The world of fashion changed with the introduction of Karl Kani and his Karl Kani Infinity. Born Carl Williams in Costa Rica to a Panamanian father and Costa Rican mother, Williams built his groundbreaking fashion brand in Brooklyn, New York. Karl Kani became known as the godfather of urban streetwear.
His passion for fashion began early. At age 16, Williams started designing clothes. While he was self-taught, Kani had a flair for coming up with unusual design concepts. He promoted his designs by wearing them himself, and people began to take notice and ask him to create outfits for them.
In 1989, he moved to Los Angeles, where he and a friend opened a clothing shop on Crenshaw Boulevard. The store was plagued by break-ins and low sales, but that didn’t deter Kani. He kept going until his clothes caught on.
“I came out to L.A. with $1,000, a pocketful of dreams, and some samples,” Kani once recounted Karl. “I didn’t know how we were going to make it. I didn’t know how I was gonna pay rent.”
In 1994, Kani used $500,000 in profits to launch his own hip-hop fashion brand “Karl Kani Infinity.” He was inspired by his love for hip-hop music and fashion, Forbes reported.
Hip-hop loved Karl Kani products; stars like Tupac, Aaliyah, and Biggie Smalls wore his bold and baggy apparel. Kani was a national and international success.
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“We want to be the Calvin Klein to the streets and the Levi’s to our marketplace. That’s our two main focuses long-term,” Kani said at the height of his success in the ’90s.
Things slowed down, but Kani continued to play a role in the fashion world. He began selling suits that retailed for $600 to $2,000. He also began offering a children’s line, a leather collection for women, and, of course, his trademark jerseys, T-shirts, jeans and jackets.
“We are definitely taking the brand to the next level,” Kani told the Los Angeles Times in 1999.
“I had to change,” Kani said. “We kind of lost focus. We realized that a whole new generation was growing up on other brands and that our original, loyal customers are 10 years older now with kids. I’ve got a son myself.”
Kani launched a sister brand, Kani Ladies, was launched in 2001.
Karl Kani (L) with fellow designer Toukie Smith, YouTube screenshot, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NHk5Mm0sxjA