Chronicles of the HYPEBEAST Forum: Forming Business From Bullsh*t
In part one of the Chronicles of the HYPEBEAST Forum, we explored the world of online fashion communities with a group of seasoned interwebbers who have successfully built careers in different areas of the menswear industry. Consisting of individuals like Joshua Kissi of Street Etiquette and Phil Annand of The Madbury Club, each have been able to monetize their knowledge and great taste by forming full creative agencies. Photographer Julian Berman has grown his hobby into a career shooting portraiture for huge publications. Neek of Anti Social Social Club and Mega of Black Scale, two guys that learned a great deal about the industry while working retail at flagship locations. And of course Kiya of Self Edge, who has been able to keep American heritage alive in the denim world for the past 10 years. But first, lets take a quick look at how things were going circa 2006-2010.
Long before Tyler dropped Bastard, before Rocky got dipped in Blvck Scvle for the “Pe$o” video, before the masses shared aspirations of becoming a street photographer or a DJ, ‘street culture’ as we know it today was a new thing that had only just stemmed from the OG community of NikeTalk. This second generation of fashion forum users was mainly divided amongst the HYPEBEAST Forums, Sole Collector, Styleforumand superfuture™. Most people at the time were sneakerheads wearing baggy A.P.C. Rescues and T-shirts containing sneaker puns that perfectly matched their Nike SB colorways. Some guys were transitioning to tapered jeans, and embarking the long and smelly journey of raw denim in pursuit of crisp honeycomb fades. HUF still had three brick and mortar locations, and brands like The Hundreds, LRG, and Obey were thriving and slowly making their way into your local malls.
Instagram had not yet been launched and Tumblr was the largest social platform, many people were gaining momentum in the micro-blogging world by providing the best content, eventually exposing ‘street culture’ to a larger audience. Now when it comes to ‘creatives,’ unless a serious career in photography was the plan, most wouldn’t think twice about spending that kind of money on a DSLR. Young aspiring musicians were only starting to realize how easy it was to build a music career with cracked programs, YouTube tutorials, and a DIY closet studio.
At that time the sense of community within the HYPEBEAST Forum was undeniable, even if most members spoke anonymously from behind the safety of a computer screen. Much was learned through the hours spent reading no-holds-barred criticism about products, and how people dressed. It became very apparent what the average HYPEBEAST reader liked and disliked. Essentially, fashion forums provided entrepreneurs with a direct view into the minds of their would-be consumer. In part 2 of this interview, we take a look at how message boards played a part in establishing businesses.
Did you find the forum helpful in building your brand?
Joshua Kissi (Street Etiquette)
The HYPEBEAST Forums were a great stepping stone for a ton of folks. HYPEBEAST was an internet message board rooted in community, research, discovery and most importantly, consumerism. We consumed brands and the lifestyles they depicted to us, and essentially some of us received the opportunity to create our very own frame through the consumption of all that information and media.
It was around 2008 I first started to pick up a camera. I was certainly just a hobbyist at the time, learning the ropes and just having fun. Never would I have thought it would evolve into any sort of brand or career at the time. A few of us were shooting, and there were a couple of pretty active photography threads but nothing crazy. Never did we talk business or branding at the time.
Neek (Anti Social Social Club)
Making a career out of the internet is something organic that happened out of nowhere.
I never thought that lurking online would land me a career. A lot of brands these days depend on blogs and social media to get their message out to the consumer. Kids have an attention span of one second, a flick of a scroll on their phone. The forums had valuable information to many brands that are still in business today. A lot of inspiration and ideas came from threads & posts. People commenting and making their opinions, which lead to designs and lookbooks. Anyone online can brand themselves, whereas companies can use it for ideas, modeling, etc. It’s as easy as a quick scroll through Instagram or conducting a Tumblr search.
Phil Annand (The Madbury Club)
Absolutely. If people who read the front page of HYPEBEAST are the hyper-educated consumers of the world, the kids who read and post on the forums are twice as fanatical in every way possible. So if you can figure out the maniacs you can probably figure out the casual consumer. That could be terrible advice though, to be honest I’ve never thought about the validity of that besides however long it took me to write this sentence. With all sincerity though, next to the local kids that bought every Award Tour drop, the support on the HB Forums made that brand what it was. It was always about the following, and community that supported it.
Kiya Babzani (Self Edge)
Definitely, that ‘forum community’ that people talk about is a very real thing. It is strong enough to be compared to real life communities and clubs in some ways due to how dynamic and constant a forum is.
Mega (Blvck Scvle)
The forums always helped our brand because it gave the loyalist a place to share their love for the brand, or the haters a chance to vent. It’s a place where they can interact with the owners, and our employees and can service customers with releases and/or special projects. It’s a great place to really talk about your product.
There was a lot of networking that happened between forum members, is there anybody you still collaborate with whom you met on the forums?
Yeah! There’s a ton of folks I’ve worked with or met through the forums that probably aren’t big names, but contributed something to the forums. Our friend Chris Alborano, who created our Street Etiquette logo from 2008 to now. Jermaine Davis, who has created our site since 2008, as you can see it’s really about building community. I guess the more notable are like Phil Annand of Madbury Club who has been a good friend of mine, and Tyler, the Creator who I met recently.
I’ve met tons of individuals from the forums throughout the years, and like I said, still keep in touch with a few. It’s just interesting to see how we’ve progressed, gotten older, and just what we’re into. How career paths evolved, how style progressed, and just seeing what people are into nowadays. Many fell off the grid, some stuck within the fashion world, and some just went AWOL. I have not actually worked with many from the forum days, but would love to link up and talk shop one day. Joshua Kissi and Phil Annand are both killing the game currently, let’s talk business boys!
Too much to list.
Josh Kissi, Anwar Carrots, Neek, Eugene and Kevin, Brook… Artoo sent me the very first OG Air Yeezys because of general forum friendship, and because he was a rad dude. I work with Dennis Todisco now on Nike Sportswear. I run into people here and there, as everyone still works in similar circles. Andrew Chen from 3sixteen, Tyler, the Creator, etc. Everyone is always good vibes, some genuine friends as well. I’ll raise beers with anyone. I don’t meet up with these people and talk about the Internet though, or the golden days of typing on keyboards or further bullshit along those lines. They’re actually friends.
Yes, I have an ongoing leather line with ‘Cotton Duck’ from superfuture, produced by Flat Head. Also, we did a collaborative jean with the legendary ‘ringring’ of superfuture about four years ago.
Yeah most of the first generation forum heads are still close with each other, with the likes of Dennis Todisco who really worked hard and made it in our industry. Shout out to DT. A lot of the first users posting on our brand page still shop with us. I mean brand owners like Nick Diamond used to post and we are good friends, I know he was all about the forums but he got over it due to information getting lost. It became a shit-talking forum and no longer about the product.
Do you think that the culture of the forums matured throughout the years and guided menswear into what it is today?
Definitely, I think the culture of the forums guided not only menswear, but also streetwear considering that today the lines have blurred between the two categories. The kids of streetwear wanted to clean up a little bit as we got older but still contain some grit in appearance. Meanwhile the guys of menswear wanted to break down the formalities of the style, and still appear “mature.” That’s really all through discussion on the internet, brands being mindful of this and delivering the product to consumers.
Absolutely not. This era of streetwear and the forums died, sadly. Simply put, the current forums are atrocious, and just really, really sad. Not sure who or what is to blame, probably pop culture… or how easily accessible streetwear is these days. I could go on forever and probably sound like a jaded sack of crap but why bother. There is no denying that back then was a ‘time and place’ thing. This small community message board has now evolved into some weird mishmash of 4chan, Tumblr, Reddit and whatever else kids are into these days. You look at the WDYWT threads now and it is just bombarded with GIFs, non-funny jokes, constant shit talking; it’s just sad, and a real eyesore. There is no constructive criticism, no sense of community, it’s not just fun. I am not basking on the past because there is really nothing you can do, but I feel sorry for anybody that was unable to experience what we had at the time. Streetwear now is on a grand scale, and that’s doing good I guess. People are now able to make a living doing what they love, but it’s not how it used to be. Menswear, like everything, is just another fashion fad. Was it a direct evolution of streetwear? Probably not. I hope not. Some of the heads from the old HYPEBEAST days are into higher fashion and more ‘swag’ brands, and that’s cool if that’s their thing, but I am not a fan. I will always be partial to how we used to dress, even that era of fashion seems to be dead. 2008-2010 was a great time to be into clothes. Now, you have kids waiting 72 hours in advance to get a Supreme shirt, so there is that.
The internet in general has affected people and how we live. I came from a city where there was nothing to do, a place of no culture, a desert. My outlet to see the world was the internet. Back in high school I hung out with the emo, skate, punk kids wearing studded denim jackets & homemade pants, never accepted with the mainstream kids. The cool kids were never online and it was looked as being a loser. Now it’s the coolest thing to do is have a blog, brand, website, be the internet superstar. What happened to the jocks? The cheerleaders? I remember when the kids would make fun of me because of what I wore, now you see everyone wearing the tightest jeans possible because of their favorite musicians. I know for damn well the same kids that were into popping collared pink polo’s are now wearing tight leather pants and high fashion brands. Nowadays brands start as “Internet” brands that revolve around the computer, keyboard buttons, signs and symbols. It’s funny how the internet works, and how people get easily offended. Copying, making things that exist, but at the end of the day it is all the same. Being weird and different is now the ‘cool’ thing. “Losers are the cool kids and the cool kids are the losers.”
I think the forums played a role. I would give more credit to the earliest menswear blogs for driving and directing a billion dollar industry. Every time I see a store stacked floor to ceiling with fucking weathered crewnecks, chinos, selvedge denim, and fucking tote bags I shake my head and go, “Wow. That used to be the smallest nook of the internet nerdery.” So I would pass that torch to the early blogs, which were definitely within the HB hemisphere and followed and supported by lots of the readers. But it was a different vibe than what I remember personally being on. HB was much more of a Supreme/Dior/Vans vibe. Which obviously had, and continues to have a massive influence as well. Speaking strictly about menswear I would give that to the blogs. If you want to talk about HB influencing streetwear or “urban” style then I would just point to a Kanye West or similar and track their evolution. I guarantee that more or less every change in style from polo shirts, bad denim and Louis backpacks all the way up to visvim, Margiela, etc. was probably preempted or on full display by something or someone on HB or the HB Forums about six months to a year in advance. Some guy from Berlin, or someone from Japan was always doing that kind of shit well in advance. sufu probably deserve some credit as well.
I don’t think any forum really guided menswear much except for maybe Styleforum. I feel that #menswear as we know it today was born more out of Tumblr and blogs.
Can you list some benefits you gained from posting on these forums?
Business opportunities, great network, traveling, comfortability, lifelong friends. (<3)
The ability to connect with individuals from around the world through the common interest of simple clothing is something special. Like I’ve said time and time again, and blabbered my head off about… there was just a nice, refreshing sense of community. You called these people your friends, whether you had met them or not. This was all simply because you were into T-shirts, into sneakers, into fashion, whatever it was. It was a real fun time. I suppose there was the ability to get hooked up, get gear proxied to you… but really I just benefited from having these people to talk to, to share my common interest with.
HYPEBEAST Forums were the last forums I will ever participate in because I’m trying to get as far away from computers these days as possible. But for industry, product and general knowledge… during those years those forums couldn’t be touched. I learned more relevant information in two years of trading stories, bullshitting, and reading than in three and a half years of liberal arts education, plain and simple. Very much helped to put me where I’m at today.
I’ve learned a massive amount about every imaginable thing while browsing and posting on forums, the important part is going back and continuing to be a part of the conversations or else the knowledge drifts away.
In the beginning using the forum was great to interact with our customers.