Establishing Your Streetwear Brand’s Core Competency

I recently picked up Unlabel by Marc Ecko, which basically tells the story of how he started Eckō Unltd. Yeah, we all know that Eckō has fallen off over the years, but the story is still a fascinating one. At one point, after taking a loan from his business partner’s third cousin, Lance Isham from Polo asks him what his core competency was. Marc had no idea what that meant until it was explained to him that it was his “core” product.

If you’re not familiar with a brand’s core competency, it’s not necessarily used in the same way as it’s used in the book. By definition, a core competency is a defining capability or advantage that distinguishes an enterprise from its competitors. In other words: what do I do better or different from other brands.

How it was written in the book was more along the lines of “what’s the staple product of my brand?” It’s your low-cost, high-volume seller. For a fast food joint like McDonald’s think of the cheeseburger, french fries, chicken nuggets, and McFlurry when the machine’s not broken.

The three levels of releases

Low-cost, high-volume

Starting off you have your cheeseburgers and french fries. These product releases are simple items like t-shirts and hats. Easy to produce, easy to sell (in theory). Think of these pieces as the backbone of your brand, and what people most associate and think about when they hear your name.

  • Converse’s Chuck Taylor shoes
  • Thrasher’s flaming hoodie and shirt
  • Supreme’s box logo shirts and hoodies
  • Ralph Lauren’s single color polo with the embroidered horse

No matter the releases a brand has or changes to the season, you can always find these items reliably in stock. Maybe not Supreme, but they’ll always have more created.

With these articles, you might not make a lot of money but you will move a lot of product. Making $10 100 times is the same as $100 10 times.

High-cost, low-volume

Here you have your limited-time items. Some pieces might be duds, like pancakes and scrambled eggs from McDonald’s, other times you might have a hit that becomes a staple like their Egg McMuffin. Other times you’ll sell out of stock but they’re one-off products that will never come back.

Most collaborations fall into this category. Also, unless your entire business model is cut-and-sew pieces, they will also fall into this category. Big ticket items in limited quantities.

Think fashion products. Runway pieces.


The McRib of the clothing brand world. These are items that fall somewhere between your core pieces and fashion pieces. They sell fast every time your release them, but you keep them just out of reach for everyone every time.

When used sparingly it can be very effective. You know the feeling when you really want a piece but get there too late to buy it. In some cases, you’ll spend much more than what the retail value was.

Those are prime restock pieces.

Keep in mind this is a basically the two ends of the spectrum. There are hundreds of different possibilities of in between the two, and what might be the core product with one brand might not be the same as yours.

If you’re looking to see how a major streetwear label started, I urge you to check out Unlabel. It takes you through the highs and lows of starting a brand and the struggle until reaching success.