Hypebeast founder Kevin Ma on golf – his latest passion – how the fun has been sucked out of sneaker collecting, and the secret to the streetwear company’s continued growth
- When Kevin Ma founded Hypebeast as a blog about sneakers, he never imagined it would expand to selling them and, these days, a whole heap of other stuff
- He talks about tempering creativity with common sense, building out from online to offline, and taking the Hype name into fields like art, coffee and golf
These days Kevin Ma, the 38-year-old founder of Hypebeast – the company that, over the past 15 years, has come to define sneaker culture as we know it – is into golf (more on that later).
Back then, Ma, who studied economics in university and had a short stint working in banking in Hong Kong, had no idea that his passion would turn into a full-time job.
Ma says that everything happened quite organically. When he and his team realised that readers checking out the new sneaker releases on the site were wondering where to purchase them, the company expanded to e-commerce.
The same thing happened with Hypemaker, the company’s agency that creates content for brands.
“We noticed that our advertisers came to us not just to place ads, but we could create ads and campaigns for them because we were creating content every day. So, for the most part, it was a natural progression,” says Ma.
In an industry that has often been associated with male consumers and accused of neglecting women, Ma showed his prescience by starting Hypebae, devoted to women, in 2016.
“Twenty per cent of our audience was female so why not create a platform?” says Ma. “Girls were interested in sneaker culture and street fashion and many team members were female, so it made sense to create a platform for women. But we don’t like to categorise – this is for girls or guys – the platform is really for everybody. It just felt natural.
“We’ve always been inclusive of genders, racial backgrounds, we don’t really care.”
Hypebeans, the brand’s foray into coffee shops, and HypeArt, its bid at making a dent in the art market, are just two of the many other ventures under the Hypebeast umbrella.
Golf is Ma’s latest passion, which led to Hypegolf. “Our media platform is for everybody – so, for example, you would think golf is for older people but there are a lot of younger people playing it as well and they’re really into fashion,” says Ma.
“I got lots of messages saying, thanks for creating Hypegolf because the barrier to entry into golf is much more friendly. Many of my friends in the US started playing golf during the pandemic.”
In June, Hypebeast hosted Hypegolf Invitational, an event in the US state of Florida which attracted professional players, influencers, golf and streetwear enthusiasts, and was “a great networking event”.
While Hypebeast is first and foremost a digital company, Ma says that physical events such as Hypegolf Invitational and Hypefest, a gathering held in Brooklyn, New York, in 2018, are vital to creating a sense of community.
“We started online and you can reach lots of people online as compared to offline. The cost to reach more people online is lower. It has helped our company grow in scale and we will continue to do so, but we also like to do things that are more of a showcase, like our cafes, Hong Kong store and [upcoming] New York store,” says Ma.
“There’s still a need for the physical touch, although we don’t have as much traffic to our physical stores like we do online. People find that experience important and it gives people better memories. These spaces are more like a marketing showcase and to build a community offline.”
“It was more fun back then because you were trying to find these coveted sneakers, the information wasn’t out there as much and I was gathering that information for small groups of people. It was more fun to go and seek out those sneakers and line up for them and dig into different forums to find information about the new hot sneakers,” says Ma.
The company operates websites in traditional and simplified Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Bahasa Indonesia, and has recently moved its US office into a seven-storey building in downtown Manhattan, which will also house a retail space.
“Being based in Hong Kong is great for the accessibility of all the places in Asia,” says Ma. “I believe that, especially for import-export, Hong Kong is a great city to build your business. HBX ships internationally and Hong Kong is a pretty good hub for logistics in Asia.
“At the moment, it’s still a good place to build a business – setting up a company is very easy, the tax structure is simple and it has great logistics. I don’t have a crystal ball and can’t predict the future, but right now we want to be based in Hong Kong.”
There’s no denying that Hypebeast has been a success story, an example of how creativity and commerce can come together and thrive.
While Ma’s modus operandi might appear to be turning hobbies into businesses, he is also very pragmatic and emphasises that, to build a sustainable company, creativity needs to be tempered by common sense.
“We want to be around for a long time so we want to be sustainable, business wise. That’s how the world works. I would love to be purely creative but you have to be realistic,” says Ma.
“The creative part is fun, but how do you make it sustainable for the company, yourself and the team? You have to balance both sides of the equation.
“We’ve been able to maintain our presence because we care about the creative aspect, the culture, new designers and creators and support them, but you have to maintain that balance and still not look at everything like a dollar sign and how to get as much money as possible.”
Fashion advertising, a segment that suffered greatly during the coronavirus pandemic, is still a major source of revenue for Hypebeast, but Ma says that the crisis has pushed the company to diversify into other sectors like gaming, cars, food and drink – which, in turn, helped it become stronger.
From content creation to e-commerce, events, marketing, logistics and even apparel production, Hypebeast is a “jack of all trades”, as Ma puts it. He sees the loyal following of its readers and close relationships with its clients as signs of trust in the brand, and what it has come to represent.
“When people hear Hypebeast, it’s associated with something credible and trustable,” he says. “Whatever Hypebeast puts out is reputable. We have developed a trustable brand.”