What the Hell Happened to Karmaloop?

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Greg Selkoe knows why people point the finger at him.

When you’re the founder and CEO of a company that, at its peak, was revolutionary in its offerings, employed 250 people, and was regularly doing over $100 million in sales annually, you get blamed when things turn to shit.

And things did. Big time. But there are reasons—complicated reasons—and Selkoe wants you to hear them.  

“Retail is a hard fucking business,” he said, roughly a month after being ousted as Karmaloop’s CEO.

Selkoe, now 40, started Karmaloop out of his parents’ Boston area basement in 1999. His idea was to sell cool clothes online to cool kids who didn’t have a cool boutique in their town. At the time, the idea of buying clothes on the Internet was preposterous. As “The Karmaloop Story” on karmaloop.com facetiously tells it, Selkoe got into business to combat the “evil forces of McFashion”— the Aeropostales, Banana Republics and Abercrombies—that “spread a dastardly agenda throughout the universe,” otherwise known as selling wack clothes. The mall brands were the Evil Empire. The rebel force was Karmaloop. And it successfully navigated the potholes of the early aughts to carve out more than just a niche in the e-commerce industry.  

“It was bigger than just selling clothes,” said Selkoe. “It was about a culture.”

Selkoe realized the gear and brands Karmaloop featured had stories to tell, so the site posted interviews with designers and brand owners, and stories about up-and-coming artists—first within the EDM world, then hip-hop. Karmaloop was about clothes but became as much about content that introduced Kid Cudi, A$AP Rocky, and Kendrick Lamar to a new audience.​

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Culturally speaking, Karmaloop was completely different than anything else in preppy, buttoned-down Beantown. It was the cool place to work and those lucky enough to score a job there felt like they had won the lottery. Employees could wear whatever they wanted; dogs roamed the office; music played; the company encouraged employees to explore other artistic interests outside of work. For many of Boston’s young creative set, it was the perfect place to work.

“If you proved yourself, you were able to move up in a department you wanted to move up in,” said Jeni Ni, a former women’s buyer at Karmaloop. “You got to interact with the owners. Free product was given out. It was an awesome environment to start in.”

Especially if you liked to party. Back in the early days, if you didn’t know Karmaloop for its clothes, you knew Karmaloop for its parties.

“It was part of the image and marketing that we projected with the company,” said Selkoe. “It helped us get tight with a lot of these artists that were up-and-coming.”

Partying or retailing—it was a toss-up which Karmaloop did better.

Long days frequently turned into long nights. Employees were expected to take care of business—drinking on the job or getting high was not tolerated—but things changed come quitting time. Multiple former employees, who requested anonymity so as not to jeopardize relationships in the industry, attested to wild behavior.

“We were a ratchet crowd,” said one. “There were afterparties in our office where people were having sex, there were drugs being done. That company has done so many crazy things that a movie should be made about it.”

Instances of employees drinking so much that they slept in their offices or under their desks weren’t unusual. Drug use was rampant. Marijuana use was commonplace and, according to multiple former employees, there were even times when managers offered employees cocaine. “It was a regular thing,” said one former staffer who spent five years at Karmaloop.

Selkoe, who is seven years sober, says that’s farfetched. “If that happened, no one ever told me about it,” he said. “And I never saw anything like that.”

“THERE WERE AFTERPARTIES IN OUR OFFICE WHERE PEOPLE WERE HAVING SEX, DRUGS WERE BEING DONE. THAT COMPANY HAS DONE SO MANY CRAZY THINGS THAT A MOVIE SHOULD BE MADE ABOUT IT.”

Read more via COMPLEX here.