Business of HYPE is a weekly series brought to you by HYPEBEAST Radio and hosted by jeffstaple. It’s a show about creatives, brand-builders, entrepreneurs and the realities behind the dreams they’ve built. This week, Jeff sits down with Alife‘s Co-Founder, Rob Cristofaro, and Partner and General Manager, Treis Hill.
Alife’s foray into relevance has a complex beginning, originating with four founders — Arnaud Delecolle, Tony Arcabascio, Tammy Brainard and Rob Cristofaro. The group met working together at Sportswear International, what was then an influential B2B magazine. Outside of work, the four would continue to work on side projects, which eventually turned into Alife, an abbreviation for Artificial Life.
After years with Sportswear, the group rented a small storefront space in the Lower East Side and began their company with a $60K USD deposit. Unprecedented at its time, the store consisted of niche art supplies, footwear and an amalgamation of collectibles with the second floor serving as a creative agency. While Alife’s creative entity worked with brands like Mass Appeal, their focus into footwear began after Nike experimented with the shop’s consumer base by showcasing the first Air Woven sneaker in the store.
“Nike was like, ‘Okay we have 48 pairs. We want to launch this with you guys and see how it does.’ That was the first time we saw the intersect of people lining up and I don’t know how people knew, but they were gone very quick. That was the beginning of our relationship with Nike, amongst many other brands, where we became this test platform. From that Air Woven, then it was Foamposites, Nike police boots with flashlights. It was just test product that we were just getting laced and putting out there.”
Following this early foray into footwear, the team opened their sneaker store, Alife Rivington Club, in 2001. A restructuring of the co-founding team came after, leaving Rob as the originating member who was later joined by Treis Hill in 2005. Among their expansive network, Treis and Rob served as liaisons between brands like Nike and HYPEBEAST, further hallmarking this subculture of streetwear hype.
While the brand has maintained relevance for 20 years, Rob reminds us it did not come easy. From troublesome partnerships, to being kicked out of his own company, he tells us that it’s imperative to remember who and what “is the DNA of the brand.” Adhering to brands that have personal connections rather than trendy appeal, Alife is now in what Rob and Treis believe is the best place it’s been in within the past two decades.
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This episode features references to the following:
2:57 – Founding team
5:58 – Sportswear International
6:10 – KAWS
11:12 – How the Alife Founders met
17:26 – Inspiration of the Alife name
19:22 – Alife’s first store
21:27 – First client
22:41 – Mass Appeal
24:35 – Nike Air Woven
25:13 – Attracting footwear clients
28:51 – Drew Greer
35:20 – Levi’s
36:41 – Lee Jeans
38:21 – Treis Hill joins Alife
39:39 – Marc Ecko
40:15 – Alife Rivington Club
43:43 – Connecting to media outlets
50:10 – Restructuring of founding team
58:48 – Partnerships
1:07:22 – Advice
1:11:59 – 2020 plans