Words: Adam Scotland, Alex Synamatix & Jamie Szulc
King Apparel are a brand with a real story, and, unbeknown to many, have been responsible for some huge developments in the street wear scene, not just in the UK, but the world over. A few weeks ago we took a trip to their offices in Stratford, East London, with the intention of learning a little more about one of the UK’s biggest street wear brands and finding out just what is involved in designing a collection at King Apparel.
During the visit we also had a chance to see the new product that King have designed for the year ahead. With an excellent Spring/Summer collection shipping this week and an impressive Autumn/Winter line already sampled, the brand are set to make big moves in the street wear game this year and go a long way to disproving their critics.
The King showroom operates a little like a walk-in CV; a resumé of everything the brand have done over their 7 years, showcasing their impressive history. We sat down with owner Tim Hoad to learn about how he made King what it is today.
“We started King at a time when there was no real street wear in the UK, almost everything was coming from the states”
The UK street wear scene in the early 00’s was dominated by US Hip-Hop culture and the brands associated with it; very different to the scene we see today. Tim and fellow founder Paul Linton got together in 2003 to try and create a British version of what was going on stateside, taking influence from their inner London surroundings. The duo found the ideal partnership – Tim focused on the construction of the garments themselves, whilst Paul handled graphic design.
“King was born from a passion to do something. At the time there were a lot of T-shirt brands, but we went in with New Eras and underwear”
This energy to do something different propelled King into the market with immediacy. Having devoted all their own money to paying for production, Tim and Paul had little left for luxury, dedicating every waking hour to the brand.
King began as a true bedroom brand, run from the confines of the founders’ homes and with a financial backing that consisted of nothing but the few pounds they had managed to scrape together from their own savings. All of the picking, packing, sales and marketing was done from home for the first 5 seasons, but after nearly 3 years of delivery trucks squeezing down a residential road and a house fit-to-burst with cardboard boxes, it was time to move onwards and upwards.
In 2005 King moved in to their own premises, ready for their most important season so far; Autumn / Winter ’05 – their first full collection. There was only one problem, they didn’t have enough money to pay for the clothes to be made. With faith in their product, they went ahead with the collection, giving them 6 months to take orders from stores and piece together enough cash to pay off their suppliers. It was a ballsy move, but it paid off – King ended 2005 with their most successful season so far and had secured their place on the UK street wear map.
Since day one, King have maintained a close relationship with the country’s more underground music scenes.
“We started King at the time when the Grime scene was just starting up”
With the influence of American Hip-Hop such a dominant force in the scene, the brand decided to take inspiration from what they really knew, and the Grime scene on their doorstep was the perfect partner. Over the years King have worked closely with artists including Plan B, Roots Manuva and Dubstep producers Plastician and Joker, engaging the artists in collaborative projects and helping to support wherever possible. It’s very much a ‘family’ business at King, but not one bonded by blood. The small team and close relationships with the people they believe in makes for an incredibly strong bond. Tim commented that at King, everyone was involved at every stage of creating, marketing and selling a collection and although everyone had specific jobs, they would all contribute at different times.
One thing that is immediately apparent after speaking to Tim is the brand’s focus on professionalism at all times.
“If you’re a customer, and you contact us on a Monday, we’ll get back to you on that Monday”
And they listen too; recently they modified their New Era caps all because of a suggestion brought to them by a single customer. This one customer emailed King about how he had stopped buying their New Eras because the logo tab at the back prevented him from wearing it backwards, and had even led to ridicule. King took these comments on board and replaced the tab with a new embroidered logo in the hope of creating more happy customers.
“We try to make sure that every experience someone has with our brand is a good one”
While we were there, Tim mentioned that he feels people sometimes get the wrong impression about King, assuming that it’s a corporate operated company or worse yet, that it is run on ‘mummy and daddy’s money’. This is far from true, and something which has never been part of King’s operations in any of their 7 years in business. Tim said that the three things which have always been a part of King Apparel are hard work, passion and sacrifice, and within minutes of speaking to him, or any other member of the team, it’s clear just how true such a statement is.
Another fact that may surprise many a reader, and even surprised us, is that King were in fact the first independent brand ever to work with New Era on their 59Fifty model fitted hat. At a time when New Era were looking to expand their business in Europe, King took their ideas direct to the New Era Europe CEO and won him over straight away. At this point in time, New Era had never experimented with designs outside of the confines of sports team and corporate logos, so King did their best to push the company and see what they were really capable of. King sent off the first designs, incorporating added details like textured logos and all-over prints, expecting them to be rejected. To their surprise, New Era welcomed the challenge and met all their demands and soon enough New Era were incorporating all sorts of new materials, embroidery styles and added details, all thanks to the experimental designs presented by King.
Due to this history, King are presented with the privilege of being able to add extra detail to hats outside of the regular design process, and as a result you will find details on King New Eras that you will not find on hats by any other brand.
The passion for pushing their designs doesn’t stop there; with their Spring/Summer collection for 2010, we are sure King will be surprising a lot of people. The collection includes tailored shirts, smart jackets, chinos and button-up knitwear, alongside a strong array of New Era caps and graphic T-shirts. King have really progressed this season, expanding on the ‘urban’ image they have previously been associated with, creating a new smarter collection with a real focus on quality.
It’s clear that King’s intention here is education, not alienation – exposing their market to new styles and looks, and encouraging them to try items that at first may seem a little out of their comfort zone. We were able to get a sneak preview of the brand’s collection for Autumn/Winter while we were there, and the strength in design continues. Some pieces were so good it was hard to resist attempting to sneak the samples out of the showroom. This is certainly a brand not to be underestimated.
SS10 will begin to make an appearance at retailers from this week – you can find a full list of stockists on the King Apparel website, along with the online store where you’ll also be able to pick up items from the new collection. Keep your eye on King this year as they have a lot of exciting new releases planned that we are sure you won’t want to miss.