he man, the myth, the legend: Bobby Kim, better known as “Bobby Hundreds” in the industry, is one of the most coveted names in streetwear. But it wasn’t a straight shot to success. In fact, in an interview with GQ, Kim said his failures were the greatest lessons that fueled his ambition to think more creatively—and that he did.
To understand how Kim cultivated a successful streetwear brand, just look to his undeniable passion for art.
From Art to Successful Streetwear Brand
“You’ll never make money off your art.”
From an early age, Kim’s obsession with art was impossible to miss. As a child, he could spend hours quietly doodling to keep himself entertained. However, as he grew older, his parents made it clear he should pursue other paths. While they appreciated the arts, they never thought it was a viable career and told him he’d never make money that way.
Despite this, he continued to take up photography, snapping photos at concerts he was attending to capture the skate culture he was fascinated with. He also began experimenting with writing, designing and other art forms. Though, it wasn’t until he moved to Japan as a young adult that he found an affinity for the streetwear lifestyle and culture.
The first time he saw graffiti and character art incorporated onto skate shirts—the kind of art he wanted to be creating—it excited him. He especially admired the work of Nigo, the fashion designer behind “A Bathing Ape” (BAPE), and also loved how Harajuku’s Busy Works shop looked more like an art gallery than a boutique.
At the time, Kim was able to support himself through various freelance jobs, however, the market changed after 9/11. With his parents’ old doubts still echoing in his ears and a desire to be more politically active, he eventually decided to apply to law school. Little did he know, he would meet his business partner there.
A Turning Point
While studying law, Kim met Ben Shenassafar after noticing a particularly cool pair of shoes Shenassafar wore. After learning they shared a similar taste in style, the two began developing an idea for a company named, The Hundreds.
After excelling in law school after his first year, he landed a cushy internship at a great firm working for a notable man named Abe Edelman. Tragically, at the age of 48, Edelman was dying of cancer. With his time left, Kim and Edelman grew fond of one another and he would occasionally share his art with Edelman as he drew during his lunch break.
On the last day of the internship, Edelman told Kim something he’d never forget. After a string of compliments on Bobby’s ability and bright future, he said Kim should never become a lawyer. To be specific, Edelman said, “Do you want to be forty years old and realize you spent the entirety of your life doing something that you never really cared about?”
With art always at the forefront of his dreams, Kim decided to finally turn the sketches in his black book into printed pieces. If only he knew then the impact his brand would make.
From Idea to Reality
In the summer of 2003, Kim (the “artist”) and Shenassafar (the “business guy”) walked in cold to Fred Segal to pitch their line. They spoke to the manager of the store and acted shocked that he hadn’t heard of their brand. Their passion (and bluffing) skills shone through in their pitch and the manager agreed to sell a few of their shirt designs as a test run.
As The Hundreds grew, they were eventually able to open up their own store, allowing them to cultivate a community around the brand—just like he used to find in skate parks as a teenager. Nowadays, they do a lot of artist collaborations, featuring the original artwork in the shop whenever possible.
A lot of valuable lessons can be learned from Kim’s story, but if nothing else, remember these three things:
- Turn negative feedback into positive energy.
- Believe in your work or no one else will.
- Stay true to your dreams, because your passions can oftentimes lead you to success.