As influencers saturate the sneakerhead community with unboxing videos and guides on where to get the latest trends with little more overhead than a ring light, Hypebeast, one of the first online platforms to arrive as a source for streetwear culture, is doubling down to the tune of seven stories.
Founded by Kevin Ma nearly two decades ago, the company is set to open new headquarters in the Chinatown neighborhood of Manhattan on Friday, with plans to become a publicly traded company on the Nasdaq by the end of the year.
Besides flexing its muscle ahead of the planned I.P.O., the splashy investment — the building includes a retail store, a coffee counter, and event and office spaces — also suggests the eagerness of a brand that began its life as a blog to cement its position amid the rise of influencer culture and social media platforms flush with similar content.
Mr. Ma, 39, said he had never thought of Hypebeast as a “centralized” authority in streetwear, but as part of an ecosystem in which everyone can share their voices and “help each other out.” Still, he insists that Hypebeast continues to provide something different from its competitors.
The Blog Era
Hypebeast began in 2005 as a college student’s scrappy blog. Mr. Ma, a self-proclaimed sneakerhead, spent much of his time scouring print magazines, online message boards and forums for information on cool limited-edition sneakers.
“The information wasn’t that accessible back then, but I was just digging into all this stuff, just nerding out on it, and then going to different sneaker stores and lining up as usual,” he said. “And one day I just decided, Hey, why don’t I just start a journal and write about all of the cool stuff that I was finding.”
That online journal began with sneakers but eventually grew to cover streetwear, contemporary art, luxury fashion and music, becoming a resource for others like him in search of the latest trends.
He initially chose the name Hypebeast — a usually negative term used to describe someone interested only in the “hype” or trends — because he thought it would be funny, but it has now become synonymous with a larger, niche culture, which has benefited his brand, he said.
By 2008, Hypebeast had been named one of the 50 best websites by Time magazine. It started an e-commerce platform, HBX, in 2012; Hypebae, its online destination for women’s lifestyle and culture, in 2016; and has a long list of other ventures. It also started Hypekids in 2017 and Hypefest, a two-day streetwear and cultural festival in Brooklyn, in 2018. (Both are currently on hold.)
A Time to Build
As Hypebeast’s “biggest venture so far,” Mr. Ma said, the new 25,000-square-foot headquarters in the heart of Chinatown will house a flagship HBX store, the company’s curated online retail store, and a company-run coffee shop known as Hypebeans.
The building’s aesthetic is raw and minimalistic, with mostly gray walls, high ceilings, exposed brick and a lot of the original infrastructure of building still in place.
The retail spaces on the first and second floors will sell pieces by brands including Nike, Raf Simons, Thom Browne, Maison Mihara, Acne Studios and Reese Cooper. At the center of the first floor is a bright sneaker and apparel display framing an indoor courtyard beneath a custom-made light box.
An innovation space on the third floor will be used to welcome artists, musicians, brands and fashion designers to show their latest creations through collaborative events and pop-ups.
The remaining four floors will be the new offices for the more than 100 employees that work for Hypebeast and its other brands in New York City. Production on the building had begun in 2019 but the pandemic caused some delays.
Because Hypebeast is a “brand that thrives on cultural cachet,” according to Andrew Lipsman, an e-commerce and retail analyst at Insider Intelligence, this development should help to elevate the company by providing a physical centerpiece.
“It’s reasonable for the flagship to function purely as a marketing asset to drive brand value that fuels its e-commerce business. Offline engagement can drives online sales, and vice versa,” Mr. Lipsman wrote in an email. “That said, I think the location can be very profitable on a stand-alone basis, largely because the brand thrives on scarcity economics with apparel and shoe drops.”
The company is currently pursing a public listing on the Nasdaq under the ticker symbol $HYPE, after a merger with Iron Spark, an investment company.
Although the opening of the new headquarters will represent an ambitious physical manifestation of its dense portfolio, this won’t be the first time the company went down the brick-and-mortar path. In 2016, the first HBX store opened in Hong Kong and a Hypebeans opened there in 2020.
To design the New York City headquarters, Mr. Ma enlisted the help of FOOD New York, a self-described environment design studio that was founded by the architect Dong-Ping Wong and is also in Chinatown. “They worked on interiors for Off-White and Yeezy, so they’re really great people,” Mr. Ma said.
He added that he and his team sought out Chinatown as the neighborhood for the new headquarters of Hypebeast America because of its local art scene, its proximity to SoHo, and, in the spirit of the brand, it’s unpredictable.
“I think there’s a lot of great energy in Chinatown, you know, a lot of creatives, designers, photographers,” he said. “But it’s also quite unexpected as well.”
Now more than ever, consumers spend a lot of their shopping online, so the idea of creating a physical store at this time might perplex some, but Mr. Lipsman said that this shouldn’t even be the slightest concern.
“Eighty percent of retail still happens in stores, and even young people get out to stores when they have a reason to. D2C brands are moving into brick-and-mortar every day and they are doing so successfully,” Mr. Lipsman said, referring to direct-to-consumer brands that began selling exclusively online but eventually transitioned to brick and mortar.
Mr. Ma agrees, adding that he’s not worried about online shopping affecting the success of the new retail space.
“We started online: Our core retail is an e-commerce platform, so for us it’s like really an extension of our brand,” he said. “It’s like this online cultural hub integrated into an offline one.”