Streetwear x food collaborations represent the next stage of a long-standing trend centering around limited-edition drop collections: Cult following, exclusivity, and brand allegiance merge as a bold, somewhat gaudy combination that speaks to your tastes on multiple levels.
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These range from high-level and niche – Momofuku and Nike teaming up for subtle Dunks designs you wouldn’t readily notice as a collaboration – to in your face – like that McDonald’s-themed Moschino offering.
At the same time, brands have attempted this endeavor on their own: See Dunkin’ Donuts apparel, as well as restaurants like Los Angeles-based Chifa branding themselves through retro-themed, vaporwave-esque digs.
While collaborations and drops form the lifeblood of the streetwear machine, food is a somewhat new theme. Here’s why we’re seeing more of these collections:
The Development of Streetwear x Food Collaborations
Somewhere around the early 2010s, musicians, singers, and bands began investing more heavily in their own merchandise. A simple printed T-shirt wasn’t enough.
Rather, the entire garment – from the silhouette to often a double-sided graphic – was highly stylized and, subsequently, reflected then-current streetwear trends.
These collections also expanded beyond T-shirts and hoodies to jackets – workwear was a frequent source of inspiration – to swimwear and various accessories.
Ultimately, the combination sent a message: Branding doesn’t need to be obvious and, instead, can take an elevated approach that connects with a more style-conscious consumer.
So, where does this leave streetwear x food collaborations? Some claim the KITH x Coca-Cola collection, released back in 2016, kicked off this wave with its simplistic, retro-themed, color-blocking-heavy designs.
Of course, Coke had several merch collaborations under its belt at the time, but none that involved a luxury streetwear brand with a sought-after, more exclusive, and somewhat insular image like KITH.
What seemed retro appears relatively subtle now. Graphics are bigger and more on-the-nose, intended to speak to two niche markets: hypebeasts with discerning yet loud tastes, and individuals with strong food brand allegiance.
At this intersection at the following:
You’ve likely met someone who chases down the elusive McRib, only orders off the secret menu, or proclaims In-N-Out the best burger joint ever.
These attitudes vary from someone who, say, quickly grabs lunch at a Chipotle or Panera because it’s close to their workplace and has decent food.
Streetwear x food collaborations grow from this foundation: The designs aren’t for passive consumers, but those who go out of their way to eat something or refuse to dine anywhere else.
To a significant extent, the cult brand phenomenon helped streetwear grow into the behemoth it is, whether that’s Supreme’s frequent drops or seeking out difficult-to-find items or, going back to the ‘90s, sliding under the radar of mainstream and high fashion.
It felt like a secret, and to its many enthusiasts poring over message boards, it still seems that way.
Here is where streetwear and certain food brands merge on the same plane: Due to discontinued, limited-edition, or regional products or clever advertising campaigns, consumers find themselves attracted to certain restaurants or products. Taste is a factor, as is nostalgia if you’re above a certain age.
Uncovering New Audiences
Brands want to grow – even ones as established as Coke and McDonald’s. In the present time, streetwear collections tend to take a high-low approach – that is elevating something mundane and pedestrian.
Workwear, as already pointed out, has been given this treatment, and particularly for fast and junk foods, a limited-edition streetwear collaboration delivers branding to a more refined consumer who might intentionally avoid the mainstream.
This approach has been particularly effective for connecting with a younger demographic – Millennials and Gen Z – who might be wary of their parents’ brands or of mainstream consumerism in general.
These types of individuals tend to prefer a streetwear brand’s specific aesthetic, be it Supreme’s bright-red box logo or the paneled design of Nike Dunks, due to its “boutique” appeal.
Food brands that can mesh with these visuals are met with less skepticism.
The Experience Economy
The experience economy is changing both retail and food service. We don’t just expect a good meal – we want something to remember.
Similarly, heading to a brick-and-mortar store, these days, goes far beyond passive window-shopping: You’re there with a purpose, and seek out an exclusive, branded experience.
Streetwear x food collections reflect this development, highlighting where a brand becomes an experience. You sense the excitement and dedication around that item, to the point you have no qualms about using your apparel as a billboard for it.
The Visual Element
Excluding a few examples, which we’ll highlight below, streetwear x food collaborations focus on the “extra” factor, seeming larger-than-life while playing up the brand and any tactile elements.
You should be able to see where the clothing line and food brand directly intersect, understand their appeal, and opt to try the restaurant, menu item, or product in response.
Key Streetwear x Food Collaborations
See the hype for yourself:
KITH x Coca-Cola
While this isn’t the most understated collaboration, this periodic series starting in 2016 embodies the essence of these efforts:
You spot the classic Coca-Cola brand rendered how it is in advertisements but on capsules of well-constructed jackets, hoodies, shoes, and accessories. It not only mirrors but also one-ups that Pepsi clothing collection from the ‘90s.
KFC x Crocs x Me Love Me a Lot
Perhaps the most brand-heavy and maximal streetwear x food collaboration yet, this effort under the direction of South Korean designer Me Love Me a Lot sees photo-style graphics of fried chicken and KFC’s distinctive red striped bucket get added to a classic Crocs silhouette. Drumstick Jibbitz give it a three-dimensional quality.
BAPE x Heineken
Part of the beer manufacturer’s #Heineken100 series of streetwear collaborations resulted in a few pieces of outerwear predominately reflecting A Bathing Ape branding, plus a beer tote ready for a tailgate. Excluding the tote, only the green hue hints at the brands’ joint effort.
Nike x Momofuku & David Chang
Chang’s Momofuku started from the foundation of elevating “low” food – particularly improving the concept of McDonald’s apple pies.
This somewhat out-there collaboration, at least in terms of concept, centers around the Nike SB Dunk High Pro – in a solid shade with Momofuku’s peach logo added near the ankle for a hint of branding.
TELFAR x White Castle
This collaboration started out of a partnership to develop new uniforms for White Castle employees. As he already offered White Castle food at his eponymous brand’s fashion shows, Telfar Clemens along with designer Babak Radboy created a more streetwear-centric unisex employee uniform that formed the foundation for their next collection.
Supreme x Oreo
Supreme is no stranger to collaborations. Yet, while some designs appear innovative – see their long-standing series with Comme Des Garcons – most efforts involve repurposing their logo on another brand’s pieces.
This collaboration upends expectations, at least where streetwear is concerned, by having the seminal skateboarding brand design a label for a snack pack of Oreo cookies. The effort sold out in minutes, and today, the cookies can be found for over $4,000 a set on various resale sites.