It is impossible to speak on the modern wave of streetwear clothing without mentioning Bobby Kim. The LA native helped start The Hundreds in 2003 with business partner Ben Shenassafar and in just a few years, the comical bomb logo and Kim’s hustle became a staple in streetwear.
It’s only right Kim helped direct Built To Fail, a documentary that unpacks the good, bad and meta of the streetwear industry. Released during the LA Film Festival earlier this month, the film served as a lesson on streetwear never taught before.
Built To Fail pays keen attention to the changes in the pioneering platform with interviews from fellow culture shifters like Russell Simmons and A$AP Rocky. It also reminds new and old admires to place their criticism to the side and remember the beauty in it’s elaborate history.
VIBE chatted with the businessman and creative about the inspiration behind the documentary, the state of streetwear in 2017 and why music and streetwear will always go hand and hand.
What was the real spark for you to make this documentary? Was it from the frustration of where streetwear is now, or simply to inform people about the platform’s good ‘ol days?
Bobby Kim: It was about informing and educating. I think at a certain point, I looked around and realized that there was so many different definitions and interpretations of what streetwear was and who streetwear was. It was frustrating for me because I work in this space, and I’m like, ‘Wow no one has the same answer for what this is. No one really knows what streetwear is.’ l wanted to figure out what it is for myself and secondarily, so much of streetwear has transitioned and changed over the last few years. Before we say goodbye to its earlier chapters– because no one wrote it down– let’s try to do our best to preserve it and chronicle it.
I learned from that in the early days of streetwear, the west coast came with the skateboarding aesthetic and east coast had the whole graffiti inspiration. What area would you say played a bigger factor in streetwear becoming as big as it is today?
Gosh that’s a really good question. I don’t know if I could give it to one side or the other. The hip hop side was so important [because it] really influenced and inspired what the west coast did. There is an argument to be made that streetwear did start on the west coast, as far as that’s where those first early brands were, but what those brands were doing were emulating what New York and the east coast was doing. So the first streetwear brands you can say were coming out of southern California, but the style came from New York.
During the documentary, it’s clear streetwear pioneers aren’t not happy with the current state. What are your thoughts on the status of streetwear?
I think it’s very easy for me to be bitter, and kind of fatigued by it all but that’s if I only look at what the media is portraying and representing as streetwear. The “streetwear media” is comprised of Hypebeast, Highsnobiety and fashion sites like Vogue and Business of Fashion. They’re very much concentrating on reseller culture, high fashion; really this kind of elitist out of reach, inaccessible type of streetwear that’s very expensive, price driven, and how much money people can make. That type of streetwear to me is not compelling, I’m not interested in it. It doesn’t really represent what I believe is streetwear which is for the people, for the culture [and] for the kids. Then I look at what the media is focusing on and yeah, it has nothing to do with me, I have nothing to do with it, [so] I don’t really care. It does nothing for me, doesn’t inform my brand or my work, doesn’t inform the culture and community around me.
I think what it is really is that there’s many different genres and sub genres of what streetwear is. I don’t think that it’s one specific aesthetic, or one specific brand, or one specific type of sector of fashion. It’s got everything just like hip hop. Hip hop has the pop rappers, the underground obscure guys, the OG’s, and everyone can make money. Rap means so many different things to so many people and there’s so many people in the world that they can all have their own audience, and same thing with streetwear. To me, I’m not fatigued or bummed out on any of it.
What are your thoughts on rapper merchandise? Do you feel these merch lines play a connection to streetwear?
I mean, music sales had to go somewhere right? Musicians need to make their money some different place other than music sales so merch makes a lot of sense. A lot of that is considered and seen as streetwear and I can argue one way and someone can argue the other way, but I don’t really look at it like as streetwear. To me, it’s just cool t-shirts. Streetwear to me is really about what you saw in the movie culture, community, and having like a real tie into the history.
A lot of rap merch today is just rap merch and that’s totally fine. If you want to wear Kanye’s rap concert merch you go to the concert and buy the stuff but to me, that’s not necessarily what I think of when I think of streetwear. I think music merch will always exist. It will just be called streetwear now because that’s a popular term that people are throwing around and applying to anything that involves t-shirts and hoodies. In 5 to 10 years, it might be called something else like “merchwear” or “rapwear,” and that will be the popular fashion word to use, but streetwear will still exist.
Where do you see streetwear going?
It will continue to flourish, change, and have all these different sub-genres and subcategories. I just think it’ll continued to be based around t-shirts, sportswear and hoodies, and baseball caps. But it will just cater to more and more categories and different kinds of people. Who knows? Maybe they’ll be a collection for line cooks at restaurants, streetwear for soccer moms who play tennis on Saturday mornings, streetwear for aerobics dance instructors, coffee baristas, and car mechanics. I just don’t see it disappearing. There will be more and more brands, more and more people buying this stuff and [eventually,] it will be known synonymously with fashion.