After college, Bobby Kim ended up in law school, not because he particularly wanted to be a lawyer or politician, but because he was looking for a way to be an activist for his community. But while enrolled, he met Ben Shenassafar, and the two would go on to create a different kind of platform, launching the streetwear band the Hundreds in 2003. The brand reflected Kim’s SoCal upbringing and connection to skateboarding, punk rock, and hip-hop, and became a way to cultivate and celebrate a diverse community.
The whims of fashion come and go, but the brand has managed to stick around, and even grow, always maintaining its base in Los Angeles. Earlier this summer, Kim, who also goes by Bobby Hundreds, released a memoir, This Is Not a T-Shirt, detailing his personal professional travails. Now, on September 15, the Hundreds will host its first-ever food festival, with fashion and food side-by-side. We got a chance to speak with Kim about those projects, and what inspired him in the first place.
Tell us a little about your background and what about the culture around you inspired you to launch a streetwear brand.
Like many of us, I didn’t feel like I fit in for most of my life. Maybe it was because I was an Asian-American kid growing up in the Inland Empire in the ‘80s, or because I gravitated towards fringe subcultures like skateboarding and hardcore. I was always searching for community.
Streetwear fit just right. In the late ‘90s and into the early 2000s, streetwear spoke to a group of young artists, designers, and upstarts who resisted the corporate fashion silos of “urban” or “action sports.” Many of us were intent on building brands around our perspectives and lifestyle, situated around limited-edition T-shirts and rare sneakers. Through blogs, collaborations, and flagship stores, we were merchandising our personal brands, long before social media streamlined the process.
Streetwear is mainstream fashion today–both high and low–but back then, it was a counterculture. There was no blueprint of success, no viable career path. We did it because we loved it, and that love was infectious.
Your book isn’t entirely the kind of perfect success story narrative that we might be used to seeing in similar “how I built this” type business memoirs. Can you talk a little bit about what that means to you and why you wanted to bring that to the fore with the book?
The true story of our lives and careers are riddled with mistakes and loss. Yes, occasional triumphs punctuate the journey, but at the end of the day, we sit atop these hard-earned lessons. Yet, for whatever reason, we rarely see that type of business story in the culture.
There is too much entrepreneurial literature out there dedicated to the tech-investment narrative of success. Billion dollar valuations. Rounds of fundraising. Much of it isn’t real money, let alone profitable.
I wanted to tell an honest business story about a bootstrapped clothing business that is figuring it out as we move along. We don’t always get it right, but 16 years in, we are bigger, better, and more fulfilled than ever.
What in your mind is the difference between streetwear and fashion? How does community factor into the equation?
Streetwear without culture is just fashion. While the borders are increasingly blurring, the largest distinction that streetwear holds over fashion is its rootedness in community. It’s not just about logos, runway shows, and exorbitant pricing.
What makes streetwear special is the idiosyncrasies of its architects, their personal histories, and the generational dialogue amongst the consumers. It’s more a secret handshake club than a marketplace. Streetwear is comprised of contrarians, iconoclasts, just a buncha square pegs. We somehow found each other, and then others found each other through us.
It’s funny–for how exclusive streetwear’s outward appearance is, it’s mechanized by inclusivity and communitarianism.
How do you think being based in L.A. has influenced how you design or run the business?
Hands down, the best part of L.A. is its diversity. Cultures collide here, as do attitudes, opinions, and tastes. The streetwear business is largely about these intersections. It’s not just skate or rap, it’s both. It speaks to Calabasas and Crenshaw. It is inspired by the entanglement of music, food, and art that run up and down our avenues.
As the rest of the world changes and diversifies–mass migration, social media, flow of information–we are seeing streetwear proliferate in new communities. But, L.A. was far ahead and continues to light way.
Does that community element figure into why the Hundreds is now hosting a food festival?
Absolutely. The overarching message of my memoir is one of community, cultivating relationships, and bridging unions. And throughout history, has there been a better reason to bring people together than delicious food? We are gathering the best chefs and restaurants to collaborate with our friends on the streetwear side of things on specialty dishes and one-off merchandise.
There has always been this fascinating affair between streetwear and the food world as well. I’m not exactly sure what it is, but it’s sorta like how all rappers want to play basketball, and all NBA players think they can rap. So both parties jumped at the chance to explore the other’s world.
The secret to how we pulled off the best food festival of the year is that all participants are our genuine friends. Many vendors don’t even do food festivals but are doing this on the strength of our friendships. Which, brings me full circle: It all comes back to the power of community.
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