Hood By Air’s Existential Crisis

As a part of the latest issue of their newish print magazine, Style.com profiled Hood By Air and its designer Shayne Oliver. In the piece, writer Maya Singers attempts to explain the brand's recent success and the cultural movement surrounding it. From stories of the labels humble beginnings to its current standing as one of hip-hop's most popular brands, the article focuses on answering the question: "What is Hood By Air?" Not surprisingly, the answer to which is largely: "Hood By Air." You see, HBA does not strive to be fashion or streetwear or anything really. It merely wants to exist in the vacuum of its own principles and aesthetics. And I'm not so sure such a thing is possible.

This is not to discredit Oliver's achievements. I like many of Hood By Air's tamer, more accessible designs, namely the graphic print streetwear-leaning offerings now known as "Hood By Air Classics", but I'm skeptical of a brand that refuses to acknowledge certain descriptors exist, or, more accurately, to be selective with the ones they invite. This skepticism is only made worse when you consider the title of their first major profile reads, "Hood By Air Storms The Fashion Establishment". After all, it would be pretty awkward to kick in the doors of the major houses, only to not have and an answer when asked to explain yourself. Simply doing things differently (i.e. using non-traditional models) doesn't make you nothing. As a brand in 2013, you need to be something. Knowing where you fit, even if it means creating your own category, helps consumers stay organized in a world where they are constantly being bombarded. Trademarks and branding are no longer enough. Customers deserve to know what they're getting into. I don't think that's too much to ask.

It's easy to see how Oliver, a homosexual African American man, easily rejects name-calling. But there are certain words that he seems to accept when describing his brand, such as "beauty" and "power". It's only when these words are localized to "punk" or "urban" or "hip-hop" that he shies away from them. For my money, the latter terms are much better at describing what exactly HBA is, while rejecting them seems petty and, at worst, like a transparent attempt to be cool. As Singer puts it: "The 'whatever' is important: One of the original tenets of the Hood by Air credo is that what you are...is totally unimportant. It's not about tolerance; it's about voiding difference with a big shrug. You're a boy who wants to dress like a girl? Whatever." Okay, so the "whatever" of it all is crucial, but it's also a quite a bit tiresome, no? Isn't the idea of the aloof designer who refuses to even classify his work as menswear just as passé as the genres or "categories" that Oliver thinks have been "done to death"?

Listen, Hood By Air is an urban-based brand inspired by streetwear and hip-hop culture. And that's totally OK. I'm not encouraging negative stereotypes, but people will make their own assumptions about a brand once they see it, regardless of how it's labeled. Broader descriptions, like "hip-hop", that already have powerful emotions attached to them only serve to help get more customers involved, and maybe even "change people" as Leilah Weinraub, HBA's director of art and commerce, seems to point to as the ultimate goal. Regardless of how they define success, defining themselves, even loosely, can enable Hood By Air to achieve whatever it is they think they deserve. And that's something I think both Shayne Oliver and I can agree on.

  • booboobb

    a white (persumably) straight male, telling a gay, black man that he needs to “know where you fit” in 2013… yea this is pretty bad. Also shouts to arca for being in the modeling photos and working on half of yeezus

    • Lawrence

      A+ on taking things completely out of context. This was a piece on fashion branding in 2013, not societal commentary on how people should live their lives. Talk about completely missing the entire point.

      • booboobb

        That sounds like exactly what Shayne is getting at with his entire brand

        • Lawrence

          Touche. I still think it’s advantageous to HBA to acknowledge the influences that seem to permeate the brand in a major way, which is what Jake is getting at with the above.

          • Boccia

            Lawrance you dont get it, its the “influences that seem to permeate the brand” that will follow HBA its not the inverse.

  • Nic

    another good read


    With almost every label comes a box of expectations and limitations. Refuse the box and you refuse the limitations. You define you, that’s what Kanye has been screaming about…HBA may want to design ball gowns for the oscars but if if gets out they are ‘just hip hop’ that transition becomes almost impossible.

  • http://glitteraticommunications.blogspot.ca/ Duane

    “A brand is not what you say it is. It’s what THEY say it is.” – Marty Neumeier

    • Episcene Being

      This, exactly!

  • Pola

    why does someone need a labeled box to put itself in ? I don’t think any brand needs explanations, it is what it is

  • J.S.

    Took a minute to realize JW was not introducing himself or the reader as a homosexual african american male. Be cautious of your dangling modifiers.

  • theone101

    Those moon boots look so retarded ..hba just seems really pretentious to me idk and they arent all tht good i dont get the hype the only people i see wearing this are those wannabe streetwear fashionista fucks

  • Gareth

    All you HBA-hating, fashion-know-it-all fucktards, need to chill out and know that Ray Petrie was doing this kind of stuff 20+ years ago and he’s revered. There’s more than just #menswear and conservative heritage style, asswipes.

  • Garrett Nutgrass

    YAll post some stupid shit but then you do an article like this that makes me want to allow you to stay in my newsfeed

  • Lee Allen

    So your saying cater the brand instead to the annoying hipster kids who will single-handedly make your brand unwearable for anyone with a ounce of self respect before jumping on to the next big thing and ditching it?

  • Fraud Harry

    Jake stfu bro. If Oliver wants to keep his options open in regards to his brand let him do that. It is a very smart move. If he took your advice, he’d end up the equivalent to a high priced phat farm.

  • http://highschool4innovatoes.tumblr.com/ Loveandalchemy

    I think the argument is that a brand should have a direction as opposed to claiming ambiguity or eclecticism when there is an obvious agenda. I would rather see Hood by Air make known their intentions rather than letting the public decipher it erroneously, though I suppose there is intrigue and mystery in that itself. Props for bringing up the discussion.

  • yas

    with all due respect this brand is trash, never understood the hype behind this stuff!