The Hundreds is Huge

SO HUGE, we could’ve started this spread with a nice big photo of its Triton co-founder, Bobby Kim ’00, or Bobby Hundreds, as he’s known, but… it just doesn’t seem right. Because as much as The Hundreds began with Bobby, its hugeness is more about what it’s become, the niche he tapped into and helped expand and refine, the team that was built, and the fans and followers gained—a community founded on eclectic interests in art, music, and style, but centered on the genre of clothing known as streetwear. But yeah, as for Bobby, he’s up there—far left, second from the top, with the crew.

So—streetwear. If you know it, you know it; if you think you don’t, here’s what you need in a nutshell, straight from Bobby’s recent book, This is Not a T-Shirt—the most definitive account yet written on the streetwear phenomenon: “Young men and women collecting limited-edition clothing like comic books.” It’s a nice snapshot of the product and the culture that surrounds it. Early on, obscurity and scarcity was the main driver. Starting (arguably) in the ’90s, independently-made, underground apparel companies produced rare and hard-to-find items that collectors could wear as a badge that they were hip to this burgeoning scene.

Bobby Hundreds was not yet one of them, however, just a teenage skateboarder in L.A.’s inland empire, listening to hardcore punk music, aware of the fashions of these scenes but more focused on their immediate aspects, namely, popping kickflips off curbs and screaming along with his CDs.

This was the kid who came to UC San Diego, eager to get involved in everything that wasn’t a suburban strip mall. He DJ’ed at KSDT student radio station, made zines, took photos, put shows together at the Che Café, and was even elected as Associated Students’ communications commissioner. “I think I’m just genuinely a very curious person,” he says. “Even now, I’ll do deep dives, getting very passionate about very specific things. So back then I would find something, especially if it was related to social justice or a particular cause, and I’d just dive in.

“I was also kind of a social butterfly,” he continues. “I must have hit every college in one way or another, starting off at Revelle but living with overflow Roosevelt students in Argo, transferring to Marshall but living in Warren, and my girlfriend at the time was in Muir. I was in a lot of social circles—just that kind of loud, wild guy on campus with the different hair color every week.”

Between writing, music, activism, drawing, and photography, Bobby in his college days had more interests than he had hair colors.

Academically, he was just as outgoing, initially shooting for a triple major before settling into communications, with minors in psychology, theater, and computing in the arts. But the watershed moment came when a TA, Katynka Martinez, PhD ’03, referred him to an internship at Warp (later Stance) magazine, which was focused on boardsports, music, art, and the 1990s alternative era in general. One of his early mentors, Kevin Immamura, charged him with the magazine’s fashion reviews, turning him onto the many underground brands starting up around the world—each with different aesthetics, personalities, and attitudes.

“Working for a magazine was an awakening in terms of what I could do with my life—I always thought, well, one day you’ll have to take that traditional career path: doctor, lawyer… But here was something different—people making a living from what they loved.”

Bobby staved off that traditional career path for a while after graduation, moving to L.A. and freelance writing for various publications. But the instability of that market eventually made something traditional, like law school, a bit more appealing. He enrolled at Loyola, intending to apply his activist leanings into human rights work, making a difference in the legal realm while still being creative on the side. He’d never stopped drawing, taking photos, and writing about his various interests; however, all this output was going online as the latest rage sweeping the ’00s—blogging.

The blog was a passion project, a way to keep his soul afloat through law school. “I was trying to become a lawyer so that I could be an artist,” Bobby writes, and it wasn’t working. He didn’t fit, and luckily, he wasn’t alone.

Sneakers had become a big part of collector culture once old-school styles grew scarce, and Bobby, a full-blown sneakerhead by then, noticed a pair of black Nike Air Jordan IVs on the feet of his fellow law student, Ben Shenassafar. He paid Ben a compliment to start, and after some conversational sparring to gauge each other’s street smarts, the two were fast friends—both law students with ambitions elsewhere. In no time, they were doing less studying and more scheming on how to enter the streetwear space. Bobby brought in his blog as the clincher—using articles and stories, an online magazine essentially, they’d create and consolidate a lifestyle around their particular brand, named the The Hundreds—a nod to a substantive number of people, one they would eventually hit, and ultimately far exceed.

But first, they slid into roles: while Ben and his cousin handled business, Bobby headed up the creative side: graphics for T-shirts and content for the blog. And given that one of his go-to article formats would be lists, soon known as the “listicle,” let’s go ahead and preempt this story for…

7 Ways the Hundreds Was Made

01. They bore the word.

Before the business, before the book, there was the blog. And early on, the blog was Bobby, bringing like-minds together around the things he (and they) loved: music, art, skateboarding, and streetwear. “I was simultaneously entrepreneur and investigative journalist,” he writes, digging into a relatively unknown, underground culture. This chronicle aspect would become The Hundreds’ secret sauce: the stories behind their goods—the reasons why they make what they make—ground the brand in personality and purpose.

02. They hit the streets.

When the word became fabric, so to speak, and The Hundreds first started making T-shirts, they got the goods out on barely a shoestring. Grassroots street teams made up of ardent early fans spread the word, while Bobby and Ben got clever in creating demand—or at least the façade of it. They’d sell small amounts of apparel to the hottest shops in town, only to have friends ask for it by name and buy it back. Tricky, genius, or both, retailers wanted more, and as the brand caught on, so did the public.

03. They collaborated.

The Hundreds’ “collabs”—limited product lines that mix imagery and style with other artists, companies, and honestly, anything—may well be what sets The Hundreds in a league of its own. They made collabs an art form: teaming up with record labels, classic cinema icons, even Tapatio hot sauce. They choose what they do wisely, though: with a high-profile collab like Disney, for instance, the obvious move would’ve been for the mouse. But The Hundreds opted for Peter Pan’s Lost Boys instead, a better fit with their ethos and fan following.

04. They got recognized.

The Hundreds struck upon their own iconic character when Bobby sketched out Adam Bomb, an illustrated explosive alarmed by its own lit fuse. It’s a good analogy for Bobby’s sticky relationship with the mascot—as its popularity exploded, Bobby worried it could overshadow the brand’s purpose, reducing the spirit of community to an eye-catching cartoon. Despite demand, in the end they dialed the bomb back and now reserve it—as is the practice—to limited edition releases.

05. They grew, staying true.

To be in shopping malls was a perilous thing in the streetwear space—you could reach tons more people, but you risk losing those who’ve connected deeply via the intimacy that comes with relative obscurity. Bobby himself probably had the most difficult time with it, an internal conflict of principle—“I was embroiled in a war with Bobby Kim,” he writes. But knowing that early adopters may well have been growing out of the brand made the mall move a bit easier.

06. They represented.

Back when Bobby was Associated Students communications commissioner, he devoted funds to Voz Fronteriza, a Chicanx student publication with a long and storied history. “When I was on campus, minority communities had a very clear lack of representation, so I wanted their voice to be heard and represented.” The Hundreds likewise brought much-needed nuance to an industry that largely polarized cultures as “urban” or “action sports.” “The ethnic makeup of this country has changed quite a bit, and with us, Ben being Iranian-American, and my parents being Korean immigrants, we felt that there can be room in streetwear for people like us.”

07. They learned from mentors.

So, so many of them: From his college internship to the fabric districts of Hong Kong, from figureheads like Tommy Hilfiger, who almost bought the company, all the way to Abe Edelman, a law clerk Bobby worked with back in the day. These people made their impact on Bobby’s life and, in doing so, made The Hundreds what it is. Through it all, Bobby sought out people he admired, learned from them, and shared what he learned with the world, putting those lessons into practice with everything they make.

That sure covered some ground, and it should convey how The Hundreds did too, spreading like wildfire and now firmly seated as a major player in streetwear. But just as Bobby joined clubs and causes throughout college, his interests are exploding all over again. Beyond the nonstop collabs and new merchandise, The Hundreds has developed a food festival in L.A., a business incubator to help other start-up brands, various podcasts and video series’, and over the course of all that growth, Bobby wrote the book on streetwear. Now that he had a following, he writes, “I’d like to say something.”

Bobby Hundreds ’00

But for as much as the book says about The Hundreds’ history, it ends—or better yet, continues—with listening. To the historic lack of female representation in streetwear, for instance, or the need for more sustainability in the clothing industry in general. That willingness to listen—the openness to, and interest in, what his community has to say is so unexpected it comes almost as a shock. Even writing this article, I was amazed at how easy it is to straight-up send Bobby a text. For real, try it: 323-310-2844.

“I built this brand to connect with other people. And in that process, those people connected with each other. And before I knew it, I had created a community-based business. And I think that’s the future of all business, really. For me, it started by just being curious, wanting to learn and to listen to what others had to say and grow from that.”

It’s a good word, growth, and really, there’s no better way to get huge. “Graduating from UC San Diego was just the beginning of my education. I’m learning now more than ever how important it is to be receptive, to stay curious. Never stop.”