Street wear culture, just as anything else that starts out in the urban world, has started to crack through the mainstream. What is street wear culture?

Well, it’s the reason why big name outlet stores such as American Eagle, who were once focused on a more preppy style, have switched their inventory to bucket hats and five-panel caps. It’s the reason why pop stars such as Justin Beiber are wearing graphic tank tops and leather jogging pants. It is changing, growing and evolving the collective fashion conscious globally.

The street wear wave has even made its way down to Mobile and Alabama as a whole, but it has not been an overnight success story for a state that has not been known to be fashion forward.

One of the things that have helped street wear culture bloom in Mobile is the ever growing local hip-hop scene. Local artists who were in touch with the culture beyond the city and state limits helped to spread the awareness of the brands around the city.

“I was introduced to street wear around 2005” said Lil Nardy, a hip-hop artist and pioneer for street wear culture both city and statewide. “Just being a fan of Pharell and the Clipse and seeing them in Bape all of the time and really falling in love with the aesthetic of the brand.” 

“Bape” stands for Bathing Ape, a clothing and shoe company started by Japanese designer Nigo. Bape’s popularity skyrocketed around 2005-2006 largely in part to the mystery and exclusivity surrounding the brand. “I bought my first Bape piece in ‘06 and the rest is history. I took pride in the underground culture of it and loved that most people never knew what it was,” Nardy said. 

However, therein also lies a problem. Nobody knew exactly what this new style was, nor how to get it. Ask a couple of enthusiasts what their favorite brand is and names such as 10 Deep, Stussy, Mishka or Obey – all of which are based in New York, Los Angeles and other metropolitan cities with target audiences in bigger metropolitan cities.

Websites like Karmaloop provided people outside of the big city a chance to buy street wear, but there is nothing like walking into a store and handpicking your items. For the culture to truly take ahold in Mobile, it was going to need a place of it’s own. Enter Fly Times boutique. 

Fly Times opened in December 2009, joining Kreative Sole and Valet Boutique in Huntsville as the primary street wear boutiques in Alabama.

“Mobile is a very comfortable city – not a lot changes.” Tony Davis, owner of Fly Times said. “I felt that if I brought Fly Times to Mobile it would be a complete shift in culture and fashion. I always had to go out of town to get street wear. I knew if successful I could change things for the good.” 

He was right, Fly Times almost immediately became a fixture for the culture in Mobile, thanks in part to support from the local hip-hop scene.

“We built the relationship when Fly Times boutique opened,” Nardy said. “I was one of the few people down here really into street wear before the shop opened and it made sense to link with the boutique because music and fashion go hand in hand. They also make good clothing with great quality so its hard not to support.”

Fly Times ended up being responsible for another first for Mobile when it introduced the world to Mobile’s first street wear brand, Secret Scientist (SS for short). The secret is that nobody is sure who is behind the brand. The mystery and intrigue is the result of a PR move that larger companies could (and probably will) follow in years to come. Davis actually gives SS the credit for Fly Times reaching the level it has. 

“Secret Scientist is what actually gave Fly Times life. The brand began to get bigger than the store. A lot of artists were supporting it and it just took a snowball effect,” he said. “SS isn’t nearly where it needs to be but its taken big steps to moving closer to where it should be. SS and Fly Times are the Mecca in Mobile.” 

Since opening Fly Times, Davis has turned the boutique into a strictly online store, a move that confused some supporters.

“There was a time when street wear got really weird. Brands began to reach the masses and in Mobile it got tough to make it. The branding was doing better online at the time so it was more feasible. I miss the (physical) store so much. Planning on opening again soon.”

Although the move may have been more feasible, Davis admits that physical presence is what helped shape the culture.

“The only advantage of being only online is bills. The disadvantages are not being face-to-face with customers, having meet and greets, the entire atmosphere of the boutique is missing. It’s hard showing the quality of a product only through online pictures.”

Grammy Award winning rap duo Outkast released a song entitled “Hollywood Divorce” on their 2006 album/soundtrack “Idlewild.” The song details the process of inner-city trends, be it music or fashion reaching the mainstream and losing it’s original cool, ending in Hollywood Divorce.

Andre 3000 sums up the process quite simply by the end of the song with the lyrics: “Hollywood divorce. All the fresh styles always start off as a good little hood thing. Look at blues, rock, jazz, rap. Not even talkin’ about music. Everything else too. By the time it reach Hollywood it’s over. But it’s cool. We just keep it goin’ and make new sh*t.”

With street wear culture becoming more of a mainstream phenomenon and aforementioned pop stars using it as their day to day uniform, many of the original enthusiasts of the culture fear that it will become watered down and no longer be synonymous with its roots. It’s a sentiment Davis echoes.

“Honestly, street wear as a whole seems to be fading. I hope Mobile can keep the culture alive. Even though street wear isn’t new, it’s new to Mobile. People are really supporting what I do. It’s real to me. Mobile doesn’t support a lot, but they really show Fly Times and Secret Scientist a lot of love. It’s what is pushing me. Street wear is just really starting in Mobile and with Fly Times and Secret Scientist it’s here to stay.”

Editor’s note: This is the first in a two-part series. Continue with “Indy designers branding ‘MOB*ILL’ with different approaches