The streetwear guardians

Justice is back in fashion.

Across Facebook there exist thousands of streetwear buy and resell groups, each with their own rules, memes, and culture. And each of these digital communities is vehemently protected by a voluntary coalition of enthusiasts — the administrators.

Brendan Creswick, 21, is the administrator of a streetwear group specifically for buying and selling shorts from Japanese brand A Bathing Ape (BAPE). Despite its niche purpose, the group has nearly 10,000 members.

“People who are kids, or who are older than me but don’t have as much experience buying and selling online, have a safe space to enjoy their hobby,” Brendan says. He believes the groups’ accessible and friendly environments are one reason they have become so popular. “When I was first starting out in this stuff, I didn’t know where to look for anything. Having a space to talk about things would have been great.”

There are Facebook groups for every streetwear niche — even ones specifically dedicated to a particular shoe size — but the largest group in Australia, Underground Society, allows its 75,000 members to buy and resell anything so long as it is limited release or highly sought after. 19-year-old Revan Oluklu, who is one of the founding members and current administrators, says that carefully enforced rules banning hate speech, harassment, and abuse are partly responsible for the close-knit community that has formed.

“We’ve been very strict on making sure people treat each other with respect,” says Revan. There are also harsh punishments for unscrupulous behaviour when buying and selling the clothing itself. For example, in many groups, ‘flaking’ (where a buyer commits and then pulls out of a sale) or scamming result in permanent bans. Of course, some scammers still try their luck, but they often find that administrators are willing to go to surprising lengths to achieve justice for their exploited members.

Brendan describes one case where a 16-year-old — many people in these groups are still in high school — scammed another teen by sending him a fake pair of BAPE shorts. Brendan contacted the scammer through Facebook to demand an explanation. “He admitted the shorts were fake,” Brendan says, “and said he would pay the money back… Then he blocked me a few days later.” Determined, Brendan contacted the New Zealand school that had been listed on the scammer’s profile, who then passed him on to the deputy principal at the student’s new school.

Brendan was well aware of the ludicrousness of the situation. “Someone from another country is calling you asking you about a student who has been stealing clothes on Facebook, how do you explain that?” After hearing Brendan’s explanation, the deputy principal was happy to help. “They talked to the kid’s dad and he had to pay the money back. It’s not the first time I’ve had to do something like that.”

Sometimes it’s not administrators but prominent group members who decide to take justice into their own hands. In another case that Brendan recounts, an infamous scammer named Jonas was recognised at his workplace by a member who was “a bodybuilder basically, a big dude”, and much older than the average age in the group. The member had a quick chat with Jonas’ boss, and refunds began being issued.

But not all administrators recommend a vigilante approach.

“It’s going to expose us to legal backlash. You don’t want to have 74,000 people knocking down someone’s door,” says Revan. “The buck stops with us, so at the end of the day it’s going to reflect on the admin team and Underground Society as a group.”

Having said that, Underground Society administrators often take a very active role in providing advice to those who have been cheated, such as by explaining how best to gather evidence and file a police report. And to make matters worse for would-be scammers or online trolls, most of the administrators of Australia’s top streetwear groups are personally known to each other and quickly pass on details of blacklisted individuals. “It’s really cool that all the groups are connected like that,” says Brendan. “Like the BAPE group, Supreme group, Adidas group, the Yeezy/Kanye group — we all talk to each other to keep it consistent.”

This sense of solidarity doesn’t stop once scammers are brought to justice. The administrators of Underground Society pride themselves on using their space to positively influence members’ lives beyond the realm of streetwear.

A few weeks ago, a post promoting ‘R U OKAY’ day garnered nearly 1000 likes, while in August, Revan made a post in the group reminding everyone to enrol and vote ‘Yes’ in the same sex marriage postal vote. “It is important that we, as a community which fixates on a creative industry such as fashion where LGBTQI contributors are so integral to taste-making and the culture, throw our support behind them and afford them equal recognition under the nation’s laws,” Revan wrote.

Underground Society

In an online landscape that often reflects a cesspool of human indecency, these streetwear guardians are quietly cultivating vibrant oases where a sense of justice and respect might be preserved.