ComplexCon: Where Fashion and Culture Meet

The weekend of July 20, media platform Complex brought its hybrid pop culture, fashion, art, and music festival ComplexCon to Chicago, Illinois for the first time. Here are our key takeaways from the event.

The motivating force of FOMO

Department stores, shopping centers, and the brick-and-mortar retailers that depend on them continue to face declining foot traffic across the U.S. Yet, ComplexCon saw thousands of consumers not only pay admission, but also wait in hours-long lines for the chance to visit physical retail stores.

The pop-up shops at ComplexCon weren’t selling Gap jeans or Victoria’s Secret underwear. They sold ComplexCon-exclusive, limited edition t-shirts, sneakers, and even Crocs, from streetwear heavyweights like Atmos and Chinatown Market. The time it took them to sell out proves the powerful effect of the fear of missing out on driving sales today.

A melting pot amid industry calls for diversity

With consumers increasingly demanding diversity amid scandals across the fashion industry, global brands would be wise to look at ComplexCon and the melting pot streetwear has become for a lesson in inclusion.

The event saw consumers of all ages, origins, and interests exploring booths and brands representing streetwear’s wide range of influences, from hip-hop to basketball, and skateboarding to contemporary art. While no two attendees looked alike, they were eager to share the same experience and, even more so, to get their hands on the same products.

As streetwear shapes the industry, the industry shapes streetwear back

From logomania to “drop” distribution, streetwear has helped to shape the larger fashion industry in recent years. But with each booth fighting to capture attendees’ attention, ComplexCon saw streetwear brands small and large taking cues from the larger fashion industry as well.

Timberland touted sustainability with its Construct: 10061 program, while Fila hung a retro-inspired outdoor collection on 100% recyclable hangers. Amid a group of consumers famous for championing resale, pre-owned Louis Vuitton bags were displayed near vintage basketball jerseys. Champion and New Era provided personalized products through on-site customization of hats, t-shirts, and sweatshirts, and 84 Futures took exclusivity a step further by only selling to registered organ donors.

Could a streetwear schism be on the horizon? 

Chicago’s first ComplexCon attracted consumers from across the city and across the world for two days of art exhibitions, musical performances, and most of all, shopping. But as social media continues to bring streetwear further into the mainstream, one wonders how much longer one convention center will be enough to hold the volume and variety of brands, people, and cultural forces that claim streetwear as their own. For now, however, they seem to exist in harmony, at least when they’re not fighting to the front of the Atmos line.