We finished up our RetailOasis Retail Tour in NYC – a couple of days before the National Retail Federation’s Big Show started. We explored Soho, Uptown, Brooklyn and Williamsburg for the best in up-and-coming retail. If San Francisco is the city of tech, Seattle is (mainstream) retail Mecca, then NYC is a haven for retail specialisation. Here’s our pick of the top stores:

AWAY Luggage

Founded: 2015; Funding Raised: US$31M; Sales ’16: US$12M
Away is a new type of luggage company. Started by two ex. Warby Parker execs Steph Korey and Jen Rubio in 2015, this is a business that calls itself ‘first class luggage at coach prices’. The thing that we love about this brand is that they aren’t selling luggage they are selling the romance of travel. So while their product is amazing (beautifully designed, with battery included to charge all your devices on-the-go), their stores are devoted to all things you might want when you go away. We visited their newest NYC location in the Lower East Side they had beauty miniatures, a cafe, travel magazines (including their own), swimwear and more designed for when you head off. What we take away from this concept that is so important is that you have to find the intersection between what you’re selling (in this case luggage) and what’s of interest to the buyer (in this case travelling) – and this is where the magic happens.


Private Label: 50% of revenue, Revenue ‘16: US$3M
Kith is a cult streetwear business started by Ronnie Fieg. Fieg has been labeled by GQ as the ‘most important figure in NYC sneaker culture’. Basically what happens within his 6 locations (including a concession in Bergdorff’s) pretty much sets the tone for what will happen in mainstream ‘sneaker’ culture later. Anyway, about their flagship retail location in LES (Lower East Side). Having moved from their original store last year, they’ve opened up a brand new concept which now includes women on the top floor and Kith Treats (which is basically a ‘hypebeast’ cereal bar). They’ve continued to use cult design firm Snarkitecture to help them fit out the inside. What makes this store so special is: one, the merchandise they range is cutting edge balanced with key volume sellers; two, the partnerships although small in terms of retail footprint, they have access to some of the best product thanks to their influence. The fact that brands like Nike and Timberland want to partner with them providing them with exclusive kit as well as pop-ups in store – see below for the Nike LeBron installation – is testament to this.

Calvin Klein 205W39NYC

Total Group Revenue: US$8.4B
Calvin Klein 205W39NYC (the most premium tier of the Calvin Klein brand) has had a renewed creative direction thanks to it’s new designer Raf Simons. As background, Simons was previously at Jil Sander and Christian Dior where he as the creative force behind it’s turnaround. I guess Calvin Klein (owner PVH) looked to Simons as a means to do the same to this brand, which if we’re honest has lacked direction and failed to build aspiration in most recent years. Anyway, Simons is back with a force and the uptown store he has redesigned with artist Sterling Ruby is a testament to this. It’s highly visual and the clothes work as a piece of this larger art installation. The only thing to do is look at the pictures below.

Gentle Monster

Stores: 15 flagships (across Asia + US) + distribution in departments stores like Lotte and Nordstrom.

This is a South Korean premium sunglasses chain, and this is their New York Flagship – which was it’s first US location (they now have a second location in LA). This is brand we have been following for a couple of years, namely because their stores are more like art galleries than anything else – that includes the fact they are constantly changing. In the case, at their NYC location, they were exploring the concept of Tarantella (which is an Italian folk dance). Throughout the store were moving sculptures, and things that looked like woven spiders. We were lucky enough to chat to one of their team who explained that their aesthetic was ‘Weird Beauty’ – and this was directed by their CEO who was constantly thinking up new ways to express this. Similar to the Calvin Klein store it’s a highly visual and sensorial experience. It’s also worth noting that LVMH took a 7% stake in the business (investing US$60M) in late 2017.

The Alchemists Kitchen

This is a tiny mention for a very cool store. Why we like this store is that it is the total wellness solution with a modern-day, tiny occult twist. Based in the Lower East Side, The Alchemists Kitchen is spread across two floors. On the top floor is the ‘Whole Plant Tonic Bar’ – where you can buy ’state changing elixirs’, teas and vegan snacks; as well as books and nic-nacs like crystals, essential oils etc. The lower floor is services like infrared saunas, nutrient IV drips, cryotherapy, myofascial massage and Reiki. On top of that they run an extensive events calendar – on topics like Astrology readings, herbal medicine, ‘heart intelligence’ and more. I’m sure a couple of you will read this and think ‘sounds like a bunch of woo woo’, but to be honest this industry is taking off in a big way. The Alchemists Kitchen may be at the bleeding edge of this, expect to see this wellness-spiritual movement getting more mainstream in the near future.

That’s a wrap from our time in the US!

Author Pippa Kulmar

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