If big-box stores are conquering suburban America by making smaller mall retailers obsolete, then Internet retailer, Karmaloop, is conquering streetwear storefronts by providing a one, two, three shopping experience. Karmaloop CEO, Greg Selkoe, acknowledges the logistical and technical challenges of operating Karmaloop, however, he sees a lot advantages, too. â€œThe primary one being it is a rapidly growing retail channel while offline retail is not showing much growth,â€ says Selkoe.
With the American economy near recession, a lot of businesses are antsy to see how American consumers spend their dollars, but Selkoe is an optimist. â€œWe have a ton of international customers scooping up gear from us, because their currency is so strong so it is cheaper for them to buy from Karmaloop,â€ says Selkoe.
With its catalog of nearly every major streetwear brand, Karmaloop plans to be more than a store as Karmaloop TV (KLTV) is the next ambition by the Boston based company. â€œWe have incredible access to get amazing content that other people canâ€™t; when we call up a Talib Kweli or DMC, they know about Karmaloop and are like, â€˜Cool Iâ€™ll do that,â€™â€ says Selkoe.
â€œA lot of yuppies are moving into Bostonâ€¦â€
Format: What challenges does Karmaloop, as an Internet retailer, face that storefront retailers do not encounter?
Greg Selkoe: Well finding customers is always a challenge. It took us a longtime to build up a critical mass. When you open a store you tend to get some foot traffic, but when you set-up a website it is like being in the most remote location in town and then you have to go out to the Main Street and flag everyone down and direct them to come check out your store. Also, there are a lot of technical and process logistical challenges getting orders in packed and out the door. But there are definitely a lot of advantages of being online over bricks and mortar, as well. The primary one being it is a rapidly growing retail channel while offline retail is not showing much growth.
Format: Karmaloop has its flagship storefront in Boston. Will Karmaloop expand its storefront presence to other cities?
Selkoe: Our store in Boston is there, because that is our hometown and people were on us to open a store, we have a lot of parties and events there. We are actually about to closedown for a total, gut renovation. A lot of dope streetwear stores have opened in Boston and we need to keep up, I am confident people will be feeling the new design! We have had plans at certain times to open more storefronts but they were scrapped, because the website business is growing so quickly that we need to put all of our efforts there to keep building and making it better. Scaling costs very little online we can ad another $1,000,000 in sales and barely add any more staff. Plus we are branching out into more content and KarmaloopTV.com. The future is all online!
Format: Recently, Karmaloop teamed up with streetwear kingpin, Crooks & Castles, and, basically, Crooks & Castles took over front page presence of Karmaloop. How did the Karmaloop and Crooks & Castles partnership materialize and why is it mutually beneficial?
Selkoe: We always felt that Karmaloop was the right place for Crooks to grow online, plus we were getting tons of requests for the brand. Dennis and the whole Crooks team know what they are doing; they are innovating the brand, it is pure fire. We just kept talking to them about how the brand would do once it dropped on Karmaloop. This is just the beginning for Crooks. We definitely see another streetwear legend being born!
But it is not just Crooks some other ill brands like Mighty Healthy, aNYthing, CTRL, Lamar & Dauley, Diamond Supply, Rocksmith, XLarge, Fuct, Kilo Goods, Married to the Mob, Made Me and Rocksmith have dropped or will be dropping on the site this fall.
Format: The American economy is near recession and its dollar worth is less than several of the Westernized countries that America trades with. How will the economic slump have an effect your industry, the streetwear retail industry?
Selkoe: Recessions are not good for business that is a no-brainer, but the weak dollar has not been a bad thing for us. We have a ton of international customers scooping up gear from us, because their currency is so strong so it is cheaper for them to buy from Karmaloop. The beauty of the Internet is that you have the whole world to sell to.
Format: Karmaloop is based in Boston, a city that is not known for its ties to the streetwear industry. Are there any disadvantages of being based in Boston, opposed to popular streetwear-centric cities like L.A. or New York?
Selkoe: What Boston is the fashion capital of New England! Alright that isnâ€™t much of a distinction. You are totally right, there are disadvantages. The scene here is slightly bigger than a lot of cities but nothing compared to L.A. or New York. There have definitely been obstacles as we are not out there everyday interacting with brands, but we are still interacting with brands a lot and we make the effort to be in New York all the time. It is good we are so close to New York. Also, now that we are established brands will come see us. We are really tight with the brands we sell and consider many close friends we hang with them a lot one way or another whether in the Bean or New York.
There have been a couple of advantages to being in Boston. There are lots of college students to intern and almost all the sneaker companies are here: Puma, Reebok, New Balance, Converse, Pro-Keds and Saucony. Adidas has some of their US office here and are moving more operations here. It is important, to me, that we are doing it here in Boston even with some of the challenges. I think we have an impact on Bostonâ€™s culture; if we left, it would definitely move a lot of people doing stuff in the city away.
Format: Did Matt Damon nail the Boston accent down better in The Departed or Good WiIl Hunting?
Selkoe: He is from Boston so I would say yes. The thing is, Boston accents are far less common now than they show in the movies, but what was up with the psychiatrist ladyâ€™s accent in The Departed? That one sounded bogus. A lot of yuppies are moving into Boston and like New York, and other cities, have whipped out some of the character in certain neighborhoods. But on the good side, the city is much more diverse than old stereotypes portray it. A lot people are surprised to know that the majority of the cityâ€™s population is non-white. Things are and have changed a lot. There are still the old school, tough ethnic neighborhoods, but not as many.
â€œâ€¦we came at it from an authentic place, we were into the clothing, and learned the business and retail on the way.â€
Format: Recently, Karmaloop announced its media component, Karmaloop Television (KLTV). How did the idea for KLTV materialize and what effect will KLTV have on Karmaloop, the Internet retailer?
Selkoe: Video is just what is happening on the Internet and where it is going. We realized people were going other places to get their video content and we felt we knew as much or more than what people wanted to see, so we decided to set up our own channel and Karmalooptv.com was born. Plus there are so many stories and details in streetwear culture. We have incredible access to get amazing content that other people canâ€™t; when we call up a Talib Kweli or DMC, they know about Karmaloop and are like, â€˜Cool Iâ€™ll do that.â€™ The response has been crazy! We are launching in mid-November. We have some great people helping us develop content and do interviewers like DJ Clinton Sparks, Moonshine formally of the Beatnuts, Anoma from Complex and Sexy Lou from Kicksclusive. The lineup of interviewees is amazing people like Gym Class Heroes, Roxy Cottontail, Slum Village, Kenna, DJ Muggs, Planet Asia, Hieroglyphics, Steve Aoki, Russell Simmons, Shepard Fairey, Mighty Healthy crew, Triko, Slick, New Balance Design team to name just a few, plus we are looking for more people who might want to do their own show to hit us up. We will roll it out to our 1.5 million unique visitors.
Format: Karmaloop teamed up with Puma to release a limited edition sneaker called the Karmaloop Match. How did this opportunity materialize?
Selkoe: We are cool with Barney and Theo, the marketing masters at Puma, and we hit them up. The shoe got a lot of coverage on Hypebeast, Highsnob, SlamxHype, full page in Kicksclusive and people were definitely feeling it. It is probably about time to start talking about doing another one. Hear that, Barney, you will be getting a call from me soon!
Format: Recently, communist China has attracted a lot of negative press for its exports: poisonous pet food, tainted seafood and lead paint on children’s toys. If relations between America and China were to halt, how would your industry, the street fashion industry, recover from its severed connection to cost-effective manufacturing?
Selkoe: In a doomsday scenario like that, we â€“ along with most industries â€“ would be fucked. The reality is everyone makes stuff in Asia and the vast majority is in China. Basically, other countries like Malaysia, Thailand, Mexico, Honduras, the U.S. and etcetera would have to ramp up production, quick, but there would be a year or two of total chaos. Talk about recession; that would be a global recession the likes of which the world has never seen. The good news is I donâ€™t believe there is anyway that could happen. China is just going to have to up their standards. And, they have too much riding on it.
Format: The brew-ha-ha of streetwear companies flock to MAGIC Trade Show and alike, with hopes of attracting buyers like Karmaloop and its peers. Given the surge in streetwear-centric trade show attendance, is it hard to establish relationships with brands while at a trade show?
Selkoe: I think you can never establish a true relationship from one meeting, but shows like Agenda â€“ which is absolutely killing it â€“ and United are a little more one on one. The streetwear section of MAGIC is good, too. It is still the best way to find new brands
Format: While at a trade show, what can a brand do to attract buyers?
Selkoe: Make dope clothing and believe in it.
Format: What was team Karmaloop’s experience in the streetwear industry prior to being the retail company it is today?
Selkoe: Not much besides just wearing the clothes. I think that is one of the reasons we became successful; we came at it from an authentic place, we were into the clothing, and learned the business and retail on the way.
â€œâ€¦there is a lot of pressure on brands to constantly turn new items out and innovate and peoplesâ€™ attention span for product is quick.â€
Format: In comparison to male streetwear brands, the amounts of female streetwear brands are scarce. Including females in any market, especially the streetwear, seems like a no-brainer. Why did it take the streetwear industry so long to acknowledge its female consumer?
Selkoe: I am not sure it just started out more as a male thing, but that is all in the past definitely womenâ€™s streetwear is coming hard we have a lot of new ladies brands or menâ€™s brands dropping female lines like Coup de Grace, Seventh Letter, Once Upon a Time, Hi Calorie, Dealers of the Purple Cloth, Triumvir and Goumada by SSUR. Plus, brands already killing it on the site like MOB, WeSC and MadeMe.
Format: As a retailer, what purchasing habits does Karmaloop distinguish between its male and its female consumers?
Selkoe: Men buy tons of T-shirts, denim, and sneakers. Women buy many more style types and have a more diverse wardrobe.
Format: The Internet blog makes awareness of street fashion vast, compared to the time when word of mouth or physically seeing the product, spread awareness. What are the pros and cons in street fashion being cataloged by third party blogs?
Selkoe: Pros are that it is a global marketplace now and kids can know what is up with people from around the world from Stockholm to Tokyo. Blogs spread info on style rapidly around the world and allow for a person an enormous amount of different influences, ideas and cultural references. I suppose, to some, this could also be a con â€“ it is really how you look at it. Whether we like it or not, we are moving toward one world culture that will have many niche cultures that are not defined by geographic borders. Cons: there is a lot of pressure on brands to constantly turn new items out and innovate and peoplesâ€™ attention span for product is quick. Again, this could also be a pro, but it is tough for brands to last â€“ they come and go quickly.
Format: Several clothing brands are designing into their spring 2009 line, now. Generally, designers forecast trends with instinct and conversations with peers. As a retailer, how does Karamloop forecast consumer trends in streetwear?
Selkoe: Keep our ear to the street, we reach out to our customers and they give us a ton of feedback on what they want to see and what brands they want us to get. We also have the Kazbah section of Karmaloop which has many established brands but also a lot of hungry up and coming brands as well. We trust our buyers to know what is up and what will work.
More Info: http://www.karmaloop.com