photo & text by nacrowe
growing up through the mid-90s in SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA, specifically the then-conservative enclave of ORANGE COUNTY, i was made more than well-aware of BRAND-conscious peers that went past brands like NIKE and sported surf and skate related labels like BILLABONG, O'NEILL, VANS, QUICKSILVER, RUSTY and OCEAN PACIFIC as well as other lifestyle firms like STUSSY, MOSSIMO, CROSS COLOURS, NO FEAR among countless others.
it is one of those interesting things about my upbringing that my family left SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA for NIGERIA in 1996, right when clothes was becoming a thing. a demarcator of identity. living in AFRICA killed that instinct (outside of basketball shoes!) where you were witness to those who had very little. it made this all feel very... small and insignificant.
in reading THIS IS NOT A T-SHIRT: A BRAND, A CULTURE, A COMMUNITY - A LIFE IN STREETWEAR (MCD, 2019) by BOBBY KIM, a.k.a. BOBBY HUNDREDS, of THE HUNDREDS fame, it became apparent that streetwear and fashion for him as a creator was less about exclusivity and more about expression. i didn't realize it beforehand, but all those labels i grew up on were run and started almost exclusively by white men. streetwear from THE HUNDREDS and its competitors was very much about penetrating the fashion and garment industry and gaining marketshare for a more diverse and inclusive set of designers. KIM is a lifelong CALIFORNIAN, HARDCORE PUNK kid, former LAW student and the son of KOREAN immigrants, which makes the rise of the label he co-created that much more interesting as it exemplifies a progression of AMERICAN culture writ large. the segment THE HUNDREDS brand satiates is as diverse as KIM himself.
which is kinda the point.
the label in many ways is an outgrowth of his personality and more specifically his blog. THE HUNDREDS was early to blogging and utilized such to contextualize their collections and transform the product being marketed as a psychic extension of their obsessions, hobbies and COMMUNITY. the blog essentially founded a community and it is that relationship with this COMMUNITY which is at the heart of this memoir.
what is KIM's relationship to his audience? what does he own them? does he allow them, or the idea of them, to lead his decision-making on future collections? or is his task to lead them deeper down an explored and deeply-shared sense of COMMUNITY based on similar obsessions, perspectives and viewpoints.
its an interesting dynamic that ive become interested in since starting my MBA recently, that of how one runs a business while leading an authentic existence. not exploiting either labor or your customers when all incentive and reward structures suggest otherwise. what ive taken from KIM's example is keeping ownership and financial control close and being realistic about potential risks and opportunities and how those will affect the standing of your brand. it may be that KIM has a unique perspective given his label's longstanding brand equity based on the transparency and interplay of his blog and social media with his COMMUNITY. as long as that relationship is intact and relevant to his consumers, it would seem the brand has a shot at continued viability.
but in the end it is not about a t-shirt, a brand or even KIM himself, it is about the COMMUNITY being fostered. and that is pretty cool. i never felt that from wearing a BILLABONG shirt back as a 12 year old. if anything SKATE and SURF culture came of as exclusive rather than inclusive.
very interesting BUSINESS memoir i'll be thinking of for quite some time. well worth checking out.