Fast Talk: How This "Sneakerhead" Built A Major Online Magazine

Meet Kevin Ma, whose website Hypebeast began as a sneaker blog, but now gets up to 3 million visitors per month.

Kevin Ma is the founder and editor of Hypebeast, an online magazine covering fashion, culture, design, and many other topics. Ma runs the site with his staff out of their Hong Kong office, and his stamp of approval (read: a feature on Hypebeast) can help make or break an underground or indie brand trying to catch the attention of influencers or even savvy mainstream consumers. Fast Company spoke with Ma to learn the proper usage of the words "sneakerhead," "deadstock," and "hypebeast."

What is Hypebeast?

It’s a site I created in 2005. It just started off as a blog. There was a big sneaker culture going on worldwide. A lot of people were collecting sneakers, limited edition sneakers. People were actually lining up, and in New York at a store called Staple there were riots by kids who wanted to buy sneakers. I was a sneakerhead myself, lining up to pick out the latest limited edition shoe. I started the site talking just about sneakers. Eventually I started talking about different subjects, all connected to the sneaker world, like hip-hop, streetwear, fashion, skateboarding. Now we’re discussing more aspects of culture, including arts, high fashion, and design.

And what is a "hypebeast"?

“Hypebeast” is a term commonly used amongst our culture. People call [someone] a hypebeast if he’s interested in certain topics in this culture: sneakers, fashion, arts, music.

This is a term used in Hong Kong?

No one uses it in Hong Kong. It’s a U.S. thing.

I guess I don’t get out enough.

If you go to areas like SoHo....

I live in New York, and you live in Hong Kong, but you know New York slang better than I do.

It’s just a very niche culture...

Teach me how to use the word “hypebeast.”

In the very beginning, kids on these message boards would say, “You’re such a hypebeast,” and it meant you would buy into the hype without thinking what the product was about. It was kind of a negative term in the beginning. I thought it was funny, and thought, why not use this term as a website? I used it ironically. Eventually this term evolved into a different thing. Nowadays it’s just more like if you’re into the fashion/arts/culture scene you might be called a hypebeast.

What kind of traffic does Hypebeast get?

It depends on the month. Last year in August, we got 3 million uniques. It fluctuates, goes up and down—2.5 million, 2.8 million—but we are seeing steady growth month to month. Our readers are mostly based in the U.S., around 50-60%.

How big is your staff?

We recently grew to around 20 full-time people. We really tried to expand the company last year. We had an office three years ago, but it was just fooling around. We had ping-pong tables and we were just playing around. When the lease was over we decided, we’re just playing ping-pong all day, maybe we should just work from home. We did that for a year, but then last year we started to get serious and rented a decent office. No more ping-pong tables.

And I assume you’re profitable?

Yeah, definitely. From day one. We never lost money.

So what’s ahead for you guys?

We’re always growing. We’re doing more original content, getting better pictures, and we’re trying to give a better look to the site. We’re getting into a lot of different editorial aspects. We started a column called Hypebeast Trade, where we talk about the business of the fashion industry. We interview CEOs and ask how they started out, difficulties in starting up, that whole process.

So basically you’re becoming a Fast Company competitor.

No, of course not!

It occurs to me, you must have a lot of sneakers.

I have a lot of sneakers.

How many?

I don’t count anymore. I stopped counting at 50, which was years ago. Now just in the office, they’re laying around—I’m sure it’s a hundred-something.

Do you even try them all on?

No, not anymore, to be honest. We [collectors] try to keep it “deadstock,” or in pristine condition. That’s a term from the sneaker world. Often people buy two pairs of the same sneaker, one to wear, one just to keep around.

What’s your favorite pair you own?

The first ones I got in high school: Jordan 11’s. This was back in Grade 11, 10 or 15 years ago.

Are they “deadstock”?

No, I wore them. They’re the first pair of shoes I bought myself. I think I paid $150 Canadian, pretty expensive for a kid back then.

If they’re not deadstock, they can’t be worth much...

They’re not worth anything these days, to be honest. But I enjoyed them. Those shoes got me started on this whole website thing.

This interview has been condensed and edited. For more from the Fast Talk interview series, click here. Know someone who'd make a good Fast Talk subject? Mention it to David Zax.

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1 Comments

  • whatbagley

    Wait, it takes 30 people to put *that* together? I found the website incredibly unremarkable. Feh. At least he's getting paper.