Carl Williams a.k.a Karl Kani was born in Costa Rica to a Panamanian father and Costa Rican mother.
The family migrated to the United States in the late 1960s. At age 16, Williams started designing clothes after learning the essential handcraft at his father's company.
For The Grey District he sad: "I used to watch the process of him buying his fabric in Manhattan and bringing them to the tailor to have his garments rendered.
When we moved to East Brooklyn, the competition was really in amongst the kids when it came to fashion. You had to have the freshest Adidas, the freshest Pumas--you had to be FRESH to be one of the “cool kids.
” My friends and I would try to out shop each other and buy things but not tell the others where we got it from because we wanted to be exclusive. I got the inspiration from my dad to get my clothes from a tailor so they would be unique. That was my first take on fashion; I started making clothes for myself and went on to make clothes for my friends".
He never studied tailoring or design, but he had flair for coming up with unusual concepts.
After seeing him on the scene in local clubs, men started asking for a Carl Williams outfit of their own. Soon he was taking his first orders in his car.
"I was making clothes for these dudes in the projects and one day this guy walked by with one of my outfits on. I was bragging to my friends that I made the outfits and they didn’t believe it.
As they were checking out the outfit, they asked why my name wasn’t on the pieces.
That’s when it hit me that I needed to start putting my name on clothing. At the time, I was 18 years old; I wasn’t thinking about branding until they made that comment to me.
At that point, I wanted to come up with a name that meant something and could stand the test of time. Karl Williams, my family’s last name, Jeans didn’t have the ring that I wanted -- It didn’t sound like Tommy Hilfiger or Calvin Klein, and I wanted a designer name.
“Can I?” was a question I asked myself a lot in times of self-doubt. Can I be successful? Can I come from the inner city and build a brand? I figured if I add it as a part of my name, every day I would have to answer the question “Yes I Kan.” That was the start of Karl Kani
The Grey District: ''Rapper Tupac was a huge supporter of your brand. Did anyone from his biopic “All Eyez on Me” reach out to you regarding wardrobe?''
''The producer of the film, ET Hutton, and I have been friends before the movie. When the movie was in production, he and I sat down and he told me it would not be a Tupac movie if they did not have Karl Kani in the wardrobe.
He asked me to remake some of the custom pieces that Tupac wore during pivotal moments in his life. For example, he had a Karl Kani sweatshirt on in the infamous Tupac and Faith picture. When Tupac got shot in New York, during his first live interview, they asked him happened.
He said, “I didn’t feel nothing, I opened my pants, and I could see the gunpowder and the hole in my Karl Kani drawers.” Tupac was such a great guy and had a good energy.
In 1994, Kani used $500,000 in profits to launch his company "Karl Kani Infinity". In addition to his old partners, Kani now faced a marketing onslaught from hip-hop entrepreneur Russell Simmons's Phat Farm and a number of mainstream clothiers.
He also had reason to worry that his involvement in Cross Colours might taint his operation in the minds of retailers. "I expected some resistance," Kani said. "A major turning point for me was when retailers accepted us back into the market."
Black Enterprise magazine named Karl Kani Infinity Corporation the most successful Black owned firm worldwide in 1996.
In 2002 Kani was honored with an Urban Fashion Pioneer Award for his lifetime achievements, at the Urban Fashion Awards.
Karl Kani became one of the 100 richest Blacks in America in 1996, according to People magazine.
He began a trend of merging hip-hop with fashion. He spotted an area in the market that had been ignored and paved the way for other hip hop fashion brands.