Carl Williams turns 30 next month, and already his Karl Kani clothing company grosses $69 million in annual sales.

Williams, who goes by the name Karl Kani, now has his line of men's sportswear in Fred Segal stores, and will be in Macy's next month. He hopes eventually to have his own boutique in his native New York.

Kani moved to Los Angeles in 1988 at the age of 19. He worked in a small storefront that served as his home, studio and sales office until he entered a partnership in the early 1990s with Cross Colors, which launched the Karl Kani line nationally.

He ventured off on his own five years ago, and the company has been growing ever since. Located in a warehouse district east of downtown L.A., the company now has 45 employees.

Kani attributes his success to his ability to set trends and to meld different vibes from the street. His marketing and product placement haven't hurt either. Kani is the first fashion designer to have his sneakers worn by NBA players. Rap stars like Dr. Dre also sport Kani fashions.

Question: You were born Carl Williams. Why do you call yourself Karl Kani?

Answer: "Can I?" was always a question I used to ask myself. Can I do it? Can I really succeed by being a fashion designer in this world? Can I really establish a market people said doesn't exist? When I came out with my jeans, "Carl Williams jeans" didn't really have a ring to it.

Q: How did you first become interested in fashion design?

A: Back in the early '80s when my friends and I were growing up, we spent all our money buying clothes. So I saw it could be a lucrative business. I also found that a lot of styles we wanted to wear were not available. Instead of complaining about it, I wanted to make a change and start making my own clothes.

Q: What kinds of things did you want to wear?

A: Everyone was wearing Calvin Klein's and Lee's and the jeans were very tight, and we wanted more loose-cut jeans. I decided to make a pair of jeans that could fit the new urban market that was coming up.

Q: How did you get started in business?

A: When I was in high school, I was in a program training me to get into the business world. I met a couple of friends in the music business and I started designing clothes for them and they were wearing the clothes in videos. So at that point, we started getting a lot of inquiries. That's what really got me into it. I realized this could be a real business and then I moved to California to pursue my dreams.

Prev

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.