Karl Kani

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Karl Kani
FoundedLos Angeles, United States (1989)
FounderCarl Williams
ProductsApparel and accessories

Karl Kani (/kəˈn/; born Carl Williams on May 23, 1968 in San José, Costa Rica) is an American fashion designer, founder and CEO of the hip hop fashion brand Karl Kani.


Early life[edit]

Carl Williams was born in Costa Rica to a Panamanian father and Costa Rican mother. The family migrated to the United States in the late 1960s.[1][2]

Early career[edit]

At age 16, Williams started designing clothes after learning the essential handcraft at his father's company.[3][4] He never studied tailoring or design, but he had flair for coming up with unusual 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."[5][6]

After seeing him on the scene in local clubs, men started asking for a Carl Williams outfit of their own. Soon he 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."[6]

In 1989 he went to Los Angeles, where he and a friend opened a clothing shop on Crenshaw Boulevard.[7] They made no profit at this location, and after the shop was robbed, they moved to Hollywood, where he started selling catalogs for $2 that he and his partner had put together. They only made profit from the catalog sales and did not sell any clothes. He decided to take out an advertisement in Right On! Magazine, but that did not jumpstart sales.[8]

Karl Kani Infinity[edit]

After watching The Today Show, Kani had the idea of paying 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 as people started calling and orders began to come in.[8]

In addition to working with a mainstream color selection, Kani modified the baggy pants that had become the basis of street fashion. According to him, black people never liked tight-fitting jeans.[9] They would always buy a bigger size but then the waist would be too big, so he decided to increase the pant size.

In 1994, Kani used $500,000 in profits to launch his company "Karl Kani Infinity".[6] In addition to his old partners, Kani now faced a marketing onslaught from hip-hop entrepreneur Russell Simmons's Phat Farm and a number of mainstream clothiers. He 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 said. "A major turning point for me was when retailers accepted us back into the market."[6]

Staying ahead of fashion counterfeiters who aped his signature and sold cheaper versions of his clothes, Kani began fastening a metal-and-leather plate to his product.[10] After some resistance from the people who made the plates, Kani decided to go ahead with it and it turned out to be his best-selling jeans ever.

A sister brand, Kani Ladies, was launched in 2001.

Karl Kani Big & Tall[edit]

The idea for the big & tall line came to Kani after numerous conversations with National Basketball Association stars, who complained that they could not fit into much of his merchandise. Big and tall people may be just as fashion-conscious as anyone else, so Kani launched his line in mid-1995 in big & tall stores around the country.[11]

Brand name[edit]

Carl Williams, the son of a Costa Rican mother and Panamanian father, comes from a modest family from Brooklyn, New York.[12] When he was young, he dreamed of combining his passion for hip hop music and fashion.

During Williams's 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'?" He didn't have the answer for these questions, but it did provide the basis for his new name, Kani, a variation on "Can I?".[13]


Karl Kani became one of the 100 richest Blacks in America in 1996, according to People magazine.[14] He began a trend of merging hip-hop with fashion.[15] He spotted an area in the market that had been ignored and paved the way for other hip hop fashion brands.[10]


Black Enterprise magazine named Karl Kani Infinity Corporation the most successful Black owned firm worldwide in 1996.[16][17]

In 2002 Kani was honored with an Urban Fashion Pioneer Award for his lifetime achievements, at the Urban Fashion Awards.[18]


  1. ^ http://articles.latimes.com/1999/sep/10/news/cl-8525
  2. ^ https://www.thegreydistrict.com/style/karl-kani
  3. ^ Detroit Free Press. August 20, 1993. p. 1F. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  4. ^ Detroit Free Press. August 1, 1994. p. 4C. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  5. ^ "Black Enterprise". Black Enterprise. July 1994. p. 16.
  6. ^ a b c d "Black Enterprise". Black Enterprise. June 1995. pp. 145–47.
  7. ^ Newsweek. October 31, 1994. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  8. ^ a b "Karl Kani". December 2007.
  9. ^ Boston Globe. Section 3. November 30, 1993. p. 61. Missing or empty |title= (help)CS1 maint: others (link)
  10. ^ a b Vibe. October 1994. pp. 59–62. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  11. ^ Tariq K. Muhammad (June 1996). "Black Enterprise". Archived from the original on 2008-02-22.
  12. ^ Michael Quintanilla (September 10, 1999). Los Angeles Times. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  13. ^ Kevin D. Thompson (June 1995). "Black Enterprise". Black Enterprise. 25 (11). p. 114(6).
  14. ^ Marsha Jones (August 1999). "Unconquerable KANI".
  15. ^ Re'Neise Francis (11 May 2004). "P. Diddy Makes Big Moves on 5th Avenue". The Hilltop Online.
  16. ^ Tariq K. Muhammad (July 1996). "Black Enterprise". Essence. 15 (23). p. 16(21).
  17. ^ Tariq K. Muhammad (June 1996). "From here to infinity: Karl Kani". Archived from the original on 2008-02-22.
  18. ^ Shaheem Reid. "VH1, Snoop Dogg takes home New Urban Fashion Celebrity Line trophy".

External links[edit]