|Founded||Los Angeles, United States (1989)|
|Products||Apparel and Accessories|
At age 16, Carl Williams started designing clothes after learning the essential handcraft at his father's company. Karl 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."
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."
In 1989 Karl headed to Los Angeles where he and a good friend opened a clothing shop on Crenshaw Boulevard. 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.
Karl Kani Infinity
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.
In addition to working with a mainstream color selection Williams modified the baggy pants that had become the basis of street fashion. According to Karl black people never liked tight fitting jeans. 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, Williams used $500,000 in profits to launch his company Karl Kani Infinity. 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. 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."
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. 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.
A sister brand, Kani Ladies was launched in 2001.
Karl Kani Big & Tall
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.
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?".
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. Karl began a trend of merging hip-hop with fashion. He spotted an area in the market that previously was ignored and paved the way for other Hip Hop Fashion brands. Being the first African-American man to launch a Hip Hop Fashion brand, Karl inspired many others to follow in his footsteps.
In 2002 Carl was honored with an 'Urban Fashion Pioneer Award' for his lifetime achievements during the Urban Fashion Awards.
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