By  on August 22, 2011

On a lower level of the Southpole headquarters building in Fort Lee, N.J., is the retail team for the Against All Odds chain of urban streetwear stores.

The company is a separate corporate entity from Southpole, but is owned by the Khym family. David Khym is chairman of both companies and Kenny Khym is president, overseeing the day-to-day operations of both Southpole and Against All Odds.

The company operates 24 stores currently, including eight units in New Jersey, nine in New York, three in Pennsylvania, and one store each in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland and Virginia.

Apart from selling Southpole merchandise, Against All Odds offers brands like Rocawear, Ecko, Zoo York, Levi's, Ed Hardy, Jordan, The North Face, LRG, New Era, G-shock and D.C.

Kenny Khym started Against All Odds in 1995 as a mall retailer catering to the burgeoning urban streetwear category. It was an early player in the game — Rocawear was founded that same year and Sean John wouldn't launch until 1998 — and by 2000 the chain had revenues of $15.5 million in about half a dozen stores.

"It worked as a great antenna for our wholesale operations," said Kenny Khym of using the chain as a laboratory and testing ground for its own Southpole brand.

The company added stores throughout the Aughts, growing to almost 80 stores in 15 states on both the East and West Coasts and in Florida. Sales reached $78.7 million by 2005 and grew to $121.1 million by 2007.

"I thought we'd end up having 1,000 stores," said Khym.

However, the company's growth trajectory was abruptly reversed by the financial crisis of 2008 and the resulting retail implosion. The timing of the economic downturn couldn't have been worse for Against All Odds, as it had just opened a string of stores on the West Coast, where the subprime mortgage mess was especially acute.

"The expansion to the West Coast was a disaster," said John Um, executive vice president at Wicked Fashions Inc., Southpole's parent.

On Jan. 5, 2009, Against All Odds filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. At the time, it had shrunk to 64 stores — but the Khyms worked with creditors and the court for a year to devise a plan to keep the chain open, rather than liquidating. The company emerged from Chapter 11 on Dec. 27, 2009, paying off unsecured creditors a 14 percent return.

"Kenny really wanted to be able to keep employees who had worked for many years with the company," said Um. "Even though we shut down most of the stores, we retained the majority of employees. That really impressed the bankruptcy judge and also the credit committee, after they heard about our people retention strategy."

Khym said the company is carefully considering expansion opportunities again, as there are good real estate deals available in some markets because of the still-fragile economy.

As for the business itself, which trimmed another 40 stores in the past two years, he summed up: "It's not setting the world on fire, but it's doing nicely now."

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