Your insider’s guide to Hong Kong

Beyond the Hype

13 years since its birth, Hypebeast founder Kevin Ma believes that embracing change has kept his media empire relevant with the times

Words: Daniel Kong

Photo: Hyperbeast

Vancouver, a laidback city known more for its outdoor lifestyle and yoga pants, seems like an unlikely starting point for one of streetwear’s most influential media companies. Yet this is exactly where the roots of Hypebeast first formed, when founder Kevin Ma, then a student studying economics and psychology at the University of British Columbia spent his formative years.

“Growing up in Vancouver was pivotal in creating Hypebeast in an unexpected way. The city is not a major fashion capital compared to say Tokyo or New York. While there are small pockets of fashion, it is relatively isolated, especially when I started the company more than a decade ago. But it was because access to information on fashion and streetwear was difficult to get, that I had to rely on the internet.”

A confessed sneakerhead, Ma used to spend hours trawling through websites, forums and print magazines in search of details for the latest limited-edition sneaker drops. It was his love of shoes which propelled him to create Hypebeast, which at its nascency, was originally intended to share knowledge that he would find, aggregate and publish on a daily basis.

While sneaker websites and print magazines already existed, Ma found many of them to be slow. The former would typically be updated once every week or fortnight, and the latter every month. In contrast, by sharing updates on a daily basis, the entrepreneur found himself attracting a loyal, high-frequency audience. Before long, he amassed a global following that exceeded even his wildest expectations.

Today, Hypebeast is a publicly listed company with reported revenues of HK$385 million (nearly US$50 million) in 2017/2018. The website attracts more than 12 million unique visitors per month, and more than six million followers on its primary Instagram account.

Since Hypebeast’s conception in 2005, a time when blogs were still considered more of a novelty than the launching pad of a maverick company, so much of the media industry has changed. The attention span of readers has reduced significantly, social media platforms have become king, and the traditional brick and mortar retail landscape has languished with the advent of e-commerce.

Despite the many changes, Ma has kept his finger on the pulse, and is keen for the company to evolve the business through a re-iterative process. He explains: “at Hypebeast, we are always curious about new platforms and technologies. When blogs first came out, it was easy enough to start. After blogging, social media channels played an influential role, and we started using Facebook. For us, evolution is about looking at the landscape and seeing what people use and where are the eyeballs. We have to be quick and flexible enough.”

Ma has also taken the same approach to Hypebeast’s other business arms. In addition to their flagship website, the company has expanded with Hypebae for women, Hypekids and its short-lived website for children, a print magazine, a creative services agency called Hypemaker, and an e-commerce website. The goal is about finding a way for the company to touch as many people while ringing true to the Hypebeast brand.

Perhaps the most peculiar arm of the company is Hypebeast’s print magazine, which seems archaic, especially since it is published on a quarterly basis. In spite of the popularity of digital media, Ma understands first and foremost the power of print. “[Our print magazine is] more of a creative outlet and art piece for us. It’s something we want to do and be proud of, that we could put on our coffee table, and to show to clients. It makes what we do more tangible and helps clients to understand who we are better.”

It is this open-mindedness and willingness to explore new frontiers which explains why Hypebeast has been able to stay relevant with the times. One might assume that this is Ma’s secret, and how an unsuspecting Vancouver student has morphed into one of the most influential figures in streetwear circles. Yet despite the company’s successes, Ma insists that it is his team which deserves much of the company’s achievements.

“We’ve had so many milestones when launching different arms of our business. And as Hypebeast has grown, I realise and appreciate that I have to rely on my team to help the company to develop. And while I can celebrate that we’ve generated a certain amount of revenue, to me that is just a number. I’m more proud of the team we have built and continue to build.”


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