding partnerships with timeless brands, including Adidas and Disney. We have yet to see any high-end cross-industry collaborations in the cannabis space. That translates to opportunity.
3. Collaborations Can Increase Visibility And Validation For Your Brand
Nowadays, collaborations aren't rare, one-off projects -- they're actually crucial to a brand's success, as maximizing cross-promotion builds your customer base. Whether they're events, licensing deals or capsule collections, the streetwear industry has created a blueprint of high-quality collaborations from which the cannabis industry can definitely take note.
With Popular Demand, the streetwear brand that I founded, one of our earliest collaborations was with Roscoe’s Chicken & Waffles, an iconic restaurant group that had previously never agreed to collaborate with another company in their 35+ years. That gave us additional credibility as a brand, while also creating brand new opportunities for us. The collaboration had a great story and purpose. We were an upstart Los Angeles-based brand, and Roscoe’s was a Los Angeles staple.
As opportunities continue to open up for the cannabis industry, brands should be seeking to build relationships with similar-tier or higher-tier brands from other industries for the purpose of creatively aligning for collaborative projects.
4. Influencers Can Influence The Success Of Your Brand, But You Have To Choose Them Wisely
The days of relying on one or two celebrity figures to move products are long gone. Apparently, the majority of the cannabis industry has yet to pick up on this. Brands that cross over into the streetwear realm, like Nike, rely on key influencers in various markets to deliver their message and, ultimately, increase sell-through.
The influencer landscape may seem like a numbers game, but any cannabis brand’s resources can get quickly wasted if there's no strategy and focus behind it. Identify who your audience is and determine which influencers resonate with them. Just because someone is a celebrity or has a large following doesn't mean they will influence a consumer's buying habits; especially your consumers’ buying habits.
Cannabis brands should be selective about who they're working with based on the DNA of their brand, and not just jump at any opportunities to work with 420-friendly influencers.
5. Be Aware Of How Your Brand Fits Current Trends, But Don’t Automatically Change Your Brand Due To Them
In short, be selective about what trends you choose to participate in. A lot of cannabis events currently feature so many logos on the flyers that it's apparent most brands are joining in on any available promotional opportunity. That can often hurt a brand more than it can help it. Legacy brands are far more selective, turning down opportunities more than they regularly agree to them.
In the early 2010s, many streetwear brands jumped on the minimalist aesthetic bandwagon -- even if it didn’t really fit their brand -- because they wanted to cash in on the trends of that time. That was a losing strategy. Once the trend faded, so did the brands. It's vital that you are aware of current trends and how they can impact your company; both positively and negatively.
6. Creative Experiential Marketing Can Create Energy For Your Brand
Gone are the days of launching good products without experiential marketing. Today, buzzworthy brands know how to effectively hook the consumer beyond offering a great product -- they know how to create a memorable experience. Whether it’s Heron Preston spearheading creative workshops at Art Basel, or the immersive experience that Rich Antoniello and his team have created with each ComplexCon, streetwear knows how to build the right experience to keep consumers coming back for more. Are there a lot of great cannabis products? Sure. But which are engaging in strong experiential marketing activations? Activations make people fall in love with a company. It’s a no-brainer for cannabis brands to invest time and budget into making their brand experience worthwhile for their consumers.
Streetwear began in uncharted territory and unexpectedly grew into what it is today. Cannabis represents an even bigger opportunity with exponentially more growth potential.