In less than a decade Hypebeast has grown from a simple blog into a media empire in it’s own right. Site founder Kevin Ma began the site in 2005 and since then it’s become a definitive online destination for anyone interested in men’s fashion. In the past year Hypebeast launched both an online store AND a print publication Hypebeast Magazine.
I had the opportunity to pick the brain of Eugene Kan, who is the Managing Editor at Hypebeast. Eugene has been at the center of Hypebeast’s evolution into these new ventures and in this interview he shares some of the why’s and how’s behind the expansion. We also touch on other topics including the proliferation of streetwear online, his favorite retail shops worldwide and how the men’s fashion market is changing throughout Asia.
Read the interview after the jump
Tell me a bit about your role with Hypebeast and how you first got involved with the site?
I’m the Managing Editor of Hypebeast but it’s a pretty broad and wide sweeping series of tasks. Every day it entails making sure the machine keeps moving but it also encompasses determining overall strategy.In the first few years, it was managing a “small” team of people largely in the same room and now it’s spanning so many different timezones and obviously a much bigger team. I originally moved to Hong Kong to play professional soccer and never really intended to make a long-winded career of it but given the fact I had so much free time I spent a lot of it looking at sneakers and doing a bit of part-time blogging for a local online store (Kix-Files). I eventually got connected to Kevin Ma (Hypebeast founder) and we linked up through a mutual friend.
The website has branched out from just covering streetwear and sneakers to covering everything from music to high-end fashion. Can you speak on how the culture and content of Hypebeast has evolved with the times?
All in all it was a natural progression of sorts. You get older, you start seeing more product and get put onto more things, so your array of interests grow. I think that part of it has been a reflection of the times (it is afterall HYPEbeast). For example food… that was probably never really a big part of Hypebeast in the early days but it really has become an integral part of both Hypebeast and the industry (see the chef-inspired GANT or Stussy burger collaborations).
There seems to be an entirely new youth-driven movement of internet-marketed streetwear brands. Many of these have used the internet (and particularly tumblr) to raise brand awareness. This is quite a contrast of the old streetwear model which was to maintain as much secrecy and exclusivity as possible. What role has Hypebeast had as an opinion leader in the growth of these brands? How do you feel about about the internet’s impact on streetwear?
Streetwear at its root (less so high-street because it prices out the youth) is very youth-driven. And having said that, streetwear and youth culture are synonymous with one another. Youth culture is a good barometer for the current cultural landscape so we just represent what are things that are seemingly of relevance (read between the lines, hyped). But in general the Internet has obviously made things very flat across the board for fashion, streetwear and virtually all brands. I still remember seeing COMME des FUCKDOWN caps on Instagram back home in Canada and thought how weird it was. In reality, online stores and accessibility go a long ways to helping spread the message.
Moving into print has been a huge move for Hypebeast. What was the reason behind this and what were some of the growing pains involved?
The print magazine began as a passion project first and foremost and allowed for something much different from the digital platform. I recently wrote a piece about why exactly Fashion needs Print and most of it comes down to context. Are we able to get the best experience or put ourselves in the best position to consume content digitally, I don’t really think so. Despite being a digital platform, there are many analog things that we simply don’t see digital replacing just yet hence why we’re invested in sort of “old-school” things because they’re yet to be fully replaced.
Having said that, Hypebeast is still continually trying to explore the notion of high/low and high contrast relationships in regards to all things. It’s the contrast of fashion and of course high-street which you’re familiar with that will forever be an interesting dialog for it all.
The whole team that started the magazine was crazy in putting it all together with little to no previous print experience. All in all, we’re excited to move forward and see what we can create. The growing pains are ironically something fun and rewarding for me. It’s probably the reason that I’m still so very interested in Hypebeast all these years. Being based in Hong King is good for some things, not so good for others since you’re trying to figure out the logistics of it all. I mean there are inevitably delays and I think as we get more and more experienced, we’ll be able to have that streamlined and focus primarily on greater editorials with more impact.
What was the reason behind launching the online store?
For however long Hypebeast has been very product-centric. For virtually everybody, seeing something tangible makes it easy to understand what it represents but that’s not to say that the process and the lead-up to the final product are just as important. With a store, it just adds in another layer of value and convenience. A lot of people are coming to Hypebeast with interest in product regardless. I mean there was a lot of resistance and hate when HB went into the retail route but at the same time the success of it shows that there’s reader interest when linking the two.
Yes there are similar platforms out there but most are retail first, editorial second. We do editorially-driven retail in addition to pure editorial which is in itself a unique product.
One thing people haven’t necessarily given enough credit to is the ability to create your own store editorials and imagery rather than rely on others. Sometimes both brands and retailers aren’t that interested in creating strong visuals but as we all know the internet doesn’t allow for touch and feel and visuals are the most reliant form of communication. So if they aren’t strong, it’s a disservice to both the brand and the retailer.
Being based in Hong Kong puts Hypebeast in a very special position in that the site is able to cover things from both a Western and Asian perspective. Hypebeast sort of bridges the gap between Asian brands and western ones. Could you speak on some of the key differences between the American, European, and Asian markets.
I think that Hong Kong is a pretty mature and developed market for fashion consumption. I would not say it’s a big market for creation though. There are lots of limitations on what you can do based on both culture (we know all too well that Asian parents don’t encourage their children to pursue creative industries) as well as real estate. There aren’t a ton of opportunities for retail or studios but it’s slowly changing.
In regards to North America and Europe, I think that an element of “face” (and needing to impress) that is inherently baked into various Asian cultures makes for something that vibes quite heavily with fashion. Of course fashion’s main markets for creation aside from Japan, reside primarily in Europe and to a degree the coasts of the US, the Asian market is perhaps more in-tune with it all. I had some friends visit (Hong Kong) and while seeing a handful of people wearing new sneakers and relatively well-known streetwear labels is a common everyday occurrence here (even outside of work), I think it’s probably not the same globally
On that point as well, could you speak about what exciting things are happening not just in Japan, but also Korea, Taiwan and mainland China.
I think South Korea and China are two markets that if not already will definitely have their stake in the way creativity plays out from both creation and consumption point of views. The days of bling and conspicuous logos for the Chinese demographic are being balanced by an increasingly educated consumer who simply want more and know better.
When I was in South Korea a year and half ago, it was really popping off. I mean if you look at the cultural pillars in force now, they’re quite notable including music, electronics (Samsung is the new Sony) and fashion and I’d be interested to see how it all comes together. South Korea still has a decent production background which should allow for quality and reasonably priced (relative to their Japanese counterparts) fashion offerings.
Having travelled and experienced many retail shops, what are some of your favorite places to shop around the world?
A lot of the relatively big select shops in Japan such as BEAMS and United Arrows always do an amazing job of merchandising. To see what they’ve done and to go and curate this experience that tells the story and makes the consumer understand the interplay between contemporary fashion, sport and lifestyle is pretty cool and of course even if it’s just styling on a mannequin it’s on point.
A personal soft spot is HAVEN. The original Edmonton store is like 5 minutes away from where my parents live and while they opened while I was already in Hong Kong, it was cool to come back and see what they’ve done and their expansion.
On a personal level what brands or products are exciting you currently? What would you like to see more of?
The brands that excite have always had a certain technical angle to it. I’ve been fascinated by how technology in fashion (and not necessarily wearable tech) but more subtle integrations can take on both design and functionality. Another thing is to see how the price and accessibility can be driven downwards to make it more accessible. Who wouldn’t benefit from apparel that is breathable and quick drying across the board in a well-designed package?
You can follow Eugene on Twitter.