Kevin Ma Talks "Progression" for #WeWonder

Kevin Ma Talks "Progression" for #WeWonder

The Hypebeast Founder and CEO joined Mercedes-Benz for a discussion on the future.

The Hypebeast Founder and CEO joined Mercedes-Benz for a discussion on the future.

Photography:

Text: MATHIAS ROSENZWEIG

This past weekend, V attended the 33rd International Festival of Fashion, Photography, and Fashion Accessories in Hyères, France. In essence, the annual gathering is organized to support emerging talent within the three varying disciplines, with each category featuring a selection of ten promising contestants. Having established synonymity internationally with the term "fashion week," it's of little surprise that Mercedes-Benz has been supporting the cultural celebration since 2012.

This year, Hypebeast Founder and CEO Kevin Ma joined the likes of Solange Knowles, Slick Woods, and Humberto Leon (amongst others) in the next stage of the #mbcollective fashion story and as one of the faces of #WeWonder. Over the weekend, Ma participated in a panel alongside the company's Editor-in-Chief Arbi Li and Senior Producer Kevin Wong to discuss the theme of "Progression," touching on how he sees technology continuing to merge with our futures, even if it means looking at the past. After the panel, hosted by Caroline Issa, V sat down with Ma to discuss his business's evolution, connecting with his audience, and being a part of #WeWonder.

Has your audience changed from what it was in the beginning, or has it simply expanded? 

We don’t look at the audience profile too much. We do, in terms of knowing our demographic, but when it comes to it being different than before, I don’t think so. I believe that the original crowd grew up with us, so at that time they were in their high school years or something like that. Now, they’re out working as young adults. I guess I myself am a part of that audience. I was in university and now I still like this stuff. I think it’s also expanded, mostly from going from a website to social media platforms. The audience is much bigger than before. There’s more people involved. There’s more interest from different parts of the world. The age range has expanded as well; it can be from high school kids to folks in their 40s.

You guys have also made a conscious effort to expand on gender as well.

We don’t think about it. We just do it, and if females like it, cool.

Because social media is evolving all the time, what ups and downs have you had with its evolution?

A recurring theme is that I don’t think about that stuff. It’s more about social media being this really cool platform that we all started to use because we thought it was interesting. We didn’t think about it from a business angle, whether it was going to disrupt our business, we just went along with it, started an account, and started posting what we liked. It wasn’t about making money, it was about our love for social media. We’re not afraid of this stuff, it’s just another way to communicate.

Do you do a lot of social media-specific content? Stuff you’ll see on social media but not on the site? Or is it not so divided?

Each platform is a different way to communicate. Whether it’s Instagram or YouTube or our website or print, we just communicate in different ways because the attention span on each platform is a little bit different. Instagram is very visually-drivenit’s more about aesthetics. If you want to write a long essay, it doesn’t translate that well there. That’s where our website is used more. If you want in-depth features, you put it in the print magazine. It’s just different ways to communicate.

How has Hypebeast been working with influencers? 

We try our best to connect and work with people who are creating cool stuff in the world. The world’s a big place and it can accommodate everyone to have their own voice. I think with this kind of technology and these tools, it allows people to have a voice. I think it’s amazing.

It’s more of a dialogue versus competing voices.

Yeah, we don’t think of it as competition.

In media, where it’s constantly fluctuating and changing, how do you guys try to have a plan for longevity? Or maybe you don’t think long-term like that?

We really don’t. If you were to ask me where we’ll be in five years, I don’t know, to be honest. Technology changes so fast and you have to be so flexible, be fluid. If you make long-term plans and things change, will you stick with those plans when it doesn’t make sense? I don’t think so. I just think you’ve got to keep doing things that make sense at that time. I think planning too far in advance is detrimental to whatever you’re creating.

This is a bit of a retroactive question. You guys have an insanely huge audience. Was there a moment where you were like, “Wow we went viral,” or was it a gradual growth?

I think it was a gradual growth. Recently, it’s expanded more exponentially. I don’t know why. In the first couple years, we were just doing our own thing. We were quite niche at the timeno one really knew what we were doing or understood what we were doing. It was a small community of fashion-lovers, sneaker-lovers, whatever. I do think that social media had a big part in how the brand expanded. There are way more people that know about Hypebeast culture than before, because of the accessibility of the information. It’s just easier now than before. It was gradually growing, and then in the last two years, it went boom, crazy.

I imagine you guys have built up a really organic, engaged audience. In terms of algorithms, that helps to prioritize your brand, when other people are pushing and paying to get that stuff out there.

Again, we don’t really think about that. If we’re just creating content for the sake of engagement, then you get pigeonholed into that kind of contentyclick-baity content. I think for us, we have to be authentic to ourselves and create content we love first of all. If that happens to make an impact or get people engaged, cool.

You’re in a crux now where you’re commenting on a lot of culture, but you’re also big enough that you’re shaping culture as well. Do you consciously think about where those two things intersect?

We always try to think of ourselves as not being a big force. That’s an important mindset we try to keep. For us, it’s always about learning and discovering whatever’s happening in the world. We don’t want to be like, “We’re the biggest force so we can dictate where things are going.” We don’t want to do that, absolutely not. That’s just closed-minded. We want to keep it open-minded, everyone can have a voice if they’re doing cool stuff. We want to support everyone, from big designers to young, emerging designers. It’s all important.

Can you talk about Mercedes-Benz and #WeWonder and why it was a good fit for you or the brand to be working together?

When Mercedes approached me for this campaign, the concept of #WeWonder is really about sitting down and wondering about stuffabout the future, but also wondering about our present lives. How can things in our lives be better or easier? How can we help people? For us specifically, how can we highlight things that we love? There are young and emerging artists, designers, and musicians that we love, so it’s about finding out how to give them a platform and getting the word out. If we can help in any way, that’s amazing. We just want to help and participate in emerging art.

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