Karl Kani - The Godfather of Streetwear

Karl Kani - The Godfather of Streetwear

Karl Kani - The Godfather of Streetwear

This is Carl Williams coined the Godfather of streetwear, he is the mastermind behind the brand Karl Kani.

Born in Costa Rica to Panamanian father and Costa Rican mother, the Williams family migrated to Flatbush Brooklyn U.S.A in the late 1960s where he grew up.

puff daddy, notorious big, mase in Karl Kani

Williams took a keen interest in style starting at the age of 16 picked up the basics in handcraft, from his father's company with not much money yet a desire to have the freshest outfits nobody else had he started to make his own, having never studying tailoring or design he would buy materials and instruct the tailor how exactly he wanted the garments to look. 

The individual style Kani displayed sparked keen interest within the club scene which led to huge interest from guys requesting outfits of their own. 

Selling his designs for a few years on the streets of New York straight out of his car-boot was the beginning of his streetwear empire.

Dr dre in Karl Kani

At the time Brooklyn was plagued with drugs and violence, which unfortunately led to the demise of one of his closest friends, this caused Williams to think differently and arose a desire to do something positive. 

Williams constantly questioned if he coming from the inner-city can build a brand that goes international comparable to the likes of Ralph Lauren. This question had been an obsession for years "Can I do it"? Can I become the 'Ralph Lauren of the streets'?" At the time he did not have the answer to this question however it did spark the basis for a change in his name replacing the "C" with a "K" Karl Kani was born.

biggie Karl Kani

In 1990 Kani moved to Los Angels with his friend to open a sportswear shop Seasons Sportswear, with not much money Kani sold his car and devoted much of his savings to business costs.

"Just the fact that we were living in the store showed you what kind of money we had," Kani recalls.

However this did not stop Kani "the only thing that really kept me striving was seeing black people being successful in the music industry,". "I wanted to be a part of that, but I knew I couldn't sing or dance or rap. I couldn't do all that, but I could provide clothing for these people who were out there, who could make me famous at the same time." Los Angles Times in 1994.

Aaliyah and Karl Kani Aaliyah in Karl Kani

Responding to style complaints of the traditional jean silhouette being too tight, Kani noticed people would go for a larger size however the larger size would have a waist that was too big, so he increased the overall size of the legs to make baggy jeans which later became a staple in Hip Hop. Worn by the likes of Nas, Jay- Z, P Diddy, Aaliyah, Notorious Big, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, and Lil Kim to name a few. Tupac being an avid ambassador wearing the brand before Kani officially approached him requesting how much it would cost for the rapper to appear in his ads? With Pac replying he would appear in the ads for free, simply because Williams is black, further catapulting his brand.

Karl Kani Jeans baggy

Kani approached Carl Jones who at the time oversaw the huge brand Cross Colors desiring his pieces to be sold in department stores. Kani and Jones forged a deal that led to Karl Kani's creations being financed by Jones. Resulting in huge success at the age of 26 Kani saw sales of 30-40 million. 

His outfits at the time did not come cheap, however, Karl made no excuses in LA Times 1994 "You can't have good quality and low prices"

Tupac Karl Kani

His success led to counterfeiting of his products being sold at cheaper prices in response Kani devised a metal and leather plate to be attached to his products turning out to be his best selling jean design.


puff daddy Karl Kani


Through his humble beginnings mixing a passion for music and fashion, Kani has defined 90s hip and continues to be an integral part of hip hop and streetwear worn by the likes of Migos, Chris Brown and Rhianna. 

Migos Karl Kani


"I have a street mentality," Karl Kani told Vibe magazine, "and I bring that to my business." Karl Kani 

Shop our Karl Kani Tee here