How Corteiz Is Redefining Streetwear Culture in the UK
Corteiz Rules the World
Corteiz Rules the World
If anyone asked whether you’d be willing to swap your cherished designer jacket for a brand new coat worth a fraction of the price, would you say yes? No? Maybe? Well, for hundreds of GenZ Londoners last week, there was only one answer: say less.
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Ask any teen to twenty-something UK native even remotely interested in streetwear fashion, and chances are they’ve heard of Corteiz or are among one of its loyal fans anticipating the latest exclusive drop. A fashion staple for some of the UK’s brightest stars including from Dave, Virgil Abloh & Jorja Smith, the London-born streetwear brand thrives off exclusivity: private Instagram account, passworded website with secret codes only available on drop day and hot-button items selling out within minutes. Still, Corteiz’s biggest selling point remains the constant, energising buzz around the brand, thanks to its illustrious marketing strategies. Whether it’s making a hundred people race through the streets of London or Lagos for a free T-shirt or get in line to swap their travel cards for exclusive drops, the team behind Corteiz sure knows how to keep the people talking–and buying.
But last weekend, they upped the ante. To launch its new collection, the brand took to social media to announce a surprise event dubbed “Da Great Bolo Exchange”, requesting that Londoners swap their high-end jackets including North Face, Supreme and more – but interestingly, no Black-owned brands – for an unreleased Corteiz “BOLO” puffer. Social media was immediately abuzz with excited chatter as many found this to be an outrageous ask. No one believed that any streetwear head would actually fall for it.
Yet, come 3 pm the following day, a North Face army was spotted on the streets of West London, excitedly making its way to an empty parking lot for a chance to secure one of the 50 BOLOs up for grabs. On the day, £16k+ worth of designer jackets – ranging from brands like Arc’teryx, to Moncler, Nike, North Face, and Supreme – were exchanged for BOLO puffers. This level of guerrilla marketing tactics undoubtedly showed the extent of Corteiz’s impact on its audience and signified that the brand is just as – if not more – coveted than the big-name streetwear brands.
But how did a company created in 2017 by a couple of kids amass a cult-following of this magnitude in such a short time?
Corteiz sent guys a very heavy message today Lmfaooo there’s panic in boardrooms right now
— lil kowomipe (@adhnok) January 22, 2022
Right from inception, Corteiz ushered in a fresh dynamic in retail. Founded by British-Nigerian Clint (AKA Clint419) in his London bedroom, the brand started out with screen-printed crewnecks and T-shirts, embodying a non-conformist approach right from the jump. The collections featured symbols of delinquency: tees embossed with the Alcatraz insignia, distinctive Corteiz-scribbled balaclavas and bold powerful messages of breaking down boundaries and ruling your world. Relying solely on social media and word of mouth to boost awareness, Corteiz cultivated a tight knit community of loyal fans and followers. Drop announcements were only made on the – now 200k+ followers deep – private Instagram page and the passworded websites (passwords are sent to those who sign up when instructed to), generating a feeling of exclusivity among its audience.
Soon enough, it gained the attention of UK celebs such as Stormzy and Central Cee, who were spotted donning pieces from the brand. Yet, despite this celebrity following, everyone still receives the same access to the clothes on the website – a feature that underscores the brand’s direct-to-consumer marketing methods. This community-led and authenticity-fueled approach stays true to the very essence of streetwear, long before it became gentrified by billion-dollar luxury companies. Streetwear originated in the 90s; curated and developed by the Hip-Hop scenes of NYC, the surf-skate & graffiti culture of LA and Japan nightlife in response to traditional brands who refused to dress them. The roots of streetwear were always about the people and Corteiz embodies this ethos wholeheartedly. It joins a legion of direct-to-consumer brands including WAF, co-owned by British-Nigerian, Slawn, who similarly employs guerrilla marketing techniques that draw in loyal fans looking to connect to something deeper than fashion or art.
“There’s a sense of community that aligns with the brand,” says Benson Edo, a Houston-based stylist and image consultant. “Its consumers know what they want and the brand gives them more than that. That sense of community and togetherness is crucial for a brand to thrive.” This rings true in everything that Corteiz does. Their pieces, while limited, hold a sentimental value of some sort, evoking a kindred spirit among people who own them; almost like they’re all part of some cool, members-only club. People want to feel like they are tapped into an exclusive experience – especially GenZ consumers, with 30% of them interested in the ‘first opportunity to purchase’. Traditionally, luxury brands promoted the feeling of exclusivity with their high price ranges through authoritarian top-bottom communication. Streetwear has now taught the industry that limited editions do promote a sense of exclusivity, not through prices, but through community spirit.
In many ways, Corteiz is a direct mirror of its founder and creative director, Clint, and this plays no small part in the brand’s rise as a youth culture powerhouse over the years. Clint’s true-to-self demeanour is all the rave and his brand of reckless adolescence is conveyed into Corteiz’s designs and presence. His motto, RTW (RulestheWorld) is a philosophy people have bought into, and cultural capital of that sort is invaluable as a brand. “Without cultural capital, who exactly would be loyal to the brand?” Edo asks, stressing that a brand needs a following that “believes in its ideas.” People buy into the brand because they believe in Clint and in this sense, Clint and Corteiz are one. This speaks to the personality-led fashion landscape of the 2020s where consumers buy into brand faces that provide cultural cachet and credibility (see Virgil Abloh at Louis Vuitton and Telfar Clemens at Telfar). People trust Clint, therefore, they trust Corteiz.
As such, the success of “Da Great Bolo Exchange” is a testament to the fact that in marketing, brand positioning is everything and value is in perception. The jackets exchanged for the BOLO puffers were worth hundreds to thousands of pounds, yet people were willing to trade them in for a jacket retailing for a fraction of that price. Ultimately, these designer jacks were then donated to a soup kitchen for the homeless for no profit.
This move ties into the studies which state that 76% of people who feel connected to a brand are more likely to buy it over a competitor. What this tells us in this case is that value lies in the eyes of the consumer. People were willing to swap products from more established brands for an indie brand on the come up because the cultural capital it possesses is far more valuable to them than a £1000 winter coat. This is not to say that this applies to every brand and its consumers. Global belief in Corteiz as a brand may not be widespread yet, but their ability to already impact the perceptions of hundreds, hints at numerous potential to continue to scale upwards.
With Corteiz, Clint is redefining streetwear culture in the UK, one sold out tracksuit and puffer at a time. Owning a fashion brand comes with numerous barriers which become even harder to break down when you’re Black. Corteiz’s BOLO exchange offers a sliver of hope to independent Black-owned brands, showing that community backing converts to revenue in so many ways – and sending a £16,000 middle finger to the old guards upstairs at the same time. With the majority of its audience being Gen Z, it’s clear that the future of streetwear is the youth; the new generation of consumers (who Edo describes as “informed, meticulous and RICH”) are identity shoppers and will buy into any brand that connects and resonates with them. “The youth are the heart of consumerism,” Edo adds. “Any brand that inspires the youth has already won.” To that end, watch out, corporate. BOLO season has only begun.
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