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Highsnobiety Q&A September, 2 2014

New Beginnings: An In-Depth Interview with Goodhood’s Kyle Stewart

East London boutique Goodhood has established itself as one of the leading fashion-forward retailers in the world, and with an eclectic mix of brands (from Dickies to Junya Watanabe and everything in between) combined with a content-rich website and a vast range of furniture and lifestyle products, it’s easy to see why. Having just closed doors on their two Coronet Street locations and moved to a grand two-story building on Curtain Road, we sat down for an in-depth interview with founder Kyle Stewart, discussing Goodhood’s future, their unique mix of brands and the place Britain has in the wider fashion world.

What does the new store mean for current Goodhood and Life Store locations?

We’re closing them down – so we had Goodhood on one side and Life Store on the other – they’re both closed and we’re going to have our office in what was Goodhood. We’re open officially on September 10 – in terms of the store, its gonna be a massive step up for us – it’s a lot bigger and it’s gonna have a cafe in it, we’re going to be doing food. It’s quite exciting in that aspect, being able to communicate with our customers on a different level. We’re dead excited about it.

Are you guys going to be expanding your brand range?

Yeah, we’ve expanded it quite a bit, not so much on menswear but on women’s quite substantially and also on the Life Store area – we’re adding in stuff like cosmetics and books as well.

So more of a lifestyle store?

Yes, exactly that.

How do you guys manage to stock such a broad range of product at such different price points – for example you currently have Junya Watanabe sitting alongside Dickies?

That’s just what we do, you know? I guess we kind of look at it as more of a consumer, rather than a sort of “level” in fashion. I think a lot of people categorize shops like, this is entry point designer, this is luxury designer, this is street – we just look at our consumer, who we know inside out. It can be luxury or £2 – for us we don’t have a problem selling Junya alongside Dickies – it works for our customer because they’re buying them for different reasons, you know?

Is there a defining characteristic of what makes a Goodhood product?

We’re looking for something that has got a connection to culture, something that communicates about the legacy of clothing. We don’t like to talk about fashion, we always talk about clothing, which we see as fundamentally different. So things that are really good quality, for instance, things that are progressive in their design and fabrication but also retrospective in their knowledge about clothing. It takes a lot of knowledge to make the perfect jacket and so we’re looking for brands that understand about things like stitch tension and fabrication and use that information to make product. I mean we just look for something that’s cool as fuck. That’s a five word answer for you!

Compared to your peers, you guys buy from pretty far afield, what is it about places like Asia and Scandinavia that makes for such exciting product? 

Obviously Asia, Japan in particular, are the best at making stuff – they’ve got this knowledge and eye for being able to design clothes. Then the Scandinavian brands, Denmark and Sweden in particular, have got a really good legacy of design. I think for us, those two places understand the commerciality of the business. They make amazing things that a normal person can still wear. That’s really important to us.

What does the UK have to offer in terms of men’s fashion, compared to these places?

I don’t want to beat down on the British industry, it’s got a heritage of product, it’s got a distant manufacturing base that was incredible – Scottish knitwear, Macs, things like that. But I think that’s all I can say really. To be honest, I find the British industry a little mixed up. There’s tradition, there’s brands like Burberry, Barbour and Mackintosh, but at another level the media is obsessed with luxury fashion talent coming out of design schools and I don’t think they necessarily go together in a good way.

There’s a bit of a lack to be daring in the UK – whereas at the SS15 trade shows it seemed like all of the Scandinavian brands just didn’t care what menswear should and shouldn’t look like, they had the most exciting product out of everyone we saw.

Those guys, the thing about them is they’re a similar age, and they’re all coming out of the same place and are doing a similar thing and it’s a bit of a movement. It’s really quite astonishing and amazing, they’re very supportive of each other – regardless of whether they’re super tight or not, they help each other out. If you think about Copenhagen, it’s a tiny city that’s got Norse Projects, Wood Wood and Soulland – it’s quite astonishing. While they can definitely throw caution to the wind and not care perhaps what menswear should and should not be, they’ve still got a really good handle on what men actually want to wear.

Theres so much product from around the world if theres not something right on your doorstep then its not hard to find.

Yeah, but it’s disappointing – obviously we want to find a brand like Soulland or Norse Projects or Our Legacy here. To be honest, we’ll just end up doing it ourselves, that’s the plan.

It’s disappointing to see your own country fall flat though.

Yeah, but I also think because it’s got such a reputation in luxury fashion, its almost like a hindrance as well because it encourages people to think that it’s what British fashion has got to be.

London retail has changed dramatically in the past few years – how have you survived where others have failed? 

We’ve really focused on who our customer is. For instance, we’re based in the East End of London. I live in the East End, people that we employ live in the East End. We live like our customer and have focused on that. I’ve seen a lot of shops pop up and go and it’s sad, but sometimes I don’t know if there’s a market for them – it’s a business at the end of the day and there’s got to be people wanting to buy your stuff. We’ve been here for seven years and we grew it from nothing – it was literally nothing at the start – and that’s given us time to make mistakes, learn from them and learn who our customer is and what will work for us.

It must help that there’s tons of content on the site – you could spend a long time there without even looking at any product.

Myself and my partner come from design backgrounds – we both started as designers working for Levi’s and Nike and Moschino – so when it comes to our buying, we’re always buying stuff for a reason. When it comes to getting the product in the store, there’s always a reason we bought it, so it makes sense for us to communicate that through the website. We tell the people on our website the reason we thought something was amazing and it’s not just batting for numbers, it’s buying to educate people and ourselves at the same time.

With so many independents struggling or closing down, how do you think independent retail is going to look in the future? 

I guess to survive as an independent you’ve got to run a good business to start with – but on top of that you need to focus on what you do and do it well. Because online is radically changing retail there’s so much money getting plowed into massive e-commerce sites, and what is important to us as a small operation is for us and our suppliers to have an understanding that we support each other and to continue to specialize in our area and not to give in to the bigger retailers.

Given that you’re somewhat of a specialist retailer, do you have room for trends in your business?

Obviously we feature them, but they’re not that important to us – we change quite slowly and we’re the antithesis to the seasonal trend chat that you get from the media or what have you. I mean you’ve got to move with the times and we’ll always update our product selection but at the same time, particularly from a menswear point of view, something that we sold five years ago is still as relevant as it is now – we’re always gonna be wearing the same kind of stuff. Its nice to see new things and I guess because we’re designers you always see new ideas.

Especially with menswear, it’s sometimes just the cut and shape that change – you can see you guys are styling Dickies work pants a lot at the moment, so the chino is going from really slim and rolled up to a bit wider and looser.

Yeah, you’re bang on there, I mean we’ve kind of moved with that and it just feels right for us. I guess we’re not sure how many other people are doing this looser-fit Dickies work pant, but we’re completely behind it here. We’re at the level that when we get behind stuff and it feels right, we’ll start to get other people into it as well. We have our own opinion of a trend. For instance, a trend that we’ll never do is the sort of sportswear graphic black streetwear kind of look, that’s not us, so we’re not gonna jump on that.

You see that more subtly – right now there might be a bit more black in the lookbooks but it’s not like, here’s a really long oversized tee with a huge number on the back or anything.

It goes to just an intuitive understanding of what we’re doing – bigger retailers that don’t have the knowledge or the intuitive feel that we have will jump straight into trends and it’s not credible, whereas we’re always trying to come from a credible position.

Goodhood’s new store can be found at 151 Curtain Road, London, EC2A 3QE, UK

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