Posted by Billyjam, September 29, 2009 08:03am | Post a Comment
In 1999 the independent East Bay hip-hop-themed online company The Giant Peach was formed by Karen Dere with planning help from Stinke, whom she had worked closely with at the Hierogyphics' company (the pioneering Oakalnd hip-hop entity that was one of the very first to embrace the Internet in the mid 1990's -- years before most people even had an email address, nevermind a fully functional online Kid Robotdistribution outlet for indie hip-hop). Working at the Hieros' company for several years coupled with the previous years' experience and expertise she culled from her time as a DJ, etc. at KALX radio, Karen had gained enough insight and knowledge to launch The Giant Peach.

Initially created as "a means for independent labels (with an emphasis on hip hop) and artists to produce their own line of garments and distribute their products to the masses" -- as its mission statement lays out -- the Giant Peach (GP) has grown by leaps and bounds over the past decade but has still pretty much stuck to its initial plan of creating a bridge between artists/labels and fans and of exhaustively carrying the clothing lines of popular design artists and collectives, and always with an emphasis on those from the Bay Area.

Currently celebrating its ten year anniversary, the GP has a store within a store this month at TRUE in the Haight (near Amoeba SF), and, I am told, this will expand into October. Last week I stopped by the GP's product-packed East Bay warehouse/offices to talk to Karen about her company and capture on video (above) some of the cool items for sale on its website. I also followed up with a text interview (below) to cover some things we didn't get to in the video version.

Amoeblog: You mentioned in the video interview that you have something like 10,000 titles, which is mind boggling to me. I know you carry T-shirts and sweatshirts, shoes, belts, toys, CDs, vinyl, but what other things do you carry?

Karen @ GP: We also carry books & artwork; cheaper stuff by Doze, Mear, etc. We try to keep it related to graffiti, but sometimes people are just so great, it doesn't matter. We've had stuff by Dug-1 (a la his Morning Breath collabo). We pretty much try to stick with certain artists, then carry whatever they do. And it's good because a lot of the artists cross categories. Shepard Fairey (OBEY) and Simone Legno (Tokidoki) are fairly sought-after artists, and they have done watches, skatedecks, vinyl toys...the list goes on. And then it turns out that for a lot of the labels, it's the same way; Stones Throw has had two toys (Madvillain and Quasimoto) plus DJ bags, slipmats, Nikes, etc. Quannum did a collabo with Reebok.

Amoeblog: What is the most popular item you carry?

Karen @ GP: It's hard to say, which I guess is a testament to the artistic output of most people on the site. Lately, the best selling item [has been] a heart-shaped 7" by Mayer Hawthorne ("Just Ain't Gonna Work Out").

Amoeblog: Giant Peach is very much rooted in the Bay Area, which is its home. How important is the Bay to GP and would such a company be as successful in another city or environment?

Karen @ GP: The Bay was extremely important to the start of GP.  I think most of the connections to musicians, artists, and clothing labels we made because they live(d) here too. It would have been harder to form those relationships if we lived in a different city. People are obsessive about music in the Bay,
so it's also just easier to find out about new things. Way back in the 90's, Chris, who was a buyer at Amoeba, told me I should check out this crew from Minneapolis called Rhymesayers. Over time, I think the internet has grown, so it's a lot easier to partner with people you've never met. Plus, it's just easier to have a website now...there's a lot more software and fulfillment options available. There are people who have somewhat duplicated our efforts in other cities, and they have been successful.

Amoeblog: These are tough economic times for businesses, especially for independent small businesses, yet GP has stayed in the game. What is the key to thriving, or at least surviving, in your business in these times?

Karen @ GP: It's hard to say. We've just tried to really tighten it up in terms of buying. We have always tried to add as much stuff as we possibly can, but we realized we were also getting away from our core artists, so we've tried to refocus. We've also tried to concentrate on things that are a bit harder to get-- things like Parra's Rockwell line. We've always been a fan of his, but the line was mainly available in Europe. Luckily, Stones Throw started doing production in the U.S. While things are not always going to be perfect, we try to respect both our customers and our vendors. I think that has helped us maintain many long term relationships.

Amoeblog: Congrats, you have made it to Year Ten! Where do you see  The Giant Peach at Year Twenty?

Karen @ GP: Thank you, thank you. It's weird, I've been thinking a lot about that lately. Many things are going to depend on where technology takes people. I didn't really think too much about software or bandwidth in the beginning; now I have to think about it all the time. I really hope we'll still be working with many of the same artists we started with. I truly believe most of them have a long career ahead of them.

Visit The Giant Peach online or visit their store inside TRUE at 1427 Haight Street (near Amoeba SF), which will remain open into October.

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Hieros (17), The Giant Peach (1), Obey (2), True (1), Karen Dere (2), Bay Area (34)