A cultural mainstay, The Hundreds cofounders, Bobby and Ben Hundreds, have seen a number of trends and industry standards come and go, even starting a few of their own over their 12-years-and-counting in business. From the rise in social media to the shift towards premium streetwear, the Californian brand is constantly striving to push the culture forward without compromising its original rebellious identity. Said to be in the best place they’ve ever been, we sat down with Bobby and Ben to discuss the evolution of streetwear and The Hundreds brand, with a focus on social media and maturing as a label.
The ongoing surge of social media means that publications and blogs are forced to rethink their editorial approach. What are the certain factors you consider when you tell a story across your various media platforms?
Bobby: Personally, you’ve caught me at a weird time because I’ve lost my romance with social media. I’ve personally been very disillusioned and disenchanted by the whole thing, and for many reasons that I’ve written about.
Social media is very important, it’s a means of becoming your own media. Back when we were growing up, we had MTV, Bertelsmann and News Corp. They were the media strongholds that kind of controlled information, and now media has boiled down to distinct personalities. Particularly celebrities; we don’t watch MTV anymore, we watch Kanye West, we don’t watch FOX news, we watch Bobby Hundreds. In that way social media is very powerful and influential.
But what we do, our approach is that everything begins with a story within The Hundreds universe, whether it’s content related, apparel, collaborations, retail, everything has to originate with some type of narrative. And that narrative is told through our website. The website is always our hub, whether or not traffic is coming directly to TheHundreds.com, social media or an outreaching link. We make sure everything begins on our website so that there’s a centralized voice coming from the brand. Then that can all be disseminated through the different arms of Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, my personal Instagram or Ben’s Snapchat.
That’s all great but if you come to our website, that is exactly us, all of us, how we want it to be portrayed as a company.
Ben, are you in a similar place as Bobby with social media, or do you look at it differently? Ben: I don’t think I’m as extreme as Bobby is. I think that social media has turned into a necessary evil for not just brands, but for anyone that is trying to be heard. We use it now more as a tool than anything else. When social media was becoming more and more popular, Bobby used to always say that people shouldn’t be looking to social media as an answer or cure for something, they should be looking to it as another tool to get your message out and across. As more and more time passes, that point is starting to be more true. At The Hundreds, we’re really just trying to utilize social media to let people know about the stories we’re writing about and the new collaborations we have coming out. It’s basically another outlet to let the world know what’s going on, what we’re working on and to get people back to our site, to get more eyeballs on what we’re doing.
So that whole mentality of using social media as a tool and with technology evolving and changing, how do you foresee yourself keeping on top of that game? How do you see yourselves in connection with evolving technology? Bobby: That goes along the lines with understanding and appreciating social media as a tool, but it can never replace the actual user, or the person behind the machine. That’s a really important distinction to make. Let’s say, “Oh it worked for Nick Diamond, he has a million followers, his brand is doing very well.” It has nothing to do with the actual Instagram itself. If it wasn’t Instagram it would have been virtual reality, if it wasn’t VR it would have been AR, there’s just so many different innovations that are happening every 5-10 years. The reason why Nick Diamond got so successful is because he is an interesting personality, he has strong roots in skateboarding and hip-hop. His story is very compelling, all of those things on top of how hard he works. He uses Instagram to tell that story. It was just another means to get the message out there so there’s always going to be another technology.
Right now people are fascinated with apps like Periscope. Those are great tools and I love them. I definitely appreciate them. Down the road, there’s talk of VR, and I think there’s a lot of opportunities there as well, but none of those can eclipse or take the place of the actual user. It really comes down to the person who is using the device. So for us, we’ve always tried to tell really original stories, we’ve always stayed very on-brand with the stories and narrative we’re trying to tell.
Before blogs, I used zines. I would go to Kinko’s and photocopy zines. My audience was maybe 30-50 people but that was all that mattered to me. And then I had a blog and there was 100 people reading it. Then we married the blog with TheHundreds.com when we started the brand and our voice exploded to reaching a million people a month. Now, we have contributors around the world. So that initial idea of what I wanted to do back when I was a teenager was just to be heard. I wanted to be understood, I wanted my opinion to be considered and I used a blog, I used our website, I used a clothing company, then I used social media, and I’ll use whatever comes next. Whatever it takes, I’ll figure out a way to be heard.
Many people have discussed being “over” social media and how it may, to some extent, be dying out – why do you think we’ve passed the peak of social media? Bobby: Diminished returns [laughs]. I’ve started to actually take a step back and analyze how much time, labor and energy I’ve exerted and invested into social media over the past 12-13 years of my life and what good has really come of it. There’s many benefits to social media. It’s got my voice out there, but did it change my message or did it ever enhance my message in any way? I don’t think so. I think that message was always within me and I was the most important part of that equation.
Now there’s just a lot of noise, and instead of doing what everyone else is doing, saying what everyone else is saying, I’d rather sit it out for a little bit and think a little more for myself. I’ve just never been the type of person that can accept that just because everyone else is doing it this way, this is the status quo and that’s how it should be. As soon as I understand it as that, then I want to rebel against it and respond because it can’t be right. It can’t be right that the youngest, coolest people in the world are using the same medium that my parents are using to access information, that can’t be right. It can’t be right that what I consider to be underground in terms of music, fashion or culture in general is on the same platform as a McDonald’s or CNN. To me, they don’t belong on the same plane and the way to respond against it is to not participate.
I also look at it as a time thing; I only have so many hours in my day, so many quotients of energy, or so much attention I can offer something. Instead of giving that all to social media, what if I just work a little bit harder on what I actually do for a living, which is design, or what if I work more on a lookbook to create something a little bit different. If I’m not distracted and affected by what’s going on in the social media landscape then I have more time and focus to concentrate on what I really like and what is individually more characteristically Bobby.
We released a lookbook today for our fall collection. I wouldn’t have been able to ideate that lookbook or work on it as hard as I did for it to be as successful and unique looking as it turned out to be, if I had spent all that time on social media like I used to. There’s very little benefit for how many disadvantages that social media can actually bring you within your work; it’s a fine line. I don’t think all social media is bad, I’m still on all my accounts. I still update them occasionally, but I just don’t think it’s worth the amount of attention people warrant it.
How do you see yourself as a brand in terms of progression and in terms of what you’re releasing with the Fall/Winter 2015 collection? Ben: We’re 12-years-old now and the brand looks and feels like we have been doing this for 12 years. This fall collection really shows that, as Bobby said, we’ve progressed as people. The quality of the product and their designs are the best we’ve ever put out. I’m not sure if it will be the best-selling product we’ve ever made, but I know that as a company and the people who stand behind it, it might be one of the most ‘believed in’ collections that we’ve ever made. Everyone that worked on it really stands behind it and that makes me really proud of the collection and what we’re doing. From our designers to the sales team to the marketing team, even to our retail staff, everyone from the bottom up is really proud of this collection and proud to present it to the world. We’re in a great place, maybe the best we’ve ever been in 12 years of business.
Speaking in relation to the collection itself, can you highlight certain elements and explain the concept behind the collection? How does it represent the stage The Hundreds is currently at? Bobby: In years past, Ben and I had no experience and no mentors – we didn’t go to school for this and our family wasn’t in the business, so we have learned along the way. The Hundreds was “our school” and we made all of our mistakes available for everyone to see and we continue to do so. We will always be making mistakes but learning and progressing with them. Over the years we made a lot of products that caused tension within the company because it quite possibly sold, but it was not something we were necessarily proud of. There were also items that we were really excited about that fell flat on its face. This season is the beginning of a new chapter within the company, where we decided to almost not disregard sales but look at it like, let’s see where our heart and our passions is with design. We decided to put design first and create a collection that we could be proud of and that we would wear – a collection we can stand behind as a united front. And with by faith it will sell better, because marketing is more excited about what we have to offer and the sales guys can go out there with their heads held high and say “this is not something you would expect to see from The Hundreds, but it is really us – this is how we dress, how we design and our perspective.”
A big part of that was scaling down on our outward branding like cut-and-sewn pieces, and it was a conscious decision to move back from how much we were pushing our Adam Bomb mascot which steadily became our brand logo. Adam Bomb was intended to be little more than a trim piece and once we started to scale back and minimize Adam, we took a look at all of our outward/exterior branding and produced it in a more classic and sophisticated way. Ben and I are now in our 30s now and we wanted to be able to wear our products outside without being mistaken as though we were trying to pass for 17-year-olds. At the same time, is it something a 17-year-old would want to wear – can they respect it enough and feel comfortable enough in it with an according price that makes them feel like it is a valuable piece? There were a lot of considerations that we had to tackle and I think the largest was upgrading our materials. We went through a process of assessing items piece by piece and upgrading the fabrications that were being used to construct each garment. Even if we felt as though we were taking a risk in terms of our margins and sales, it felt right; if these changes were right for the piece and if it was right for us, it was right for the brand. I feel that might be the biggest distinction. It’s not necessarily expensive, but it feels like it is of quality.