Karl Kani

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Karl Kani
Industry Fashion
Founded Los Angeles, United States (1989)
Founder Carl Williams
Products Apparel and Accessories
Website www.karlkani.com

Karl Kani (/kəˈn/; born Carl Williams on May 23, 1968, Brooklyn, New York City) is the fashion designer, founder and CEO of the Hip Hop fashion brand Karl Kani. Karl Kani was launched in 1989 as a fashion forward and Hip Hop influenced clothing line. Inspired by his passion for Hip hop music and fashion, Karl designed clothes that appealed to a large public, including friends and celebrities from his hometown Brooklyn, New York.


At age 16, Carl Williams started designing clothes after learning the essential handcraft at his father's company.[1] Karl never studied tailoring or design, but he had flair for coming up with unusual, stylish concepts. He would buy material and tell a tailor exactly how he wanted his garments to look. "For a relatively small sum", as he put it, "I had a fresh outfit that nobody had."[2]

Karl's customized outfits were so "fresh" that soon they were in demand. After seeing him on the scene in local clubs, men started asking for a Carl Williams' outfit of their own. Soon Karl was taking his first orders in his car. The death of one of his close friends inspired some deep contemplation. "It made me think about life differently", he added " I thought I should really do something positive."[2]

In 1989 Karl headed to Los Angeles where he and a good friend opened a clothing shop on Crenshaw Boulevard.[3] They made no profit at this location and after the shop was robbed, they moved to Hollywood where Karl started selling catalogs for $2 that he and his partner had put together. They only made profit off the catalog sales and didn't actually sell any clothes. He decided to take out an advertisement in Right On!Magazine but even that didn't help jumpstart sales.[4]

Karl Kani the success[edit]

After watching 'The Today Show' Karl had an idea. He paid a friend in New York to make a sign with his label's name on it and hold it up during the taping of the show. The idea worked. People started calling and orders began to come in.[4]

Upon his arrival in California he knew that he had to put a foot in an established fashion corporation before trying to establish his own sole proprietorship. When Karl met Carl Jones in 1990, co-founder of Threads 4 Life Corp, during a Cross Colours fashion show, Karl saw his chance. The partnership with Carl Jones lasted 2 years.

Karl's stylistic innovations were successful. In addition to working with a mainstream color selection he modified the baggy pants that became the basis of street fashion. According to Karl black people never liked tight fitting jeans.[5] They would always buy a bigger size but then the waist would be too big, therefore Karl decided to increase the pant size.

In 1994, Karl $500,000 in profits to launch his company Karl Kani Infinity.[2] In addition to his old partners, Kani now faced a marketing onslaught from hip-hop entrepreneur Russell Simmons' Phat Farm and a number of mainstream clothiers. Kani also had reason to worry that his involvement in Cross Colours might taint his operation in the minds of retailers. "I expected some resistance," Kani himself averred. "A major turning point for me was when retailers accepted us back into the market."[2]

Karl Kani Big & Tall[edit]

The idea for the Big & Tall line came to Kani after numerous conversations with NBA stars, who complained that they could not fit into much of his merchandise. Big and tall people are just as fashion-conscious so Karl launched his line in mid-1995 in Big & Tall stores around the country.[6]

Staying ahead of fashion counterfeiters who aped his signature and sold cheaper versions of his clothes, Karl began fastening a metal-and-leather plate to his product.[7] After some initial resistance from the people who made the plates, Karl Kani decided to go ahead with it and it turned out to be his best-selling jeans ever.

Karl Kani used the metal plate to spread his positive message to others.

"Inspired by the vitality of the streets of Brooklyn New York. Karl Kani, the young African-American designer of Karl Kani Jeans, encourages you to follow your dreams and accomplish your goals. Wear the clothing that represents the knowledge of African-American creativity and determination. Recognize the signature that symbolizes African-American unity and pride... peace, Karl Kani."[5]

A sister brand, Kani Ladies was launched in 2001.

Brand name[edit]

Carl Williams represents the "American Dream". Son of a Costa Rican mom and Panamanian dad, Karl comes from a modest family from Brooklyn, New York.[8] Young Karl dreamt of combining his passion for Hip Hop music and fashion. He didn't know how to do that, but he believed in himself.

During Karl's initial rough start in Los Angeles the question that had obsessed him for years, "Can I do it?", remained unanswered. He kept asking himself: "Can I do it? Can I build a fashion empire? Can I become the 'Ralph Lauren of the streets'?" Karl didn't have the answer for all these questions but it did provide the basis for his new name, Kani, a variation on "Can I?". With a stylish "K" replacing the "C" in his first name, he ventured his own optimistic reply, Karl Kani.[9]


Carl Williams was the first black man to launch a Hip Hop Fashion brand and became one of the 100 richest African-Americans in 1996 according to People Magazine.[10] He created the leopard print knickers and inspired many other to follow into his footsteps. Karl paved the way for many black designers and is the true 'Godfather of Urban Fashion'. This has earned Karl the nickname 'King of Black'. Kani is also known as 'The Originator'. Karl was the first to set the trend of merging hip-hop with fashion.[11] He spotted an area in the market that previously was ignored and paved the way for other Hip Hop Fashion brands.[7] Being the first African-American man to launch a Hip Hop Fashion brand, Karl inspired many others to follow in his footsteps. His many achievements earned him the title of the 'Originator'.


Throughout the early 1990s, Karl Kani set the tone for much of urban fashion, especially in the music industry. Wearing Kani clothing became both a symbol of success and a fashion statement. Karl Kani became a well-known brand and many known hip hop and R&B artists like 2pac, Aaliyah, Baby, Cash Money, Heavy D, Kelly Clarkson, Lil' Kim, N Sync, Nas, Dr. Dre, Ice-T, P Diddy, Kool G Rap, Ed Lover, Mike Tyson, Heavy D, Big Daddy Kane, Pete Rock, CL Smooth, Notorious B.I.G., Next, 112, Redman, Tatyana Ali, Snoop Dogg, Three 6 Mafia, Tyson Beckford, Vybz Kartel, Tom Kaulitz, and Will Smith have worn Karl Kani clothing.[12] In 1999 Kani presented his latest collection at The White House to President Bill Clinton during an informal fashion show.[8]


Kani is known as one of the most influential black designers of urban fashion in the United States. With such acclaimed success Black Enterprise Magazine named Karl Kani-Infinity Corporation the most successful African American owned firms worldwide in 1996.[13][14] And this was just the tip of the iceberg.

In 2002 Carl was honored with an 'Urban Fashion Pioneer Award' for his lifetime achievements during the Urban Fashion Awards.[15]


  1. ^ Detroit Free Press, August 20, 1993, p. 1F; August 1, 1994, p. 4C
  2. ^ a b c d Black Enterprise, July 1994, p. 16; June 1995, pp. 145-47
  3. ^ Newsweek, October 31, 1994
  4. ^ a b Karl Kani, December 2007
  5. ^ a b Boston Globe, November 30, 1993, section 3, p. 61
  6. ^ Black Enterprise June 1996 by Tariq K. Muhammad
  7. ^ a b Vibe, October 1994, pp. 59-62
  8. ^ a b Los Angeles Times, September 10, 1999 by Michael Quintanilla
  9. ^ Black Enterprise, Kevin D. Thompson, June 1995 v25 n11 p114(6)
  10. ^ Unconquerable KANI August 1999 by Marsha Jones
  11. ^ [P. Diddy Makes Big Moves on 5th Avenue] The Hilltop Online, 11th of May 2004 by Re'Neise Francis
  12. ^ Black Enterprise, October 1995, p. 64. by Cassandra Hayes
  13. ^ Essence, Tariq K. Muhammad, July 1996 v15 n23 p16(21)
  14. ^ From here to infinity: Karl Kani June 1996 by Tariq K. Muhammad
  15. ^ VH1, Snoop Dogg takes home New Urban Fashion Celebrity Line trophy by Shaheem Reid

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