In this issue, we welcome Alan King who is the founder of the streetwear brand, AKINGS, based in New York. As a brand, AKINGS approaches the way of displaying and showcasing new designs in an experimental and new way that separates the brand from its many counterparts. What does Alan value as the founder and someone who works in the streetwear industry? What are his roots? Let’s find out.
Nana : Can you tell us about the brand and some of the concepts that it has?
Alan : AKINGS is about – in the simplest terms – feeling like a king. We design every piece with our philosophy in mind, nurturing self-confidence and reflecting that with our clothing. Because of this, our growth is very community-driven as they represent our brand; our customers are very diverse, knowing and fitting better into pieces than traditional runway models. It is very empowering to see more diversity on the runway.
Nana : That is true.
Was the name of the brand a bit like changing your name?
Alan : It was not, actually. Alan King was the designer name and the brand name, AKINGS, followed shortly after. AKINGS was a name that represented confidence to me and it inspired the world that I wanted to create. In high school, my first exposure to fashion was with high-end streetwear. I was seeing brands like Supreme being resold and Jordans having a significant increase in value, even after someone had worn them. I recognized the value in fashion as I got into resale like any other 15 year old kid would – with other kids buying these $300 hoodies – and thought, “I can make these types of clothing.”
Nana : You’re a natural businessman.
Alan : At 15, that was the logic I had and the first relation I had with fashion. Growing up wearing denim, Off-White, Supreme, and Jordans, streetwear definitely inspired that.
Seeing everything built around me, it sparked the start of my venture into fashion -– some of the DNA is taking in all of my inspirations because New York has a hype culture alongside high fashion. You walk on the streets of SoHo and see Louis Vuitton, BAPE, and Y-3 – BAPE and Y-3 are across the streets from each other, so I was taking in both the side of hype culture and high culture – a mix.
Nana : That is mixed.
Alan : Yeah, I was immensely curious about that. I remember walking by the BAPE store – there was a giant line and I had no idea what it was, but I stood in line just to buy a few pieces.
Nana : Did you get inspired by that?
Alan : I believe that was what really influenced me to fall in love with fashion and see the community around it. In the main streets like SoHo and Broadway, there’s a Bloomingdale’s. But then you go into these cross streets, and see BAPE which is when I thought, “Wow, BAPE has all this packaging! Why do we have all this?” One of the things that caught my attention were all these crazy tech silhouettes, though. I was just like, “this is so different from the main street of Soho”. That and hip hop music inspired that, and then just growing up in New York, high-end streetwear culture kept growing and growing. I just felt like, “oh, if all these people can do this, I can probably do this”.
I actually tried to start this other brand in high school.
Nana : Oh really?
Alan : Yeah, I tried making T-shirts and other things. My initial spark was to keep designing and working. That was when I made a pair of J-shaped pants. I took a photo of it and posted it on the internet when I was in my senior year of high school. This blew up on Reddit which led to people finding my website and randomly, people were ordering from it. After that, I started getting a following on social media. What really happened – that led to now– is that three or four years ago, I started realizing my brand identity. As I got older, my style and my designs became more cohesive – I started putting together this idea of AKINGS and the brand became more solid, while before, it was more random.
Nana : Like the philosophy for your brand.
Alan : Yeah, and then I grew that philosophy and idea. For the past two years, social media accounts have become bigger and bigger. I started focusing more on business. I was able to grow the team and we’re still fairly young. We’re just starting to see that momentum.
Nana : While other brands take a bit more time to do so, your brand has already been to NYFW.
Alan : Yes, we did pop-ups and other events before; we then started to gauge our own demand and our own audience. I think as the community got bigger, we just did our own events – we were still bringing in about a couple hundred people to it. So now, this time around, we’re like, “we have our own audience”. We just really love putting together our own venues and shows – taking charge of the production. But for NYFW, if you’re a small brand and you get in there, it’s cool because you get the exposure and like, “hey, this editor is this show,” and then they cross over.
Nana : The brand becomes more solid too.
Alan : Yeah. NYFW also wants more than $150,000 for you to show the collection there. For production costs and everything.
For us, we were like, we can just do our own events. We have customers, this community, that supports us and wants us to be a part of it. We can do that. We can do our own industry kind of thing where we have our own guests, our own people. So we just decided to go about it, like building it in a way that we have full control of everything – the most top level experience possible. That’s the trend with other major brands in New York, like Calvin Klein, or Tom Ford or others – who don’t show at skylight – and they just do their own venues. I was like, “we should do that”.
Nana : Like creating a new system.
Alan : I have done a few runways before and I’m not really a big fan of it. I think it’s because I come from streetwear where you put so much work into it and it’s just gone in ten minutes.
Nana : You do have a point.
Alan : I think there’s – of course – still the nostalgia of runways and people who are even younger thinking “oh my god, that’s so cool”. It’s still going to continue, but what I really wanted to do for our event is to have the entity. We have our entity collection dropping and debuting for the art, but then we have our pop up section. So we can showcase the new collection and present it – then we also have the runway section or proportion.
Nana : I’ve never seen that in Tokyo.
Alan : I do want to take this on a tour for sure. Right now I think, New York and LA; we can definitely do it in Tokyo and as we get bigger, go to Europe too. Hopefully we move into Asia after that.
Nana : Are you the strategy person within the brand?
Alan : I think I have the final decision on it. We actually did a pop-up in Paris right before Christmas. It was a collaboration with us, AKINGS, and a showroom. We plan on doing more stuff like that. It’s a lot easier to set up these spaces.
Nana : Who is your customer target?
The biggest customer range is people from 25 to 35. I would say that’s the majority but then we have an 18 to 25 category which is the second largest.
Because we focus on quality – and if you look at our jeans – it’s not copy and paste. So there is a need for innovation. With that comes the cost.
Usually an AKINGS customer is like they’re entering a big phase in their life. It’s like a big step up, you know, like maybe it’s just the first big job or first big salary, right? It’s a huge milestone and at the same time “I want to upgrade my wardrobe”.
Nana : That’s really cool considering that a lot of Asians don’t buy into high streetwear. Can you tell us a few challenges you have had on the journey with the brand?
Alan : One of our biggest challenges is us – as a designer brand – moving into NFTs and the metaverse; it has been a challenge because we are competing with all the big corporations. Unlike these corporations, we don’t have much funding, but thanks to our partners such as 0xwork, Belaire, Essentia Water, Lady M, Samurai Cats, Lume Studios, and Pizza HQ, we were able to put together our first NYFW NFT pop-up event in SoHo with the turnout and support from our community being overwhelmingly amazing. Despite the competition, however, we differentiate because our vision is unique and strongly believe in it.
I think the most challenging thing though is finding a really good team. Especially when you’re in the early stage of the brand and you need people to believe in you – when you’re just starting out. At least for me, I didn’t raise funding, so it was very challenging to go from there.
Nana : How many people are in your team now?
Alan : We have anywhere from 10 to 12 people, but it’s also tricky when you grow too fast.
Nana : I can see that AKINGS have, as a brand though, is growing so fast.
Alan : It’s incredible. It’s challenging, but there’s a certain moment where while it is still challenging, it becomes a sort of a different problem. Like in the beginning, the problem was, “Oh, I have no audience”.
Nana : More simple problems.
Alan : Yeah.
Nana : Do you have any advice for our people who are seeking out to build their own brand like AKINGS?
Alan : I think that it’s actually about what the brand makes people feel. The design is important as well, in terms of it being special and being something different from others – at least for the category that I’m in. For couture and very high-end fashion, you’re valued on the vision, but I feel like I’m beyond the design. Beyond the design of the more common, “hey, how cool does this garment look?” As for us, it’s like “hey, how do you make somebody feel in the clothes” or “how do you make somebody feel when they’re wearing your brand?” I think beyond fashion. I think it took me a long time to really put together what that meant for me and it took me a long time to put that into everything that I do.
“I feel like the brand is more than just the design.”alan from akings
Photography can you mention
Image provided by AKINGS / Daniel Carku