Q&A: The Hundreds, a year later

Posted by Rob Walker on August 16, 2007
Posted Under: Brand Underground,Update

I’ve been meaning for a while to catch up with The Hundreds, one of the subjects of the brand underground article I did for the NYT Magazine a while back. At that time, founders Ben and Bobby Hundreds were just starting to venture beyond T-shirts. Now they regularly produce jeans, button-down shirts, shorts, and so on. They have a spinoff brand for women called Tens. They’ve opened up their own store (on Rosewood near Fairfax in Los Angeles), and have about 10 employees, plus part-timers and interns. Of course, they also still make T-shirts, both their own and with collaborators like Shalom and others. Bobby Hundreds still finds time to write thoughtful stuff on the brand’s blog — and to answer Q’s from me. Here goes.

Q: I think it’s been a good year for The Hundreds — new brands, new store, etc. But before we get to that, what’s been the biggest disappointment, frustration, or surprising challenge of the past year?

I guess the most surprising thing is that we have virtually no complaints! We’re kinda wrapped up in our own world, so we pay no mind to gossiping, politics or negativity that seems to circle the scene. We love what we do, just as much if not more as when we first started. We’re surrounded with a strong, positive crew of friends and employees who are passionate about the brand. And most importantly, we have a loyal following of supporters worldwide who are dedicated to The Hundreds. So how can I be disappointed or frustrated by anything?

If I remember right, you were financing the Hundreds completely on its own profits — that is, no loans and no investors. Have you kept that business structure or have you gotten financing of some kind?

I am very happy to say that as of date, we have still yet to receive backing from an investor or loan institution. The Hundreds is still being operated completely off of our own initial funds from our personal bank accounts.

We really did start the brand off of $200 from each of our pockets, which should be a testament that you don’t need a greedy corporation behind you to make a name for yourself in this industry. In many ways, I believe our lack of funding has directly attributed to much of our success. Instead of force-feeding TH down the consumers’ throats, we only provided them with a limited amount of goods (which, in turn, heightened exclusivity) because that’s all we could afford to produce. Because we lacked the capital, our progression was deliberate and organic, and that allowed The Hundreds to brand itself properly.

Of course, that’s not to say that we won’t need financial help in the future. The reality is that our company is growing, and there are increasing costs (production, employees, general overhead) that we won’t logistically be able to handle if things continue at this rate. We’re not intending to blow out distribution or anything like that, but if we were looking to install more store locations or increase our styles of denim, these are things that take a great deal of financing upfront.

On a related note, is this strategy of having several brands, is that the way you think you’ll continue to grow? I remember many discussions of the issue of how to keep The Hundreds a special thing (IE, not available at Urban or Macy’s or whatever), while growing. Any changes in your thinking about that stuff, going forward?

Most, if not almost all, of our fellow brands in this category have already begun the process of mass distribution through the mall and department store circuit. I can’t knock them for taking that route, because although it may not seem the “coolest” avenue for a streetwear brand, let’s be real. We’re all getting older, and need to start making some real money. No one wants to be the 65 year old guy who looks back on his life and says, “I was broke my entire adult life, but at least I had street cred.”

“Streetwear” is undoubtedly hot, and if these brands don’t begin filtering into the mainstream market now, then there’s a strong chance that they’re going to miss the boat. They might hold onto their pride, but meanwhile, their friends are making ends meet and paying their mortgage and their kids’ college funds.

We’d like to continue working with the independents, not just in terms of streetwear boutiques, but core skate shops and other local neighborhood retailers who are integral to their community. We had a lineup at our store the other day and one of the kids pulled me aside and sincerely asked me if we were planning on placing The Hundreds in malls. He was bummed that his favorite indie brands were now showing up in urban chain stores and on the backs of kids at school who had absolutely zero clue as to what the brand was all about. This kid was probably 1 out of a 100 customers who support us, but his voice is important.

So for now, we will remain outside of the malls as long as the business can support it.

On the design side, one of the things you said toward the end of the year or more that I was hanging around working on that story (do you miss me?) was that you wanted to try to move toward designs with more social/political meaning and messages. How has that gone? Do you feel like you’ve done that, and how has the Hundreds consumer responded?

Yeah, I don’t necessarily feel comfortable on a soapbox, but to whom much is given, much is required. And we’ve been blessed with such a strong voice, that to not exercise it to move more substantial discussion would be a shame. In terms of more meaningful causes, one of our good friends just lost his father to cancer, so we’re in the process of putting something on our website whereby our readers can donate money to cancer research.

As far as designs go, one of my favorite shirts from the Summer line was called SELF-OFFENSE. It was a concept graphic that operated on several subtexts. Based on a vintage novelty gag-toy called a Polish Starting Pistol, but I modernized it with an updated police gun. The imagery can be viewed in a number of ways: as a commentary on gun control (the more guns, the more we’re killing ourselves), sentiments towards law enforcement (self-explanatory), or even a response to the number of thoughtless firearm graphics that have become a staple in a generic streetwear t-shirt. One of my designers attends Art Center, and two professors stopped him in the hallway for that shirt, commenting on how it was the most refreshing and innovative gun graphic t-shirt they’d seen, amidst a sea of violent imagery in the marketplace. Sooo… at least one person understood it.

I notice you didn’t say anything about missing me, so I’ll wrap this up. On a broader note, I’ve had a number of exchanges with people — designers and creators — who say they think the streetwear scene is stuck in a rut of some kind, that at Magic last time all the designs were looking the same, that kind of thing. It’s hard for me to judge, but what do you think? It sort of looks to me like the market has kept growing….

Anyone who tells you streetwear is in a rut is either clueless, jaded, or a dinosaur. From the underground perspective, sure, it seems like streetwear has whored itself out. And it looks especially that way because of how much the internet and news-blogs have tweaked our perception of reality. The truth is that streetwear as both a market and industry is still miniscule. Our hoody might end up on Jay-Z, but 99.9% of the kids watching that video have no clue what brand that is, or what stores to find it in.

The current streetwear boom has yet to even begin blowing out. I think it’ll take at least another year or two before some of these brands become normalized.

Furthermore, this is just the order of things when it comes to young male contemporary fashion. It happened with surf brands, then skate and urban, and now streetwear. The category identifiers may change every decade, but it’s still the same thing. Independent graphic t-shirt-based brands that end up swallowing the generations who preceded them. Regurgitate. Repeat.

Murketing thanks Bobby Hundreds for his time and patience with these Q’s. Visit The Hundreds at www.thehundreds.com.

Further diversion may be found at MKTG Tumblr, and the Consumed Facebook page.

Reader Comments

Nice follow up… Bobby Hundreds has a good head on him and a real good example that brands suceed on ideas not funding.

Written By Opulent on August 18th, 2007 @ 12:17 am