In The Loop
Greg Selkoe ’96
by Katherine Johnson | photo by Jackie Earhart
Greg Selkoe ’96 was working as an urban planner in Boston when karma struck. While helping a friend sell ads for an electronic music magazine during his free time, he noticed an emerging trend in underground clothing lines: The clothes were only available in large cities like New York and Los Angeles. So Greg decided to create an online marketplace to bring cutting-edge underground and celebrity streetwear to the masses. Even though the timing wasn’t ideal for a new dot-com, Greg launched Karmaloop—now a multimillion-dollar fashion empire—from the confines of his parents’ basement. It was 2000, and Greg was 25 years old.
What began as a hobby slowly gained momentum as orders trickled in, and the business grew. Greg and his wife, Dina, managed orders and developed marketing while they lived with Greg’s parents and attended Harvard: He graduated with a master’s degree in public policy; she graduated from law school.
Greg admits he did not have a fallback plan, and despite severe financial setbacks, he was adamant that his idea would succeed. With a “failure is not an option” mantra, he reached out to two of the biggest names in retail sales for knowledge, advice, and capital investment.
“I was fortunate to be introduced to Sam Gerson, who was former chairman of the board of Filene’s Basement. This guy was really impressed with the concept, [but] not really impressed with how I was running it,” Greg says with a laugh. “He said, ‘I will teach you how to be a retailer.’ ” Later, he met Frank Estey, who led the growth of Marshall’s department store; other investors followed.
Greg attributes the longevity of the Karmaloop brand to choosing an unconventional college major, anthropology. “Everything is about human interaction, especially the business I am in. What motivates people to do stuff is very much an anthropologic perspective of things,” he says.
With perseverance and passion, Greg grew Karmaloop into a success story, with estimated sales of $230 million this year in more than 35 countries. While Karmaloop.com features more than 300 clothing labels for men and women, the company’s brand has achieved its own success. A cross-platform of media entities includes blogs, music, and a members-only online boutique that features limited-time sales. KarmaloopTV, a 24-hour online video channel, offers exclusive interviews with designers, artists, and musicians.
Unlike many CEOs, Greg maintains a visible presence within his company, interacting with customers via the customer service line and email. He also blogs for The Huffington Post and has appeared on national news programs and in an episode of the HBO series How to Make It in America.
Despite his success, Greg says he’s humbled by his mainstream appeal and recognition. Last year, he was named Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year in the New England e-commerce category. He has been selected as one of the 25 most influential entrepreneurs under age 35 in the U.S. He was invited to participate in a White House summit for young business leaders, and he formed the nonprofit Future Boston Alliance, which is dedicated to advancing the creative economy in Boston.
As passionate as he remains about business, Greg is equally enthusiastic about giving others the tools to succeed. He hopes to create a venture fund to invest in other entrepreneurial companies, letting Karmaloop live up to its name.