Hi everyone! We are excited to bring you an interview with the one and only Bobby Kim aka Bobby Hundreds, Co-Founder of The Hundreds and a great human. We have been huge huge fans of the brand since we were lining up for their Black Friday sales back in 2009 and had the chance to become friends over the past few months.
I truly enjoyed reading Bobby’s new book “This is not a T-shirt” because it gives such a real look into what starting a business (especially in the fashion space) is like. There are so many downs in the process and Bobby makes sure to highlight the tumultuous route that got them to where they are today. Most founder / company bios I’ve read tell a revisionist history that perfectly connects through all their successes - and that is just not the reality of it.
Check out this book ASAP if you haven’t – it is an amazing journey and story for anyone. And thank you to Bobby for taking the time and being so honest about his experience with mental health. We grew up watching The Hundreds grow and played a big role in our development of Madhappy.
Check out Bobby’s Blog, Instagram, and Twitter!
And make sure to buy “This is Not A T-Shirt” now online or at your local bookstore!
1. We loved reading your new book “This is not a T-shirt” and wanted to know what the initial inspiration was to share your story?
There’s a lot of “inspirational/aspirational” business literature out there that’s not telling the entire truth. Lots of bestsellers on how to get rich quick. Most of what the business media likes to report on are these huge valuations, tech model investments, rounds of funding. And straight up, it makes sense. Our society is increasingly conflating numbers with success and happiness. So, the larger the valuations, buyouts, and investments, the bigger the story, the more credible (and incredible) a company appears.
But, there are other business stories out there. They don’t get written about or publicized, because they’re not sexy or marketable. The family-run bodega on the corner. The skateboard company that has endured multiple cycles and is quietly making a killing overseas. One of my friends has an industrial pipe business that has carried generations of modest living.
This is the book for that. There’s nothing wrong with investors or raising capital, but we (The Hundreds) bootstrapped this streetwear brand out of our apartment. We suffered heavy failures along the way. Sixteen years later we are still here, happier and more successful than ever, although you won’t see that story in the news. Our label doesn’t make the headlines that a hot new brand would attain, but I can say with certainty that we know how to run the better business. If you’re interested in reading a story of an tried-and-true business that takes care of its staff, provides for its families, and produces work its proud of, then this is the book for you.
2. Can you talk about the first encounter (whether personal or not) you had with mental health?
I suffered from major depression in my teenage years and it still visits me on occasion. For one, I didn’t grow up in an ideal home environment. I also never felt like I belonged anywhere, because of my race, the language and cultural barriers within my own community, and the fringe interests I was attracted to. I attempted suicide twice in high school. There wasn’t enough discussion about mental health at that time, and my immigrant parents would’ve frowned on the idea of therapy or counseling. It wasn’t until I was much older that I was forced to deal with a lot of this trauma and confusion.
3. We saw perseverance as one of the main themes of your book - how did you deal with the many ups and downs that come with building The Hundreds?
The only reason why I’ve maintained any semblance of composure throughout my career is that I’m surrounded by supportive and understanding people. From my wife and children to my staff to our audience. They’ve always been there when I needed the help. Even when I was stuck on a layover in San Francisco the other week, The Hundreds’ community visited me in my hotel lobby and brought me clothes and food. As important as it is to work on ourselves, we must reach out and ask for help. We have to invest in other people and make commitments to them. I promise you it will solve most everything
4. The Hundreds was very community based from day one - which inspired the community we hoped to create with Madhappy - what would you say were key elements that you guys instilled to foster this?
We’ve tried to be as honest and communicative with our “fans” and supporters. I believe there’s a level of trust with the customer that is often not seen in other clothing brands. Ben and I have always acknowledged that we’re not the best, the coolest, or know everything. We’re out here trying our hardest, having fun, and grateful for the engagement. Our community knows the importance they have to our brand. How we couldn’t have done any of this without their love and support.
5. What input would you give to brands hoping to gain traction online when it comes to blogging and sharing impactful stories?
I think effective journalism comes from a place of genuine curiosity. I’m not sure how far you can get with your documentary process if you aren’t obsessed or infatuated with the subject matter. So, first, we need to ensure passion is in place. Then, take your reader’s hand and walk them through the journey with you. As you discover, they discover. It’s always more fun to find and learn together.
6. And lastly – where do you think the biggest opportunity lies in streetwear over the next decade?
“Streetwear” has already been dissociated from its historical context of T-shirt brands and sneakers, and that’s not necessarily an awful thing. I’m all for change and progression. I think “streetwear” is an attitude and approach to business now more than anything. It’s equal parts community, capitalism, and the foundational elements of limited supply, marketing hype, and brand integrity. So you can apply this exercise toward any product or commerce. There are streetwear restaurant models, streetwear barber shops and streetwear-minded auto dealerships. A lot of the men and women who grew up as fans or in the industry have now adapted that methodology to their careers in entertainment, weed, tech, and sports. “Streetwear” now transcends apparel.
Favorite thing you have ever made?
Best books for someone building a brand?
I like Start with Why by Simon Sinek.
JD Salinger, Bill Watterson…
What fashion trend are you really into right now?
I like that people are taking artistic risks and pushing the creative envelope. It can honestly first feel ugly and off-putting, but we need to get past that threshold in order for things to change and move forward. I hate the years where everyone is being conservative and “too cool” in their dress. It’s safe and boring and that’s never been my style.
As summer is coming to an end, what is one thing you’re going to miss the most?
I live in LA and my work never slows down. So, it could be Christmas or 4th of July, all the same to me!
If you had a billboard everyone in the world could read, what would it say?
Favorite Madhappy piece?!
Your Jon & Vinny’s collaboration hat!