In the world of streetwear, there's influence and then there's clout.
When you're influential, you can build a career by using your social media brand to secure partnerships, nab modeling and styling gigs, and quit your day job. If you have clout, a barista might give you a free espresso because he recognizes your hoodie.
"It's all an image," says Cam Gilmer, co-owner of downtown streetwear resale boutique Heir. "Clout is just an image. It's how you portray yourself and the people around you."
Clout is a slang term turned meme. Last June, rapper Denzel Curry was filmed wearing a pair of what he called "Clout Goggles," the Christian Roth-designed ovoid sunglasses first made famous by Kurt Cobain. In the following months, the word picked up currency among all stripes of extremely online people. YouTuber FaZe Banks started referring to himself and his cohort as #CloutGang. Prompted by popular streetwear Twitter account @fourpins, the term became an in-joke playing on the huge gulf between "looking cool" and having any kind of power or financial stability.
As is the fate of all internet ephemera, clout is on its way out—a Google Trends search shows usage peaked in October and has sharply declined since. Yet clout provides insights into the influence business and the razor edge between being a guy with a cool hoodie and being a successful guy with a cool hoodie.
The first rule of clout is to offer something novel.
"You have to provide people a reason to follow you," says Gilmer. "You have to provide something new to the Instagram community to get the quote-unquote clout."
Providing something new is how Gilmer, 21, and his business partner Kyan McKernan, 23, got started. Before they opened Heir in 2017, Gilmer built a name by flipping vintage clothes on eBay. In 2012, McKernan was an early force in the now-saturated world of Supreme resale Instagram by making a change to the then-standard formula of posting piles of your clothes.
"After being on Instagram for a year or two, I started posting pictures of myself wearing the clothes, which no one at the time was really doing," says McKernan. "I kinda brought a personal touch to the whole culture."
The second rule is to network.
"It started with just realizing all you have to do is talk to the right people, and they don't even have to live in your state," says Gilmer. "You can't just walk onto the scene."
Off the back of his network of streetwear aficionados, he was able to secure a styling gig with megapopular rap trio Migos when they played Portland in 2016.
Master these techniques and you'll start to hear the signal above the noise.
"There's real-life clout and Instagram clout," says Gilmer. "A lot of people who are cool on Instagram are actually fuckin' lame."