Thursday, 22 January 2009

A Nation of Shopkeepers?

Over the last week most of our attention has been focused on the goings on over in Milan and now Paris...Charlie Porter has notified us via his Twitter that the YSL presentation is his favourite show thus far so I am desperate to see the first lot of images (update: now up on Dazed Digital). Despite the fashion week activity I have also been contemplating the other side of the business, retail. Even the collections themselves were deeply affected by the current state of the world economy...the recession wasn't hinted at but instead the shows almost screamed panic due to the state of affairs...which sends a warning signal to the rest of the industry. I am torturing myself by watching and reading the the doom and gloom seems to be getting darker by the day...which leads me to thinking about the business side of men's style.

However much Tyler
Brûlé frustrates me, he frequently covers the topics that interest me and within his Observation column in Monocle he talks about playing shop. I visited the Monocle shop in November last year and at just nine square metres in size (it is only a touch larger than my childhood bedroom which only allowed my bed, a small television set and my Sega Mega Drive) the space has been beautifully designed and furnished so it feels welcoming and feels so homely. After over two months of trading Tyler Brûlé feels there is a core of consumers who are looking for a more personal, hands on approach to minding a shop. I couldn't agree more! My favourite shops are the ones which have a strong but friendly and welcoming ownership. bstore which is now in it's seventh year has gone from strength to strength and this can only be down to the vision, drive and commitment of the two owners, Kirk Beattie and Matt Murphy (and maybe a little luck). We featured parts of an insightful interview Matt Murphy gave with Ponystep and I have to admit that I re-read this from time to time and it inspires me...Another prime example of how a shop owner should be is Daniel Jenkins who has single-handedly put Monmouth (a small town in Wales, population 8407) on the men's style map and is always buying in great menswear. As mentioned on the blog previously, I met up with Dan at the last MAN show and this guys passion and knowlege for menswear is in my experience unparalleled...and over a beer before the show he was taking calls from designers and customers alike. I just wish more store owners shared these attributes but they really are few and far between.

In a recent interview with BUCK, Creative Director of oki-ni, John Skelton, predicts that
'there is going to be a real return to the independent retail mentality of old, where small/independent stores will make their money by offering something different.'
Over the last year or two, we have certainly seen a number of retailers, large and small, offering emerging menswear talent and I hope this continues into 2009 and beyond. There is undoubtedly a market, where people like myself, are eager to buy designs from recent graduates and small fashion teams but this market is certainly not the safe option: the demise of London-based fashion concept store twosee which showcased avant-garde designers but is unfortunately closing it's doors at the end of this month is testament to the difficulties. The Shop At Bluebird (even the website is down) used to be a favourite of mine and I managed to pick up a number of pieces from emerging design talent but in recent visits I have become frustrated by the 'safe' Buying, there is no longer a place for brands like Unconditional and Omar Kashoura, they have been replaced by much more established brands. Yawn.

The UK used to be dubbed as the nation of shopkeepers but in recent years the landscape has changed from busy, bustling stores to empty and even boarded up stores. I can honestly count the number of exciting stores in London using my fingers. Tyler Brûlé mentions how Japan's lost decade was the catalyst for the rise of a new. super talented merchant class that kept the retail scene buoyant despite the dire state of the economy. Let's hope that one positive outcome of the recent troubling economic times will be a new breed of shop keepers. It would be great if the UK could be crowned as the nation of menswear shopkeepers.

There is a lot that could be said on this subject so I feel that this is only the beginning. I would like to hear your thoughts thoughts though....What in your eyes makes a good menswear store? What would you like to see store owners do in the year ahead and beyond?


Matt Nation said...

I could not agree more.

Make Do Style said...

I completely agree. I think the issue all retailers will face is on the point of service, the esperience and how they can build relationships with thier customers.

This has been long extablished in other businesses take even the organic veg delivery one as an example. You are rigth about Dan's shop in Monmouth and Monmouth is full of great independent shops and cafes.

London needs some proper retailing, not the lux brands,not the department stores, not the high street retailers but the perfect shop has to be in a good location, be well staffed and blend excitment with some 'safe' numbers - I'm afraid a few classic basics/wardrobe staples, ones that evoke memories or a scene from a film are a hook to allow more adventure. Being nice to people goes a long way in retailing - we go to a butcher because his name is Kenny he's nice to the petit garcon and its personal.

Opening hours are critical, from 8 to 8, hard work but it will build a business.

Farringdon would be a great location, you'd get all the men in the week at the offices and the footfall at the weekend. It's an under exploited place at the moment. Plus you need socks and underpants!

Fashion retailing is a fave subject of mine hence the waffle!

Style Salvage Steve said...

Matt Nation: Don't mention it. This is just a subject close to my heart. I have a blue print of the perfect shop in my head.
Make Do Style: Well said, you weren't waffling at all. I completely agree about Farringdom being a good location for a London store. I agree that the store should have a strong stock of quality basics, as well as a few racks of statement pieces from emerging talent and some affordable, well chosen vintage pieces. Now, all I need is some financial backing...I hope 2009 is the year more retailers roll up their sleeves and attempt to set themselves apart from the high street whilst promoting the very best of customer relations and retail vision.

John said...

I hope the recession will lead to more people considering the quality of their clothes, where they are made, and support smaller independent brands (and shops) that produce their clothes in the UK - benefitting local communities, not exploiting communities in Asia.

Price will inevitably be part of it. When you consider some of the shops like Pineal Eye, they did source some amazing stuff (Bernard Willhelm for example). But it was all fairly high end. Price tags that high just don’t seem reasonable any more.

It might be easier for Menswear brands because, theoretically at least, there is less of a focus on trend cycle, items going in/out of fashion. In reality there is still a lot of this around, partly driven by the deep rooted Spring/Summer/Autumn/Winter cycle, drive for profit and expansion, obsolescence. The more Menswear can shift from this on to a focus on personal style the more brands that create quality garment, that are value for money, can thrive. And I should stress value for money does not necessarily mean cheap!

I think it is difficult for new designers as it is, finding financial backing in the current climate is a daunting prospect. Also the more avant-garde or ambitious the designers are the less appealing the clothes are to investors/customers who are tightening their belts. It is as always a complex issue and a question of balance. It would be really good to see a network of stores supporting independent designers, manufacturers, and local businesses, something that goes beyond one shop - an initiative or commitment that would build support similar to the communities that blogs like this create, and help educate consumers. This shouldn’t hinder the individual nature of the shops themselves; it would just ensure similar businesses get the support.

TheSundayBest said...

Japanese retail survives with a novel concept - providing people with things they want in a setting they want to shop in. Astounding, I know. They're the anti-Walmart.

Style Salvage Steve said...

John: Well said! You have raised so many great points! I will return to this issue after the weekend. I particularly like the idea of a community like network of stores, one day maybe!
Thesundaybest: speaking of which I was just reading about the Tokyo based store 1LDK which creates a home from home for their customers...they have house parties whee the staff cook for customers whilst also styling them in their brands. Simply awesome!


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