Kani hip hops to his own company: Karl Kani Infinity is set to compete with Cross Colors

Kani hip hops to his own company: Karl Kani Infinity is set to compete with Cross Colors – clothing designer leaves Threads 4 Life Corp. over production and licensing problems

Fonda Marie Lloyd

Karl Kani is back to doing a solo thing after his recent break with Threads 4 Life Corp. d.b.a. Cross Colours. But only time will tell if Kani has established his name enough to stand on his own as a major designer.

“It got to the point where I felt I could not control my destiny,” says Kani, CEO and president of the new company, Karl Kani Infinity. “In a relationship with Cross Colours, it was hard to see my vision.”

The 26-year-old designer broke with Cross Colours after the company announced plans to abandon its manufacturing operations for licensing. (See “Carl Jones Changes Colours,” Newspoints, March 1994.)

Jones, the CEO of Cross Colours, says Kani’s exit will not affect its licensing plans. “There is a place for Karl Kani and Cross Colours in the market, and both will do well,” Jones says. “There [are] no problems or hard feelings.” Kani says his break with Cross Colours was precipitated by the company’s mismanagement, financial problems, and clothes not being shipped on time.

Jones, however, says the problems the company faced were part of its phenomenal expansion. “It was difficult to control the growth of a company that was in such demand.”

“I didn’t regret the relationship I had with them,” Kani says. “I learned a lot of things that I didn’t know when I went there.” Kani says he learned about the marketplace, setting trends and developing business contacts.

“I’m better off now than I was before,” Kani says. “What I did was surround myself with people who know things that I don’t know.”

Kani top executives are Jeffrey Tweedy, who is the vice president of sales and marketing and A.Z. Johnson, West Coast account executive. Both were formerly with Cross Colours. He also brought in Paul Garrier as vice president of accounting.

Kani, born Carl Williams, joined Cross Colours in 1991. Prior to that, he worked in a Los Angeles studio struggling to fill orders for his hot-selling jeans. Kani benefited from the experience and exposure with Cross Colours, a larger company that saw sales balloon from $15 million in 1991 to $89 million in 1992. “Anything associated with Cross Colours, at its height, came in the limelight,” says Deirdre Dube, west coast senior editor of Sportswear International.

Last year, the Kani line accounted for 65% of Cross Colours’ $97 million in sales, Kani says. Cross Colours, No. 8 on the BLACK ENTERPRISE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100s, declined to give a number.

“He was reaching a little different range of the market,” Dube says. “He goes beyond the street wear and has a classic style.”

Kani wants to preserve his line’s distinctiveness. Having the two clothing lines under the same roof and appealing to similar markets led to the their looking too similar in design and in fabrics used, says Kani. He also didn’t like having to get his ideas approved by someone else.

Kani says he bought out his contract with Jones for a seven-figure price, declining to be specific. Jones also declined to comment.

Kani says he owns 100% of his company. He has accepted financial support from two unnamed sources, but declines to give details of those arrangements. He will only say that the company’s first-year sales are projected at $40 million.

Karl Kani Infinity is based in Los Angeles and has a showroom in New York. The Brooklyn-born designer employs about 14 people.

Kani’s longevity depends on his ongoing pop appeal and his keeping the pulse on what people want, says Norman Karr, executive director of the Fashion Association, which represents fashion designers, manufacturers and retailers. “There are good designers around who have made bad decisions,” Karr says. “His popularity has to hold up and transcend limited appeal. This audience is very trendy and changes rapidly.”

To be successful Kani will have to back up his appeal with manufacturing and delivering clothes to stores on time, Karr adds.

COPYRIGHT 1994 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group