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How the streetwear brand Chinatown Market is keeping hypebeasts cool during the quarantine

Instagram Live, DIY projects, charitable collabs, and more are keeping the brand fresh when fans can’t shop at retail.

How the streetwear brand Chinatown Market is keeping hypebeasts cool during the quarantine
[Image: courtesy of Chinatown Market]

Brands responding to COVID-19 with emails to consumers about how they’re responding to the pandemic has become a thing of cliché.

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But in the streetwear game, cliché is boring.

For Chinatown Market, the popular streetwear brand known for collaborations with Cole Haan, Chief Keef, Crocs, Puma, Erykah Badu, and more, it’s important to keep consumers engaged in compelling ways that reflect its brand ethos, which centers around trending topics and DIY culture.

So it is using this time of social distancing and uncertainty to empower consumers through social media engagement in creative ways that turn feelings of hopelessness into digital altruism while also keeping the brand energized.

Cool but conscious kids sitting idly at home can tune into Chinatown Market’s Instagram TV where they can learn how to tie-dye. They can also learn how to customize their sneakers, make purchases without leaving the ‘gram, and participate in live streams where they are encouraged to pitch design concepts and watch graphic designers bring their ideas to life. The best ideas might actually be produced, and in times of crisis, Chinatown Market leverages its creative callouts for charitable opportunities with proceeds going to various causes. Last week, there was an Instagram callout for people to rep their cities. The cities that got the most participation received donations to food banks and other organizations related to coronavirus relief.

“We want to be mindful of being conscious. We want to actually help people in these communities and not be perceived as trying to ignore the situation,” says Dan Altmann, Chinatown Market’s president. “It’s about making people feel connected to the product. We know they’ll like it and that it will probably sell anyways, but we also pay attention to and engage people around actually giving back, whether it’s for the Australian wildfires or for this, and stay true to that message.”

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Chinatown Market keeps its inventory limited as design concepts are constantly changing, and price points vary, but the average range is from $40 for T-shirts to $90 for hoodies. Consumer demand is still thriving and production isn’t a problem because the brand’s operations are centralized. This is how it has operated since its launch in 2016.

“We’ve always thought about things in a controlled way, because it allowed us to do things really quickly where we didn’t have to go to a 3PL or some kind of other production company to make this stuff up. A lot of them are shutting down now anyway,” Altmann tells Fast Company. “The things that allow us to keep things close to the vest now allow us to work with talent to be nimble and really thrive right now.”

Chinatown Market has multiple collaborations in the works for the foreseeable future. The brand is working with EarthGang on a project that will benefit the Atlanta Public School system. UNC basketball star Cole Anthony (son of NBA player Greg Anthony) will design his own T-shirt, and then start a T-shirt challenge where he challenges other highly visible people to create their own designs—in what Altmann calls a DIY social experiment. Proceeds from this challenge will benefit the Harlem Children’s Zone, and the goal is to see which participants can raise the most money.

“This puts emphasis on how brands that were engaged before are well positioned right now in every way. Luckily for us, and companies that have a similar mindset, we built this ourselves, and even though we’re in hundreds of stores all around the world, and brick and mortar is a place that a lot of people find out about Chinatown, we still at our core are a social brand,” says Altmann. “A core pillar of the lifetime value of a customer flows much wider than just them purchasing one thing at one moment because they like it. We want people to connect with us because they like our content and they learn from us, and they see our failures, our successes, and everything we do. We launched our Instagram checkout because people were so engaged because we feel like a friend to them, and I think the companies that have built themselves on more than just products, and that don’t rely too much on wholesale, are in a good position to thrive right now.”

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