He's domain man
When Kevin Ma first started blogging about sneakers, it was just a creative side project to compensate his buttoned-down day job in banking. Today his streetwear site Hypebeast.com feeds stories to about five million readers monthly and counts the likes of hip hop stars Kanye West and Lupe Fiasco as fans. Few even know the founder is Hong Kong-born. 'Many people think the site is based in Los Angeles or New York,' says Ma.
The founder and editor-in-chief is softly spoken and dressed modestly. He shows up for our interview in a well-worn checked shirt, stone washed denims and canvas shoes.
His office in Wong Chuk Hang, however, is one big boy's toy shop - there are piles of boxes of sneakers and a table overflowing with product prototypes, video games and streetwear samples.
Like many internet heroes, Ma says he didn't see any of this coming when he started blogging.
'Back then I was the kind of guy who'd camp outside a store overnight to buy a pair of limited-edition sneakers,' he says. 'I read any information I could get my hands on, from magazines to online forums, to know all about sneakers. I guess I was quite a geek.'
This week, it's Ma's turn to have sneaker fans queuing up for shoes that bear his mark. Having collaborated with a string of designer brands, including Adidas, on product creations in the past, Hypebeast is now launching its latest crossover project, with British footwear brand Dr Martens.
The limited-edition model - only 150 pairs are available - are going for ?85 (HK$2,220) on Hypebeast.com, at London's Dover Street Market and a handful of Dr Martens outlets worldwide.
The Hypebeast version puts a modern twist on Dr Martens' original five-eye brogue in black leather featuring debossed long-wing tips and the Hypebeast logo.
'It's modern, with attention to detail. It's also subtle - the kind of style that we like to wear,' says Ma.
Like his crossover projects, the content of his website reflects the lifestyle enjoyed by Ma and his staff.
'We put ourselves into the shoes of the readers. We think about what we would want to read on the site and we go from there,' he says.
He started his first blog six years ago, after graduating with a degree in economics and psychology in Vancouver. 'There has always been a sneaker culture in North America, but with the internet it has been brought to a whole new level of fanaticism,' Ma says.
At the time, few sites were comprehensive enough to satisfy Ma's tastes, so he set up his own domain. Hypebeast.com began to attract so much traffic that within nine months he was earning more money from online advertising than his full time job. Ma quit his day job and began to dedicate all his time to the website. A year later, he moved back to Hong Kong.
'All my connections are here and it's a very international city. It's also close to fashion centres like Tokyo,' he says.
He started with a few writers and contributors who worked from home. As the traffic grew, he decided to expand.
'Before, I was cautious because this whole business thing was a learning experience for me. Then last year I thought I should give it a shot because you don't often get such great opportunities,' he says.
Now the team has more than a dozen staff writers, designers and marketing officers. Ma's wife, Janice Lee, who is behind the popular Chinese fashion and beauty blog, Popbee.com, shares the office and resources.
Hypebeast.com now covers a lot more than shoes. 'To stay ahead of the curve, the site has to keep evolving,' says Ma. 'At first it was all about sneakers. But as our interests grew and our knowledge deepened, we found that music, skateboarding and street fashion were also relevant to this culture.'
Apart from the mainstream brands, the site also features up-and-coming designers from across the globe.
'The mentality here is to explore the independent and start-up designers, and to present their works to our audience,' he says. 'People want to relate to those articles. There might be fewer hits on underground brands, but we still post them because we don't want the site to be flooded by all the mainstream stuff.'
Looking back over the past six years, Ma feels it has been a surreal ride. 'I started off doing it as a hobby and didn't expect to make any money out of it. But I guess if you have an idea, you should just give it a try. Who knows what lies ahead.'