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E-retailer hopes to boost Boston’s hip factor

Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Karmaloop’s Greg Selkoe says Boston is seen as a cold city.

Karmaloop is on a $200,000 mission to make its home city of Boston as hip as the clothing it sells.

The 12-year-old company - it’s an online seller of so-called streetwear that says it is battling McFashion - is investing that amount to establish the Future Boston Alliance, a nonprofit advocacy organization that will be launched Wednesday. The alliance, which Karmaloop says is being formed to help invigorate the local creative economy, will lobby City Hall to relax regulations and allow for more 24-hour services and restaurants. The idea is to make the city more attractive for the artists, musicians, and designers who could start small businesses here.

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“If Boston isn’t any fun, and there aren’t a lot of creative things happening here, that’s very bad for the entrepreneurial environment,’’ said Greg Selkoe, chief executive of Karmaloop. “There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be the start-up hub of the universe.’’

So is Boston in need of a hipness boost? Selkoe said the city has a reputation as “cold and conservative,’’ and if it doesn’t shake that rap it will lose more creative talent to New York and California.

In addition, a more vibrant innovation economy will help keep young companies here and convince college students to stick around after graduation.

Fostering growth of the Massachusetts creative economy is increasingly seen as a valuable way to help the state attract new companies and retain top talent, said F. Javier Torres, senior program officer at the Boston Foundation, a philanthropy that makes more than $80 million in grants every year, including to arts groups

“For generations, we’ve talked about the brain drain from Massachusetts and why students leave,’’ said Torres. Building up the area’s arts and cultural offerings, he said, helps blunt the exodus.

‘There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be the start-up hub of the universe.’

Greg Selkoe, Karmaloop CEO
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The Boston Foundation and other Massachusetts cultural organizations plan to launch MASSCreative this fall, an advocacy group supporting the state’s creative work force.

“Arts and culture bring so much to Massachusetts. Not only does it bring the community together, but we are seeing it as a major driver for economic development here in the state,’’ said Matt Wilson, who has been appointed as MASSCreative’s executive director.

The idea for the nonprofit grew out of Selkoe’s experience building a fashion business in Boston, he said, adding that local venture capitalists were not interested in investing and that he has constantly had a hard time recruiting and retaining employees at Karmaloop’s Back Bay headquarters. Still, Karmaloop is expected to reach $200 million in sales and has more than 200 employees and offices in New York City, Los Angeles, and Denmark, he said.

Selkoe wants to see similar successes come out of Boston. Part of Future Boston will be a small-business accelerator program to foster young, creative businesses.

“We are looking for people who were like Karmaloop, which was never able to get any funding in Boston,’’ Selkoe said.

City officials are open to conversations about change to bring more creative types to town, said Melina Schuler, a spokeswoman for the Boston Redevelopment Authority.

“The creative economy is crucial to the economic, social, cultural vitality of the city,’’ she said, pointing to the growth of the Innovation District, which has drawn numerous start-up and young tech companies to the South Boston Waterfront.

Michael B. Farrell can be reached at michael.farrell@globe.com.
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