Creator of Modern Streetwear
With each popular music genre comes its own look; a specific style or piece that goes hand in
hand with the sound. Hip hop is no exception, and with its heavy influence in style, specifically
in the 90s, it is easy to wonder where these looks and styles came from. Carl Williams, the
founder of Karl Kami, created clothing that would become synonymous with 90s hip hop and hip
hop culture, as well as street style. Through his work, he has solidified these trends in music,
and in general, for years and years to come.
Throughout time, artists have been inspired by the everyday, the exciting, and the controversial
for the way that they dress and the pieces they choose. With hip hop’s growing traction and
mainstreaming in the 90s came the growing need for its fashion to become more known and
become more accessible: hip hop culture and streetstyle was changing from huge pendants and
velour sweatsuits to clothing inspired by normal streetwear, like baggy jeans and oversized t-
shirts and jerseys. Without Carl Williams’ influence and work, we may not know these styles as
so monumental today; we may not even know them at all.
Born in Costa Rica and relocating to Brooklyn at the age of 2, Williams found himself in one of
the greatest states in the world in one of the most magical and influential decades ever: the 70s.
While disco and dance energy ran rampant through the streets of New York, so did a financial
crisis. But with this crisis came the groundwork of hip hop being laid, as well. Then and there,
Williams became immersed in his new city and found his inspiration for his later work.
Unlike many, Williams was introduced to hip hop by quite literally being front row at local shows,
specifically being performed by the B-Boys, rather than hearing a muddled down version on
MTV. Williams thought he wanted to be a rap artist at 13, but when he realized he lacked the
rhythm and talent to be the frontman of a rap group, he moved onto his new goal of dressing the
rappers he so admired. Gaining inspiration from the custom-made pieces his father wore, and
learning that there are talented people who can get your clothing vision made well, he began to
make his own clothing to impress his friends. He brought his designs to the same tailor that
made his father’s clothing, and when his friends became envious of his looks, he said that he
would make the same for them, too. Thus began William’s long legacy of designing clothing
that everyone wanted.
William’s brand, Karl Kani, still has roots from his very first design. Williams created oversized
clothing from the start, and never let up, essentially creating the framework for the streetwear
we know and love and admire today. He gained notoriety slowly; he was making clothes at 19
for his friends to wear on the nightclub scene. While he did not make a huge earning, he
persevered, and with the addition of a proper brand name to his designs, Karl Kani, word of his
clothing got around, and the rest was history.
Present day, Williams and Karl Kani are still thriving; they have flagship stores in 25 countries in
Europe, as well as 13 flagship stores in Japan, specifically in Harajuku. Williams has stayed
true to his original vision and goal of streetwear, and his designs to this day are evident of his
roots and vision. Williams’ passion is evident and important, and as the father of modern
streetwear and hip hop fashion, his accomplishments should be lifted up and celebrated even
more than they are now. By: Emily Goldberg