Karl Kani (born Carl Williams in 1968, Brooklyn, New York City) is the fashion designer, founder and CEO of the Hip Hop fashion brand Karl Kani. Karl Kani was launched in 1989 as a fashion forward and Hip Hop influenced clothing line.
Carl Williams represents the “American Dream”. Son of a Costa Rican mom and Panamanian dad, Karl comes from a modest family from Brooklyn, New York. Young Karl dreamt of combining his passion for Hip Hop music and fashion. He didn’t know how to do that, but he believed in himself.
At age 16, Carl Williams started designing clothes after learning the essential handcraft at his father’s company. Karl never studied tailoring or design, but he had flair for coming up with unusual, stylish concepts. He would buy material and tell a tailor exactly how he wanted his garments to look. “For a relatively small sum”, as he put it, “I had a fresh outfit that nobody had.”
Karl’s customized outfits were so “fresh” that soon they were in demand. After seeing him on the scene in local clubs, men started asking for a Carl Williams’ outfit of their own. Soon Karl was taking his first orders in his car. The death of one of his close friends inspired some deep contemplation. “It made me think about life differently”, he added “ I thought I should really do something positive.”
In 1989 Karl moved to Los Angeles and during his initial rough start in Los Angeles the question that had obsessed him for years, “Can I do it?”, remained unanswered. He kept asking himself: “Can I do it? Can I build a fashion empire? Can I become the ‘Ralph Lauren of the streets’?” Karl didn’t have the answer for all these questions but it did provide the basis for his new name, Kani, a variation on “Can I?”. With a stylish “K” replacing the “C” in his first name, he ventured his own optimistic reply, Karl Kani.