Donnelly first garnered attention in the late 1990s for his graffiti art and subversive streetwear designs. Before long, he was working as a background painter on animated series such as Disney’s 101 Dalmations and cult shows Daria and Doug.
Donnelly began painting the letters ‘KAWS’ on New Jersey and Manhattan buildings. However, Donnelly soon moved on from this simple tag and developed a unique style that involved adding cartoon-like figures to bus-shelter advertisements.
Donnelly traveled to Japan after being approached by Bounty Hunter, a cult toy and streetwear brand. He traded a painting to get the trip payed for.
In 1999, KAWS was approached by Bounty Hunter, a Japanese streetwear brand, to visit Japan. This trip led to the creation of KAWS' first toy, COMPANION. Produced in an edition of 500, the toys sold out almost immediately. COMPANION became a recurring figure in KAWS' work.
Produced in an edition of 500 COMPANION's, the toys sold out almost immediately. Donnelly took payment in stock of toys for this initial venture. The COMPANION became a recurring figure in KAWS' work, appearing in subsequent collections of toys, apparel, and paintings.
Donnelly's current collection with the Japanese brand sees him redrawing beloved Sesame Street characters on a collection of T-shirts, sweatshirts, hoodies and toys. All priced under $50, the pieces feature the tagline, ‘You’re never too old for the street’. Donnelly moved his store onto his own platform, shipping direct to the customer to maintain ownership over his business.