As part of our ongoing Highsnobiety Visits series, we head to Harlem to spend the afternoon with ONLY NY. The West Side headquarters serves a handful of roles including showroom, design studio, office, warehouse, and general hang-out spot. If you are familiar with the brand on any level, it’s easy to see that this space screams “ONLY.” From stickers and skate decks to NYC signage and potted plants, the space is tastefully cluttered with branded paraphernalia. We’ve been fans of the New York mainstay for quite sometime so a proper sit down was bound to happen. We chat with founders Micah Belamarich and Julian Goldstein about the brand they’ve built that we’ve all come to love. See the interview below.
For our readers that don’t know, let’s start with the beginning. ONLY launched in 2007 right?
Julian: I think 2007 is really the year it clicked for us. Our surroundings in 1997 and the years prior to that growing up in the city all contributed more than what was going on when we started the brand.
Micah: We developed out of a lot of cultures, not just graffiti but design and fishing and photography.
What’s the story behind the stickers?
Micah: I think stickers were our first big thing. We got a ton, maybe a couple thousand, and put them all up within a month. The stickers didn’t have the website or any type of explanation and built a buzz that way. You know, people were wondering what “ONLY” was and that ended up being our main logo.
So starting a streetwear company was the plan from the get go then?
Julian: I don’t think we we ever associated ourselves with streetwear. We love clothing. The brand just encompasses everything we’re passionate about like the outdoors and New York, not necessarily streetwear culture.
Micah: Clothing became our design outlet and looked to bigger brands like Alife, PegLeg, Orvis, Patagonia and other lifestyle brands.
ONLY’s aesthetic has remained very consistent since day one. As creatives, do you all ever have the desire to do something out in left field?
Micah: Right now we’re sticking to what we started and do best. We’ll maybe introduce some new themes here and there, but aesthetically we’re tying to keep it close to what we set out to do. There’s been a lot of trends coming and going since we started and we try not to hop onto any of them.
Julian: As far as collections go, that’s something we’re trying to grow. We’ve done the simple hats and tee shirts for a long time and right now we’re trying to align ourselves with the right factories in the States to produce quality goods at a reasonable price. That’s the struggle we’re going through but working towards. We’re trying to keep everything in the USA.
The Internet is pretty saturated with just about everything at the moment. Tell us about opening the web shop.
Micah: Right when we first started, I made a website with Paypal checkout with the “Add to Cart” buttons and we immediately started to sell some tee shirts. So it was all Internet-based for the most part. In 2007, the online shopping scene was really just starting to blow up – I think we got in at a good time. We weren’t thinking “oh, this is the perfect time to get in, this is gonna get so big.” It just made sense. We just continued to design product to sell on the website.
Julian: We weren’t really focusing on wholesale accounts and trying to open up as many as possible. We were just designing stuff to sell on the online shop, and that’s when we really started to see the buzz. That’s when the accounts started to come. The stores mostly asked us.
How quickly did things move from there?
Micah: Well, our first four years were in an apartment and very homegrown. After about the fifth year things really took off to the point where we had to get a full office with employees. Which is this space here in Harlem.
Julian: We moved to this building and opened our flagship store all within three years or so. We’ve gone from one employee to 13. We both love Harlem – I dont think we’d wanna move anywhere else.
Micah: Our employees don’t love it (laughs) most of them live in Brooklyn, but this space separates us a bit and it’s where we started.
Let’s talk inspiration. I know you guys have to like Polo stuff.
What keeps the creative juices flowing?
Julian: For me, walking around and listening to music regularly keeps me inspired. Also just looking through the archives from companies we aspire to be like and love – that with New York inspires us.
Micah: Signage, random logos, graphics on trucks, fruit – whatever it may be. You see something new everyday. Even if I’m walking to and from my house, I see a different van from a different neighborhood.
Julian: There’s not a time where we go out as a group where we’re not saying “oh, thats cool,” and we all come up with things together. We’re always on the lookout for things that are cool, even if we don’t end up using it.
Tell us about the office.
Julian: Most everything happens here. The managing, design, online orders are shipped out of here, customer service, wholesale…Everything but the shipping of our wholesale orders which is from an offsite warehouse.
So this used to be the “Appointment-only shop,” correct?
Micah: Yeah, it used to be two racks here where the showroom space is. It created a little buzz. People kept asking, “do you have a store?” so it kind of made sense to just use our showroom. Looking back, it’s kind of funny we did it that way but it worked. We had a lot of people coming in.
Julian: Everyone that came by dug it. They were taking photos and enjoying the creative space. It was a big plus for our consumers to come see our creative office. We wanted to meet our fan base, and that was one of the perfect ways to do that before we had our store.
Micah: That led to the store opening downtown.
What’s next for ONLY?
Micah: We’ve been talking about that a lot. I think right now we’re pretty content where we’re at. We definitely want to grow, but we’re not looking to open up five new shops in five years or anything. We’ve gotten to a point where we feel very comfortable and would be very grateful to keep growing at this pace.
Julien: I think steady growth is the key. Expanding in the right way.
- Photography: Thomas Welch for Highsnobiety.com