While 1.0 brands like Ralph Lauren productize a world or an aspiration, and 2.0 brands like Away and Goop do the same on digital platforms, the third phase is comprised of brands that are succumbing to, foster, embed or evolve lifestyles, meaning they carry cultural import.

These brands create products, but more importantly, these products are the vehicle that transmits the culture’s unique set of values—product is a means to the end, not the end. These are brands that surpass ephemeral trends to maintain long-lasting relevance, brands that prioritize feedback from the crowd instead of exerting total control over their evolution. Those that have attained a lasting imprint on culture show that predominantly, achieving the status is largely outside of the company’s control. Rather, they are at the disposal of often unexpected undulations in society and consumer culture—and a company’s ability to play the long game is dependent on responding to these shifts.

1) Skateboarding is grounded in a core set of values and a mission: to disseminate the sport.

Today, as pro-skaters gear up for their first Olympics in 2020, skateboarding holds an undeniable place in culture. But its long road to notability stems from humble beginnings. Emerging in the 1940s in southern California, skateboarding only gained popularity in the 1970s and 80s, when it slowly began to reach beyond its niche West Coast origins. Governed by a core set of values—and a clear mission—it eventually translated to lasting relevance as an accessible, community-minded culture.

Over time, the nature of the sport as a rebellious, irreverent and inclusive activity fostered a community that blossomed into a culture, absorbing and amplifying a one-time trend and creating a prevailing and evolving organism (evolution). While professional athletes like Stacy Peralta and Tony Hawk in many ways jump started skateboarding’s popularity with both their celebrity and their business ventures, its expansion was rooted in the recreational skaters who spread the values tied to the sport to new audiences.

This fervor is perhaps best captured by the missionary-like zeal of a group of southern California skaters in the nineties, who, travelling across the country, constructed skate parks in each place they stopped. Between 1998 and 2004, the number of skateboarders jumped 70% and skateparks—some sponsored by skate brands and other activewear companies like Nike—now number approximately 3,500 across the U.S. Though no longer as centered on irreverence and counterculture, the parks are hubs of creativity and community that welcome all types of people (accessibility).

2) Skate brands, built on skateboarding’s founding values, provided the tools to join the lifestyle.

Skate culture also encompasses a large number of skate brands, which provide the tools needed to participate in the sport, but more importantly, work to amplify its cultural resonance and spread its values. Some of the first skate brands were founded by Peralta and Hawk, who, out of their intense dedication to skateboarding, used their businesses to raise awareness for the sport. These businesses married an early version of the celebrity brand with entertainment-based retail. Peralta (who was already in the skate community’s public eye) founded a skateboard company, Peralta-Powell, in 1978, and his 1987 video, “The Search for Animal Chin,” starred Hawk and other pro-skaters, putting the skateboarding on the map in a new way. In turn, Hawk (Peralta’s protege) learned about how to scale his own businesses—from Birdhouse, his board and apparel brand founded in 1992, where revenues in 1998 reached $15 million, to his video game series, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, which has made more than $1.4 billion since it launched in 1999. While prior to these ventures, Hawk had licensed products, he wanted to rejuvenate the sport during a lull in its popularity, and his skate products became a new vehicle to spread the lifestyle (distribution).

As skateboarding grew, so did the number of skate brands—today, hundreds of companies sell skate wear, including Zoo York, Obey, Stussy, Volcom, and Spitfire, to name a few. Like Peralta-Powell and Birdhouse, skateboarders also founded these brands to drive the sport forward.

Markedly, as the number of skate brands ballooned, no one brand triumphed—instead, all fed into an ecosystem or canon that grew the network of participants (scalability). In addition to the plethora of independent brands, core companies such as Vans, Supreme and Thrasher are still flourishing today—but notably, they don’t function as pure skate brands as much as they are cultural touchstones. Built on the sport’s no-frills, irreverent roots, the lifestyle that the products championed was in fact bigger than any single brand.

3) As skate culture permeates fashion, its values are at stake.

More recently, fashion houses have begun to co-opt and emulate skate aesthetics and styles—the runway for Dior Homme’s fall/winter 2016 collection at Paris Fashion Week was decorated with neon skateboard ramps, the cover of a 2016 Vogue issue was emblazoned with Thrasher’s shirts, and Proenza Schouler and Hedi Slimane’s creations continue to negotiate between skate and luxury. Skate brands also largely contributed to today’s burgeoning streetwear industry, which oscillates between sport and fashion. Even Avi Gold, a streetwear designer, notes that his friends at Supreme consider themselves “skateboarders first. They don’t really care about fashion” (authenticity, evolution).

While elements of skate brands in high fashion often come to the dismay of skate brands and skateboarders themselves—many of whom view it as appropriative—the crossover of skate brands into luxury speaks to the impact of skate culture itself on consumer goods and culture at large (authenticity). But the farther that skate culture strays from its original values as a vehicle to popularize the sport and its way of life—and the more that representations of skate culture are employed for purely commercial purposes—the more the culture is put at risk. Moving forward, the future of skate culture will depend on its ability to remain an easily accessible, irreverent and community-building sport, source of entertainment and lifestyle.

4) The future of skating as a lifestyle will depend on its ability to evolve while remaining authentic.

Today, the internet continues to propel skate culture—an intrinsically performative sport—to even greater heights with the help of social media and Instagram in particular, which capture tricks that are streamed online (distribution). In the tradition of Peralta and Hawk, many other skaters have gone on to establish their own skate brands, adding to the constellation of skate culture and its interplay between professional athletes, recreational skaters and businesses, all of which serve the purpose to enhance skateboarding’s presence.

Moving forward, skateboarding’s popularity will be grounded in its ability to stay true to its value system and keep up with the ever-changing relationship between sport and society (authenticity). Slowly, the ecosystem is increasing the exposure of female pro-skaters in skate media, including Lizzie Armanto (one of Hawk’s proteges), who also deserve a spotlight.

5) Urban Outfitters’ transparent commoditization of hipster culture stands as a foil to the skateboarding industry, which was built on authenticity and a values-based mission.

Founded in 1970 in Philadelphia as Free People, co-founders Scott Belair, Richard Hayne and Judy Wicks set off with the goal of selling secondhand apparel, accessories, and home goods to college students in a fun environment. The subsequent private label Urban Outfitters grew into a wholesale line and then a separate business—afterward, Anthropologie emerged as a third brand. After the parent company, Urban Outfitters, Inc., went public in 1993, the company steadily grow, and profits rose 44% each year between 2003 and 2006. Though recent revenue numbers between 2016 and 2018 show incremental growth, the pace has slowed and comparable store sales have fallen.

Urban Outfitters defines its three standalone brands—Free People, Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie—as catering to three separate “lifestyles”: “bohemian” and “hipster” college-age and 20-something shoppers, and “creative, educated and affluent 30-45-year-old women,” respectively. But despite the label, there is little evidence that the company stands for anything more than a trend-mongering consumer product company. The current CEO Hayne’s verbiage reflects this tendency; he recently mentioned that the company is well poised to capitalize on the growth in “fashionable denim” as athleisure declines in popularity.

While Urban Outfitters identifies and is perceived as a “hipster brand,” the company hardly functions as a champion of the hipster lifestyle or hipster culture—instead, it commoditizes the culture for pure commercial gain. The term itself evades easy definition, but “hipsterdom” is most broadly affiliated with authenticity and a rejection of the mainstream. As one self-identifying hipster puts it, “Being a hipster was always a mentality, not a way of dressing.” In contrast, Urban Outfitters transparently commoditizes these values, mass-producing “hipster” apparel and accessories stripped of internal meaning or context (authenticity).

The brand’s patent appropriation has resulted in a number of scandals, from the “vintage” Kent State massacre sweatshirt—complete with blood stains—to a slew of Navajo-inspired products. These examples are the result of a company-wide ideological deficiency—one that seeks to embody culture, but fails to understand it deeply, or at all—and fails to evolve alongside the culture as it changes. This entails that as long as Urban Outfitters wishes to remain in existence, it will have to follow the trend—a strategy that may force the company to react more and more quickly to trends and join the ranks of fast fashion industry to stay competitive in the future.