FAULT Magazine Interviews Karl Kani ‘The Originator’

Karl Kani X FAULT Magazine Issue 31 Preview

karl kani designer interview


Photography and words: Miles Holder

Before Yeezy, Obey and Bathing Ape became household names, one streetwear brand ruled supreme – Karl Kani. Founded by Carl Williams [Kani], the brand was synonymous with the HipHop ‘s revolution of the 1990s. It wasn’t only embraced by Hip Hop culture, it was a part of it, ingrained into the very essence of what it meant to be Hip Hop. While east and west coast rappers battled it out on stage and in the streets, one common ground they found was their love for the brand. Tupac, Biggie Smalls, Jay Z, P.Diddy, Aaliyah and even Michael Jackson have been pictured wearing Karl Kani pieces but we shouldn’t fall into the trap of only talking about their former glory when the brand is still influential in the present day. 

Musicians Teyana Taylor, Ariana Grande, Migos, 2 Chainz, Dr. Dre, Rihanna and many others are still frequently spotted wearing statement Karl Kani pieces.

As iconic as the brand was in the realms of Hip Hop, it also found a lesser talked about admiration within the skate and surf communities the World over. In preparation for our interview taking in place in Berlin, I am inundated with stories from people of different origins about just how much Karl Kani defined their youths. 

I caught up with founder and CEO Karl Kani to discuss the inception of the brand, its current trajectory and to meet the man behind such a culturally important institution. 


karl kani designer interview


As you look back on your career, whats has been the hardest lesson you had to learn about the business? 

Practice, patience and accepting that not everything is going to go my way. We just celebrated 30 years of Karl Kani in 2019. Throughout the years we went through ups and downs, trials and tribulations but every time we went through something it worked itself out. When you’re going through things, you start to panic and things may not go the way you want but we’ve been through so much over the years that we learned to stay focused. Not giving up on myself has been the hardest part but I stay focused, strong, and keep my eyes on the goal. 


It’s easier to say than do. When times do get rough, what inspired you to keep going?

I look at hip-hop and look at the early pioneers that don’t get their deserved props today. I don’t want to be one of those guys that started a whole movement, started streetwear, has the title of the ‘godfather of streetwear’ for my brand just to become obsolete. I don’t want the history books to remember Karl Kani that way. 

We always got to work hard to keep that title the way it is because if we don’t do that, the whole story of where streetwear started will be told in a whole different way. Once they get the originator out of the way, anyone can go claim your throne and pretend that they started it. We know that’s not the case, when we started there was nobody around that did what we did. We changed the trajectory of streetwear fashion and made an impact on the streets the way only Karl Kani could. 

karl kani designer interview


Contemporary superstars like Ariana Grande and Rihanna are also still wearing your brand – why do you think musicians still flock to Karl Kani after all these years. 

I think people want the original thing. There are so many people trying to make replicas and get into the business but then after a few years it gets too tough and they dwindle out. Look what happened to all the urban brands of the 1990s, where they at? They’d love to be here but they’re not.

Everyone has worn us from Michael Jackson, Arianna, Tupac, Biggie, Jay Z and Rihanna and all those people recognise the brand, they relate to it and they know it’s real. 


karl kani designer interview

Who is the musician that surprised you most? 

The person that surprised me was Michael Jackson. The only time he wore streetwear it was Karl Kani. It was for Vibe Magazine and Kidada Jones styled him and came to me with a video of Michael Jackson wearing Karl Kani. That blew my mind because in a million years I would never think that Michael Jackson would be in pair of baggy pants and a hoodie but he did it and looked cool.


What is your FAULT?

I can be too driven. I get to a place where I don’t allow any negative energy into my life and sometimes I can take that too far. If I’m on a mission and people aren’t talking about my mission I tend to not give it too much attention. Over an extended period, it’s worth listening though. Maybe I’ll slow down when I turn eighty.