Five for Friday | 五日(星期五)

Things that made my day this week:

In terms of the news agenda, the iPhone launch dominated the news. I wrote about it here and here.  This image from the Chinese internet summed everything about the launch up for me.

Chinese reaction to iPhone X

We’re in a place of innovation stuckness at the moment – we’re celebrating incremental improvements in user experiences on smartphones as transformational, they aren’t. This is a category challenge, not a vendor-specific one. Even infrastructure and component vendor Qualcomm is struggling to envision ways to move things on.

I have been mostly listening to this playlist from this years Love International Festival

And FIP Radio

Japanese group meforyouforme combining traditional Japanese culture and dance with modern tap dancing FTW


Hong Kong stars Donnie Yen and Andy Lau go back to the 1970s with Chasing the Dragon – a thriller based on real characters involved in drug smuggling and organised crime in the turbulent go-go economic boom of Hong Kong – Lee Rock (Lui Lok) was a corrupt policeman nicknamed 500 million dollar Inspector, who avoided corruption charges by moving to Canada and then Hong Kong. Crippled (or Limpy) Ho was a triad called Ng Sek-ho who rivalled the 14K triad group.  It is against the backdrop of the post-1967 riots economic boom which saw Hong Kong blow up in manufacturing and financial services. This brought rich pickings in corruption which led to the formation of the ICAC – the Independent Commission Against Corruption.

Five for Friday | 五日(星期五)

Things that made my day this week:

KFC China launched a virgin mojito drink with a 1960s feel to the ad. Its a bit of an odd product for KFC, even in China particularly with its positioning against drinking. Quite how the product development process and consumer insight worked to produce it is beyond me. Beautifully produced advert

Great documentary on Sterns Music (of Sterns Edits fame)

High Snobriety have done their first documentary. It looks like the kind of thing I would expect from Vice. Given High Snobriety’s streetwear literate audience I was surprised at how ‘basic’ it approaches the topic. Korean’s historic fashion industry, its association with replicas since the days of Daper Dan and the retail infrastructure stifled by chaebols are issues. But streetwear couldn’t have existed if it wasn’t for the Korean textile industry – Daper Dan connection. The market in Korea reminded me very much of the ‘snide’ garments that were popular in the UK scene through the 1980s and 1990s.

On a secondary note the size of the YouTube video embed was restricted to 560 pixels wide. Not sure why

William Gibson: ‘I Never Expected to Be Living in an American Retro-Future’ – Motherboard – William Gibson critiquing Trump administration era America

Cities and Memory: global collaborative sound project – Cities & Memory | Field Recordings, Sound Map, Sound Art really nice project correlating field recordings by location

Five for Friday | 五日(星期五)

I’ve been a bit quiet on here this week, I was freelancing in Shoreditch, living the Nathan Barley dream with smoked salmon coffee. Here’s the things that made my day this week:

乐播报丨七夕节,乐高积木X搜狗输入法送“独家”惊喜啦! – Nice collab between Sogou and Lego on digital assets including stickers and a keyboard

Naomi Wu shared this cyberpunk themed maker festival video by Tao Bao – the Alibaba-owned mainland China marketplace. I quite like it, it has a 1980s post-Blade Runner vibe to the visuals – but through the lens of Hong Kong comedy director Stephen Chow.

Students Nicci Yin and Nan Hung Tsai  from the ArtCenter College of Design gave this interesting talk on making locative art more social. Like the ARKit stuff, these explorations feel fresh like the computer graphics in the early 1990s and Macromedia (pre-Adobe) Flash. The idea of scanning items with a hand controller into virtual reality and it becoming a virtual social asset is was interesting. There are interesting implications handing off across realities in storytelling.

Great interview with Action Bronson – I let him speak for himself

ARKit reminds me of back in the day with start of Macromedia Flash; developers and artists being creative and playful. Check out this brief animation from a Japanese developer

SaveSave

SaveSave

Links of the day | 在网上找到

Logic Gates Under (Air) Pressure | Hackaday – I remember seeing fluidic logic on a packaging production line for motor oil back when I was a teenager. By this time the line was reasonably old, micro-processor controls were becoming the norm, and it broke down on a regular basis. The owners knew my Dad which is how I got to see it. They used to pack small volume SKUs for Shell at their own factory; when the oil company pulled the contract their business closed

Apple’s Secure Enclave Processor (SEP) Firmware Decrypted | Hackaday“Imagine the Secure Enclave as a vault. Apple hung a big, dark curtain over it to prevent anyone from even seeing the vault. Now, that curtain has been opened and people can see the vault. The vault, however, is still locked as securely as ever.” However we don’t know who else has got this far already, and we certainly don’t know if other actors have managed to find vulnerabilities in the code.

China Tech Workers Wanted: Women Need Not Apply – WSJ – Parents often tell their daughters they won’t be good at math or physics or coding. And just like in the U.S., some Chinese companies are reluctant to hire or promote women because of concerns about pregnancy and child rearing, employee advocates say. About 20% of engineers in China’s internet and telecommunications industries are women, according to Boss Zhipin, a Beijing-based online recruiting company. And there’s a pay gap as well. Women were paid 30% less than men in China’s internet industry last year, ranking among the most discriminatory lines of work with medicine, media and entertainment, according to Boss Zhipin, which surveyed more than 365,000 pay samples nationwide – (paywall)

Interim Report Q2 2017 (OMX:MAERSKA) – In the last week of the quarter we were hit by a cyber-attack, which mainly impacted Maersk Line, APM Terminals and Damco. Business volumes were negatively affected for a couple of weeks in July and as a consequence, our Q3 results will be impacted. We expect that the cyber-attack will impact results negatively by USD 200-300m.” – shipping titan Maersk talks about how malware has affected its business

The First True Multi-User Holographic Table Has Been Built – ExtremeTech – cool as fuck

Producers, Songwriters on How Pop Songs Got So Slow – Rolling StonePaul Oakenfold et al who tried unsuccessfully to slow acid house down to 98bpm was just 3 decades too early

Things that made my day this week

Things that made my day this week:

I’ve mostly been listening to a mix by UNKLE (James Lavelle) for Dazed & Confused magazine

…. and the Zhou Family weddings and funeral band

Continuing the China music theme, there is a great documentary on hip hop in Chengdu in Sichuan province – Hip-Hop in the Home of Hot Pot | Sixth Tone – the tension between the underground and sell-out reality TV version of Chinese hip hop comes across really well in this film.

Great interview by Pharrell Williams of Henry Rollins

Maserati Owner Found Fake Version of His Car with the Same License and Registration | Jing Daily – it looks as if registration plate cloning is being used in China to sell illegally imported (probably stolen or crashed vehicles) – but I can’t work out how the driver managed to pay so little for his illegal ride. It would be worth more as scrap

Vape Nation?

My exposure to electronic cigarettes (or vapes) was with seasoned smokers looking for a healthier opportunity, or a path to help wean themselves off nicotine all together. I had seen some research that suggested teen trial of vaping was growing – this was from E-Cigarettes: Youth and Trends in Vaping – Journal of Pediatric Health Care, volume 29, issue 6, pages 555 – 557 (November – December 2015)

Among youth in the United States, e-cigarette use rose from 3.3% in 2011 to 6.8% in 2012 (Grana, Benowitz, & Glantz., 2014). This increase resulted in an estimated 1.78 million middle and high school students having used e-cigarettes (CDC, 2013). The trial and use of e-cigarettes have been higher among youth in Europe and Asia. A recent study on Korean youth found the trial use of e-cigarettes rose from 0.5% in 2008 to 9.4% in 2011 (Lee, Grana, & Glantz., 2014), and among youth 10 to 15 years of age in Poland the rate of those who had ever used e-cigarettes was 62% in 2014 (Hanewinkel & Isensee, 2015).

Now what I don’t know is how good the research quoted actually was, or the factors in ‘trialling’.

You also have to remember that there is a big health research grant eco-system that depends on tobacco control which has sprung up over the past 40 years which will affect the framing of the data.

I am not saying tobacco isn’t harmful, but it is useful to understand the likely factors framing the presentation of information.

I was surprised by this video from the Shanghai Vap Expo in China. It was more like going to a skateboarding convention back in the day:

  • Lots of independent resellers from around the world for vaping liquid – mirroring the variety of skateboard parts makers. Many of the formulations on sale had no tobacco
  • Vaping tricks and demonstrations
  • Clear tying of vaping to sub-cultures: hip-hop, race-girl type outfits. Pretty much any ancillary activity would expect around a Red Bull event or the X-Games

Vaping is clearly being positioned as a central part of a youth sub-culture in China.

Christina Xu on Chinese user experience and consumer behaviour

I’ve been a big fan of Christina’s work for a while and this presentation is a great example of his work. Bookmark it; watch it during your lunch break its well worthwhile.

Great examples of online to offline (O2O) interaction in processes and services that are continually expanding.  Interesting points about the lack of social norms or boundaries on the usage of online / mobile service in the real world. I’ve seen people live their online life in the cinema there are NO boundaries as Christina says.

Five for Friday | 五日(星期五)

Things that made my day this week:

Want to know what all the fuss is about with regards WeChat? Vivienne Wei put together this great (if unstructured) video about how WeChat is the swiss army knife of apps in China. Check it out

Carl Jr is a casual eating restaurant chain in the US. It is owned by the same people who won Hardee’s. Carl Jr is known for producing frat boy / brogrammer-friendly adverts like these

Wiser heads seem to have prevailed in the marketing department, so they came up with this ad to press reset using humour rather than the indignation of political correctness

Vice and New Balance have put together a documentary on the Japanese adoption of the footwork sub-culture. Japan has a history of adopting a subculture (like dancehall) and elevating it. Chicago’s footwork skills look like they are getting the same treatment

The King of Monster Island Godzilla is back in an anime film. The plot looks like Avatar – humans coming to wipe out planet for commercial / political benefits. Of course all of that plan will go to shit when they find out the inhabitants aren’t lanky blue people but the original kaiju bad boy and friends.

I got to see Baby Driver. It is a curious mashup of

  • 1980s style films popularised by John Hughes
  • 1990s to the present day gritty heist films

The iPod makes a come back in the film in a spectacular way, expect a minor cultural backlash against ‘radio’ as music service currently popular. Personally curated, shareable music and physical artefacts come to the fore. (Though I still can’t see young men proudly carrying rhinestone encrusted pink iPods just yet).

I watched Apple WWDC so you didn’t have to

There was a mix of hardware and software updates. Apple put a lot of focus on  virtual reality, augmented reality and prepping their operating systems for handling larger amounts of data.  There was work done to further optimise video and photo usage on device.

The event offered bad news for online advertisers and a number of consumer electronics manufacturers. Online advertising using retargeting or autoplay video is going to be blocked in Safari. The new HomePod speaker took aim at ‘casual hi-fi’ like Sonos, Bowers & Wilkins and Bose.

Apple is working very hard to try and understand user intent, which is one of the first pieces it needs to put in place to develop the experience of a truly programmable world. What do I mean by a programmable world? A ‘web of no web’ where device intelligence behaves as if it understands user intent like a good valet. It is moving in a stepwise manner towards this.

What was more surprising is how Apple has gone big on VR and AR creation and consumption. Whilst video post-production houses probably have the most to complain about when it comes to Apple’s Pro equipment, they are not name checked. Apple has started to move to address their concerns. The external graphics support in macOS implies that a furture Mac Pro will have the software to match hardware.

More details by platform:

macOS

The name High Sierra implied an OS update that might seem incremental to consumers, but has major technology changes under the hood.

  • Data – Apple File System as default (many features similar to Sun Microsystems’ ZFS). Faster for file swaps and giving a faster computer experience
  • Video – better quality video algorithms with smaller file sizes and integration with
  • Graphics – upgraded Metal API – Apple had been using it on machine learning applications within the OS. Metal 2 has been used to accelerate system level graphics and provides access to app developers. There is OS support for external graphics accelerators. The external graphics developer kit is based on AMD Radeon card.
  • MacOS supports VR through Metal for VR. Steam, Unity and Unreal supporting VR on the Mac. Apple seems to believe that VR and AR content is the desktop publishing of the 21st century, they have gone hard on making the best creators platform that they can
Safari
Focus on being the fastest browser experience, even in comparison to Chrome
  • Autoplay blocking – which will impact advertising network video views
  • Intelligent tracking prevention – positioned to target advertising retargeting and cross-site tracking
Mail
Productivity refinements including a split screen view
Photos
  • Uses machine learning to improve searching and photo recognition and integration with photo-editing

tvOS

  • 50 media partners integrated into TV app
  • Amazon is coming to Apple TV. Interesting move of detente between Apple and Amazon

iOS

iOS 11 – focus on underlying technologies:
  • Machine learning APIs – to help adoption of CoreML on device for third party apps
  • ARKit – to aid AR in apps. Clever work done on scaling and ambient light. This about providing a market for the content which which would be created on the Mac
  • Chinese specific features: including support for QRcodes, SMS spam filtering. Chinese users have a particular set of contexts and these innovations could become popular in the west
  • Interface tweaks in control centre and the lock screen.
Messages
  • Improving discoverability of app stickers and apps – much needed
  • Automatic synchronisation of Messages across devices, delete once, delete across all devices
ApplePay
  • Person-to-person payments as an iMessage app. Obvious competitor would be WeChat in China and PayPal in the west
Siri
  • Improved expressive nature of the voice.
  • Follow-up questions, presumably to improve context
  • Provides translation services
  • Siri integration into a wide range of apps including WeChat and OmniFocus They’ve tried to use on-device learning to try and improve context and being helpful. Siri knowledge is synched across devices. Uses web history to improve Apple News and custom dictionary spellings
Apple Maps
  • Indoor navigation for airports
Photos
  • Better image compression to save space on device. New depth API that can be accessed by 3rd party apps
  • Video autorotates a la Snapchat / Snap glasses
App Store
  • Apps now reviewed in less than 24 hours
  • First app redesign in nine years. Tweaks to improve discoverability and merchandising of apps including in-app sales
 watchOS
  • The biggest feature in watchOS 4 is the Siri-powered face. The Siri-powered watch face provides contextual information on the ‘home screen’. It takes into account past habits, time, location etc. Apple’s language around this was interesting, they described it as an ‘Intelligent proactive assistant’.

More details by hardware

Mac hardware
  • iMac – improved displays, brighter and support for 1 billion colours. Moving to Kaby Lake Intel processors. Up to 64GB of RAM on the iMac and 2TB SSD. Discrete Radeon graphics cards on larger iMacs. – big focus on VR development.
  • MacBook – Kaby Lake processors. Pro machines get updated graphics as well. The MacBook Air gets a processor boost.
  • iMac Pro – single piece machine with workstation specification including 10Gbit Ethernet. Presumably as an interim measure until the Mac Pro arrives next year. How upgradeable would the iMac Pro be, which is a key consideration for workstations
iPad hardware
  • iPad Pro – 20% bigger screen, 120Hz screen refresh rate. Doubling default memory sizes up to 512GB
 
Apple HomePod
Apple is going after Sonos and brown goods companies like Bose, Bowers & Wilkins and Bang & Olufsen. The Siri functionality is a hygiene factor rather than a serious competitor to Amazon Echo. There was a big emphasis on the privacy functionality of Siri in HomePod
Further reading

WWDC 2015: you know the Apple news, but what does it mean?
48 hours with the Apple Watch
Eight trends for the future: web-of-no-web
Eight trends for the future: contextual technology

Jargon watch: black technology (黑科技)

An all-compassing phrase that I’ve heard being used by Chinese friends Hēi kējì in Pinyin or black technology. It’s been around for a couple of years but recently gained more currency among people that I know.

Microsoft Hololens 💥

It is used as a catchall for disruptive / cool innovative products. What constitutes ‘black technology’ is subjective in nature but generally Chinese would agree on some examples such as:

  • Magic Leap
  • Microsoft Holo Lens
  • Bleeding edge silicon chips with an extraordinary amount of memory or machine learning functionality built in
  • Tesla self-driving cars

The key aspect is that the product as ‘magical quality’ in the eyes of the user. Technology companies have tried to use it in marketing to describe the latest smartphone and app features like NFC, gesture sensitive cameras and video filters. Your average Chinese consumer would see this as cynical marketing hype. Xiaomi had been guilty of this over the past couple of years.

As technology develops, the bar for what represents black technology will be raised higher.

According to Baidu Baike (a Quora-like Q&A service / Wikipedia analogue) it is derived from the Japanese manga Full Metal Panic! (フルメタル·パニック! |Furumetaru Panikku!).

In the manga black technology is technology far more advanced than the real world. An example of this would be ‘Electronic Conceal System’ – active optical camouflage used on military helicopters and planes in the manga. It is created by the ‘Whispered’ – people who are extremely gifted polymaths who each specialise in a particular black technology.

In the manga they are frequently abducted and have their abilities tested by ‘bad organisations’ who support terrorism. Whispered also have a telepathic ability to communicate with each other. If they stay connected for too long there can be a risk of their personalities coalescing together.

More information
黑科技 (动漫中出现的词语)- Baidu Baike
Full Metal Panic – Amazon

The crowdfunded product problem with PopSlate as an unfortunate case study

I’ve go in involved in a few crowdfunded products and some of them have worked out but the majority haven’t. The latest example was the high profile e-ink phone cover PopSlate. PopSlate got over $1 million dollars of funding and was widely covered by the media.

“popSLATE 2 is E-Ink for your iPhone done right.” – Slashgear

“It’s an evolution, not merely refinement.” – Wired

Generally I’ve found that they tend to fail for three (non-criminal) reasons:

  • They underestimated the cost or complexity for batch manufacture of items. They have problems with getting tooling moulds to work and have to go through iterations that burn up cash
  • They get gazzumped; their product is sufficiently easy to make that Chinese manufacturers who go through Indiegogo and Kickstarter for ideas get the product into market faster
  • The engineering is just too hard. This seems to have been the problem for PopSlate who couldn’t innovate and get their product into market as fast as new phones came out

On the face of it its a great idea, bringing the kind of dual screen technology to the iPhone that had been in the Yota phone for a number of years. Huawei had a similar snap-on e-ink back available for the the P9 handset in limited quantities.

popSLATE – The smart second screen on the back of your phone

PopSlate had already launched a mark I version of their product.  With the mark II version of their product PopSlate tried to do too much: they tried to make it a battery case but still ridiculously thin.  The following email was sent out on Saturday morning UK time:

Critical Company Update

This update provides serious and unwelcome news.

Based upon your support, we have spent the last year continuing to develop our vision for “always-on” mobile solutions. Our goal was to solve three fundamental issues with today’s smartphones: we wanted to simplify access to information, increase battery performance, and improve readability. Unfortunately, the significant development hurdles that we have encountered have completely depleted our finances, and we have been unable to raise additional funds in the current market. As a result, popSLATE does not have a viable business path forward.

This marks the end of a 5-year journey for our team, which started with a seed of an idea in 2012 and led to our quitting our jobs to start the company. Although we are very disappointed by the ultimate outcome and its implications for you as our backers, we are proud of our team, who worked tirelessly over the years to commercialize the first plastic ePaper display, globally ship thousands of popSLATE 1 devices as a first-in-category product, and re-imagine & further extend the platform with the second generation product. Despite a strong vision, high hopes, and very hard work, we find ourselves at the end of the journey.

We are out of money at this juncture for two key reasons. First, we have spent heavily into extensive development and preparation for manufacturing;  as you are aware, we hit some critical issues that multiplied the required spend, as described in previous updates.

Most recently, we learned that the fix for the Apple OTA issues would involve more significant redesign. While we initially suspected that the Lightning circuit was the culprit, it turned out that it was a much more fundamental issue.  Namely, our housing material is not compatible with Apple OTA requirements. You may think, “Wait, isn’t it just plastic?  Why would that be a problem?” While the housing is indeed largely plastic, we used a very special custom blend of materials that included glass fibers. The glass fibers were used to solve two issues, both of which were related to making the device super-thin: a) they enabled uniform, non-distortional cooling of the housing mold around our metal stiffener plate (the key component that makes popSLATE 2 thin but very strong) and b) they added tensile strength to the very compact form factor. Unfortunately, we have concluded that these added fibers are attenuating the RF signal and that we would have to spend additional cycles to tune a new blend with required modifications to the tooling. This is an expensive and timely process.

Second, we have been unsuccessful at raising additional financing, despite having vigorously pursued all available avenues since the close of our March Indiegogo campaign (including angels, VCs, Shark Tank and equity crowdfunding, both in the US and abroad). Many in our network of fellow hardware innovators have encountered this difficult new reality. You may have also seen the very public financial struggles of big-name consumer hardware companies—GoPro, Fitbit, Pebble, Nest and others—as highlighted in this recent New York Times article [link]. The most dramatic example of this phenomenon is the recent and sudden shutting down of Pebble, paragon of past crowdfunding success.

There is no way to sugarcoat what this all means:

  • popSLATE has entered into the legal process for dissolution of the company
  • Your popSLATE 2 will not be fulfilled
  • There is no money available for refunds
  • This will be our final update

While this is a very tough moment professionally and emotionally for us, it is obviously extremely disappointing for all of you who had believed in the popSLATE vision. Many of you have been with us since the March campaign, and a smaller set helped found the popSLATE community back in 2012. To you—our family, friends, and other unwavering backers—we are incredibly grateful for your enthusiasm, ideas, and support throughout the years. Just as importantly,  we deeply regret letting you down and not being able to deliver on our promise to you. We truly wish there were a viable path forward for product fulfillment and the broader popSLATE vision, but sadly we have exhausted all available options.

Sincerely yours,
Yashar & Greg
Co-founders, popSLATE

The problem as a consumer you have for much of these gadget is this:

If a product can be easily made in Shenzhen, it will be so you should be able to get it cheaper on lightinthebox or similar sites

If it can’t be turned out in a reasonable time, it has a low likelihood of succeeding

There have been successes of more hobby based products; I have a replica of Roland’s TB-303 synthesiser. It’s the kind of product that can be assembled whilst not relying a China-based supply chain. It also is based on well understood technology and there weren’t issues of with designing for very tight places or Apple’s requirements (in the case of iPhone’s accessories).

What about the poster child of Pebble? Pebble managed to go for longer with a sophisticated product but couldn’t withstand the gravity of declining sales in the wearables sector.

Jargon watch: 996

As with many things in China, numbers become important. Chinese start-up culture has a reputation for flogging the guts out of people to a degree that would even make Sports Direct blush.

996 is a summary of many Chinese tech companies core working house 9am – 9pm, six days a week. Apparently it’s already implemented at companies like Xiaomi and there are claims about its spectacular benefits in terms of productivity.

9/9/6 – Does The New Chinese Startup Work Practice Help Or Hurt Productivity? – TechNode

Have we reached peak streetwear?

At the end of January I wrote a blog post about the landmark collection by Louis Vuitton and Supreme.

I delved into the history of streetwear and the deep connection it shared with luxury brands. This linkage came from counterfeit products, brand and design language appropriation.

This all came from a place of individuality and self expression of the wearer.

obey

I reposted it from my blog on to LinkedIn. I got a comment from a friend of mine which percolated some of the ideas I’d been thinking about. The comment crystalised some of my fears as a long-time streetwear aficionado.

This is from Andy Jephson who works as a director for consumer brand agency Exposure:

The roots of street and lux that you point to seem to be all about individuality and self expression and for me this is what many modern collabs are missing. To me they seem to be about ostentatious showmanship. I love a collaboration that sees partners sharing their expertise and craft to create something original. The current obsession with creating hype however is creating a badging culture that produces products that could have been made in one of the knock-off factories that you mention. Some collabs that just produce new colourways and hybrid styles can be amazing, reflecting the interests of their audience. But far too many seem gratuitous and are completely unobtainable for the brand fans on one side of the collaborative partnership.

The streetwear business is mad money

From Stüssy in 1980, streetwear has grown into a multi-billion dollar global industry. Streetwear sales are worth more than 75 billion dollars per year.

By comparison the UK government spent about 44.1 billion on defence in 2016. Streetwear sales are more than three times the estimated market value of Snap Inc. Snap Inc., is the owner of Snapchat.

Rise of Streetwear

It is still about one third the size of the luxury industry. Streetwear accounts for the majority of menswear stocked in luxury department stores. Harvey Nichols claimed that 63% of the their contemporary menswear was streetwear. Many luxury brands off-the-peg men’s items blur the boundary between luxe and streetwear.

The industry has spawned some technology start-ups acting as niche secondary markets including:

  • Kixify
  • K’LEKT
  • THRONE
  • StockX
  • SneakerDon
  • GOAT

Large parts of the streetwear industry has become lazy and mercenary. You can see this in:

  • The attention to detail and quality of product isn’t what it used to be. I have vintage Stüssy pieces that are very well-made. I can’t say the same of many newer streetwear brands
  • Colour-ways just for the sake of it. I think Nike’s Jordan brand is a key offender. Because it has continually expands numbers of derivative designs and combinations. New Balance* have lost much of their mojo. Especially when you look at the product their Super Team 33 in Maine came up with over the years. The fish, fanzine or the element packs were both strong creative offerings. By comparison recent collections felt weak
  • The trivial nature of some of the collaborations. This week Supreme sold branded Metro Cards for the New York subway
  • Streetwear brands that sold out to fast moving consumer products. This diluted their own brand values. While working in Hong Kong, I did a Neighborhood Coke Zero collaboration. The idea which had some tie-in to local cycling culture and nightscape. Aape – the second-brand of BAPE did a deal wrapping Pepsi cans in the iconic camouflage

Hong Kong brand Chocoolate did three questionable collaborations over the past 18 months:

  • Vitaminwater
  • Nissin (instant noodles)
  • Dreyer’s (ice cream)

By comparison, Stüssy has a reputation in the industry for careful business management. The idea was to never become too big, too fast. The Sinatra family kept up quality and selective distribution seeing off Mossimo, FUBU and Triple Five Soul. Yes, they’ve done collaborations, but they were canny compared to newer brands:

“The business has grown in a crazy way the past couple of years,” says Sinatra. “We reluctantly did over $50 million last year.”

Reluctant because, according to Sinatra, the company is currently trying to cut back and stay small. “It was probably one of our biggest years ever — and it was an accident.”

Sinatra characterises Stüssy’s third act as having a “brand-first, revenue second” philosophy, in order to avoid becoming “this big monstrosity that doesn’t stand for anything.”

The Evolution of Streetwear. The newfound reality of Streetwear and its luxury-like management academic study uncovered careful brand custodianship.

It’s not clothing; it’s an asset class

Part of the bubble feel within the streetwear industry is due to customer behaviour. For many people, street wear is no longer a wardrobe staple. Instead it becomes an alternative investment instrument. Supreme items and tier zero Nike releases are resold for profit like a day trader on the stock market.

Many of the start-ups supported by the community play to this ‘day trader’ archetype. It is only a matter of time for the likes of Bonham’s and Sotherby’s get in on the act.

A key problem with the market is that trainers aren’t like a Swiss watch or a classic car. They become unusable in less than a decade as the soles degrade and adhesive breaks down.

There is the apocryphal story of a Wall Street stock broker getting out before the great stock market crash. The indicator to pull his money out was a taxi driver or a shoe shine boy giving stock tips.

Streetwear is at a similar stage with school-age teenagers dealing must-have items as a business. What would a reset look like in the streetwear industry? What would be the knock-on effect for the luxury sector?

More information
USA Streetwear Market Research Report 2015 | WeConnectFashion
Louis Vuitton, Supreme and the tangled relationship between streetwear and luxury brands | renaissance chambara
New Balance Super Team 33 – Elements Collection | High Snobriety
New Balance ST33 – The Fanzine Collection | High Snobriety
1400 Super Team 33 (ST33) trio | New Balance blog – the infamous fish pack
How Stüssy Became a $50 Million Global Streetwear Brand Without Selling Out | BoF (Business of Fashion)
The Evolution of Streetwear. The newfound reality of Streetwear and its luxury-like management by de Macedo & Machado, Universidade Católica Portuguesa (2015) – PDF

* in the interest of full disclosure, New Balance is a former client.

Oprah Time: reading over Chinese New Year

I have managed to catch up on a lot of reading over the Lunar New Year festival.

Joe Studwell’s How Asia Works is fascinating reading. It talks about how Korea, Japan and China have grown while their counterparts haven’t. Studwell highlights a number of factors that contribute to economic growth:

  • With an agrian economy, a market garden approach to agriculture rather than farming at scale delivers the best results. But only if rent seeking interests are removed through effective agricultural reform
  • Industry requires total mastery of technology – which is the reason why low grade heavy industry is the starting point
  • Exports planned into industrial development from the beginning and a continued relentless focus on exports is required
  • Governments are best at keeping businesses focused on total technology mastery, raising cheap finance and weeding out failures that might be a resource suck

Studwell critiques how different countries throughout Asia have managed to process in this manner including both the strengths and the weaknesses of their respective approaches.

It was fascinating to read how Taiwan managed to succeed in spite of nationalised industries and the challenges in China’s agricultural model.  How General Park ‘motivated’ Korean chaebols and the tragedy of development in Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines.

China’s Crony Capitalism by Minxin Pei explained the mechanism of how corrupt officials, state enterprise employees and businesspeople managed to bilk the Chinese government and people of vast amounts of money. Much of the challenge is structural. China has a federalised government with power lying at provincial, city and county level. Pei is hawkish on the country’s prospects.

For an outside observer Pei’s research into the mechanisms, one can appreciate the challenge that the central government faces in combatting corruption and bad behaviour. President Xi’s ‘tigers and flies’ campaign to root out the worst corruption in the party and business is part of the solution; but according to Pei there is also careful structural reform required. This will only be possible through a massive aggregation of power towards the centre.