The following story appears in Highsnobiety Magazine Issue 14.
Tucked away on Allen Street in Downtown Manhattan, it is easy to walk past The Good Company’s facade without noticing it. Located just below Delancey, the shop is lower, and more east, than the bustling sidewalks of SoHo where many who visit New York City know to go to seek out some of the most famous streetwear flagships in the world. The Good Company’s neighbors are not boutiques or internationally renowned fashion houses, but rather more utilitarian businesses: wholesalers, specializing in everything from knitwear to stainless steel, line the block bearing signage in both Chinese and English. Around the corner, Vanessa’s serves chive and pork dumplings at a rate of $1.75 for four.
The only other trace of streetwear influence on Allen Street comes by way of an old aNYthing marquee, leftover from the storefront industry veteran Aaron Bondaroff and his old brand used to inhabit, a couple spaces north of where The Good Company stands today. The distance between The Good Company and the parts of lower Manhattan where other streetwear stores are clustered together can be misleading to those not versed in downtown culture; but for those who know, the shop is the authentic, beating heart of New York’s up and coming creative scene. The space is a breeding ground where artistically-inclined youth go to learn, practice and execute their craft — and for many of the kids who hang around the shop, The Good Company is a second home.
Classifying The Good Company as solely a retail space is a gross oversimplification. The store’s interior is so meticulously curated by Quinn Arneson and Kumasi Sadiki, who own and operate the shop, that it often feels like a gallery. At the time of writing, an Eric Shaw painting is hung next to throw ups by the writers MKUE and WANT246, below which sits a shelf holding a Polo Sport cassette player and VHS titled Ultimate Adventure, a basketball made of blue Louis Vuitton denim, and Slick Rick’s The Art of Storytelling on tape. Previously the shop’s inside has featured installations from young artists such as Aaron Kai and Devin Troy. On some nights The Good Company transforms into a venue of sorts, hosting a diverse range of events from radio show broadcasts to live music sets.
The most important function that The Good Company performs, however, is acting as a clubhouse for creatively disposed kids in the city. Throughout the conversations that I have had with Quinn and Kumasi since the shop opened more than four years ago, the notion that The Good Company should exist primarily as an example for the youth that hang out there is constantly mentioned. “I’ve seen a lot of these kids literally grow up in here,” says Kumasi. “From 18 when they were fresh out here and now they’re 23 and they’ve started to pursue their passions because they realize that they can do it too.” That the kids who frequent The Good Company speak more excitedly about the shop and its success than either of its owners is proof that Quinn and Kumasi are succeeding in providing young creatives a space where they can feel comfortable, learn and work.
The Good Company’s location, in a part of Lower Manhattan that has not completely succumbed to gentrification yet, is essential to the brand’s identity. But the exact site where the shop stands was not so much a conscious choice by The Good Company’s owners as it was a practical one. “We were looking on Craigslist,” explains Quinn. “It’s super crazy to think we nearly did this in Brooklyn, and that was a thought in our heads, but we found a place that we could afford in Manhattan.” Canal Street is a five-minute walk from the shop, and with it, Chinatown visibly spills into the neighborhood. But the creative vitality for which the Lower East Side is globally known also crackles through the area; every building is tagged up with graffiti, and a few blocks east, on Orchard and Ludlow Streets, is a smattering of galleries.
The neighborhood is the anchor and has come to inform several facets of The Good Company. Whereas other brands scour the internet searching for graphics, Quinn and Kumasi, who handle the bulk of The Good Company’s design themselves, are influenced by their environment. “For inspiration it’s literally everything down here, it’s all around,” says Quinn. “Once you really get interested in this stuff you’re constantly seeing everything in graphics, just walking down the street.” The aesthetic that Chinatown has imparted on The Good Company is directly visible in the brand’s product. “The ‘We Buy Gold Tee’ is Chinatown, even the shop tee — its big letters, like the signs down here, it’s all Chinatown,” Kumasi tells me.
The city serves as much more than just visual inspiration for The Good Company, however. “New York has this organic energy that you can’t replicate anywhere else,” Kumasi continues. “We’re really blessed and I’m really thankful to New York because I’m not from here, but the city has embraced us and shown us mad love. New Yorkers are really critical, and they’ll be the first to say ‘fuck that, that shit’s corny, I’m not fucking with it,’ but they’ve shown us nothing but love — from a lot of people, from Wiki, to Procell, to even graffiti kids and skaters. It’s been open arms, and we’ve reciprocated that.”
The spirit of the city is soaked into the DNA of The Good Company, exemplified by the flow of people in and out of the shop over the course of a day, which is in itself a uniquely New York phenomena. Skateboarders pull up outside, friends of Quinn and Kumasi’s who happen to be walking by stop in, and random passersby wander through the door. “Whenever I’m in the area to do something, I always go to Good Co. first,” Eric Look, an art student who lives in the city and has been around the shop since its genesis, tells me. “Even if I’m not buying anything or even if I’m not kicking it there for that long, it’s still really tight to have a place to go and say, ‘What’s up,’ and have positive energy all around. Maybe Quinn and ‘Masi will show me a design or two, maybe we’ll talk, maybe it’ll just be ‘what’s up’ and go.”
The casual accessibility of The Good Company is an essential and intrinsic component in the shop’s character, and one that would not naturally occur the same way in any other city.In an age where more and more connections are made through the internet, there is a distinctly offline aura about The Good Company, typified in how they approach collaborations with other brands and artists. “All of our collaborations so far have been really organic. It’s mostly the homies,” says Kumasi. “I think that’s the most fun part of this whole thing — you get to sit down with your friends and work on something.”
Recent Good Company collaborations include a collection with Connecticut-based brand dertbag, a range of one-of-one chain stitch embroidered crewnecks designed by Posh God, and a capsule with the photo magazine HAMBURGER EYES. All of the shop’s collaborations happen with entities that Quinn and Kumasi have concrete years of history with, and the conceptualization and design for the projects happens in real life. “We sit down with everyone we work with. We like to get together, have a beer, and there’s a lot of back and forth. What came out isn’t where we started, it’s a bunch of trial and error,” explains Kumasi.
The events that are hosted in The Good Company are also innately imbued with New York flavor. Know Wave, Aaron Bondaroff’s internet radio platform and brand, broadcasts a curated selection of downtown culture live from the shop. Onyx Collective, a jazz ensemble whose members are all in their early twenties, and were classically trained in the city’s conservatories before dropping out and breaking the traditional rules, played a set out of The Good Company over the summer. Wiki, one half of NYC hip-hop group Ratking, collaborated with the shop on a collection of T-shirts and hoodies to coincide with the release of his 2015 mixtape Lil Me, and then played parts of the tape on a Know Wave show hosted at the shop.
The events that The Good Company facilitates are often run by individuals who are born and bred New Yorkers, but the shop has only been in the city for four years, and neither Quinn nor Kumasi are originally from New York. That they have been so accepted is a testament to their lack of ulterior motives outside of promoting what they perceive to be genuine art. “We try to see what kind of effect something is going to have on the culture, if it’s someone trying to vulture or exploit, or if it’s someone who is going to be here for a while and actually contribute something,” says Kumasi. “With Know Wave, 8 Ball, Letter Racer, those people are consistently pushing culture forward.”
Quinn, who is 29 years old, grew up in Los Angeles, and Kumasi, 31, in Portland. The two met roughly 10 years ago in San Francisco, where they struck up a friendship through mutual friends, running in similar creative circles, and partying. Quinn was studying fine art in school, and Kumasi graphic design, before dropping out. Kumasi was heading the now defunct brand Freedminds, one of the frontrunners in the wave of DIY streetwear companies such as Stray Rats, dertbag and The Divinities that hit in the early 2010s.
The idea for The Good Company came about in a casual and uncontrived manner, indicative of how the brand would conduct itself after coming to fruition. “I had moved out here and Kumasi visited me,” says Quinn. “We just decided that we wanted to do something with the energy we had, and this was the place to do it. New York felt like the center of the universe — they say if you can make it here you can make it anywhere.”
While the shop is a fluid and changing space that plays host to a multitude of art and events, The Good Company has always had its feet firmly planted in the independent streetwear world. Initially the store’s only in-house product was the shop tee. Most of The Good Company’s business came from the DIY brands that it carried, which when the shop first opened were sold online and could not be found in brick and mortar stores. “We know a lot of talented people who do really cool things,” says Kumasi. “At the time when we started the store they weren’t getting the attention we felt they deserved, so we wanted to provide a platform for people to go to interact with them outside of the internet. From dertbag, to Stray Rats, to Carrots, and even the newer people we have in here, like Avi Gold and Have A Good Time, there were these brands that were really good but weren’t getting seen.”
Quinn and Kumasi, who were both in their mid-twenties when they started The Good Company, realized that the streetwear behemoths of the time were falling out of touch with the youth, and that a platform to elevate fresh, more relevant work was needed. “It was never about us, it was always about showcasing the talent that makes up the culture today,” says Kumasi. “I felt like the bigger brands were on a downward shift — they weren’t connected to what was going on with the kids.” At a time when streetwear is bigger, and more monetized than ever, The Good Company is an important stake of authenticity. It is abundantly clear that Quinn and Kumasi have a bona fide love for their craft, and that forces which are often coercive in the world of streetwear such as money and popularity hold no sway over The Good Company’s owners.
The tangibility of The Good Company has always been its strongest suit; when the shop first opened, the community around many of the brands that they carried lived in Instagram comments. The store provided an important physical space for people to come together, and in doing so it brought a culture off of screens and into reality.
The palpable nature of The Good Company separates the store from the thousands of other brands that have sprung into existence on the internet over the past decade. “Now it’s possible to just make something and put it out there,” says Kumasi. “When we started Freedminds there was no Instagram — getting a following was a little more difficult. Now you can easily put your shit on Instagram and everyone can see it. But authenticity will always be a thing; it doesn’t matter if there are more brands, there will always be ones that stand out for the right reasons. I think these days people get lost in the internet and just want the instant gratification of selling a million T-shirts without even really thinking about why they’re doing it, or what their reason for starting a brand is. I feel like a lot of kids don’t want to put the time, energy and effort into building it, they just want it to pop off immediately.”
A hallmark of the stereotypical ‘streetwear store’ is the inhospitable disposition that the employees in the shop sport. Cool-guy attitudes prevail, with customers experiencing either disregard from workers or flat out hostility. That tenor is one that Quinn and Kumasi deliberately avoided at The Good Company, and was a decision that organically led to the tight-knit community that exists around the shop. “I was reading an article that called The Good Company ‘post-Supreme,’” says Eric Look, referring to a recent The New York Times piece. “But I don’t think Supreme was ever like this — in terms of the level of openness, the love. I’m not throwing shade at Supreme at all, but they’re definitely more on some exclusive shit whereas Good Co. is a place that anyone can pull up to and hang out at, as long as you’re a nice person.”
The vibe that exists on the sales floor at a streetwear giant like Supreme was something that Quinn and Kumasi took into account when they started The Good Company. “I think any good business is a response to something,” Kumasi tells me. “The Good Company was a response to these others that don’t really have an atmosphere, where the workers are assholes, and there’s no real connection with the customer past… they just went there to buy something. This was our response to that, and then it grew into kids coming here and being able to chill.”
The community was not a set objective that Quinn and Kumasi made when they opened The Good Company, but a natural result of the way that they ran the shop. “Leading by example was always the idea we were going for. Pursuing what’s true to you, and it’s not guaranteed — because this still isn’t guaranteed for us — but I think you’ll ultimately be happier, especially when you’re young, if you try doing what you love and seeing if it works,” says Kumasi. Once it became clear that The Good Company was becoming an important place for creative youth in the city, Quinn and Kumasi actively fostered the growth of the young burgeoning community. “You walk in here with a certain talent, and they want to see how you can get involved with what they do, and what they can do to help you,” Chris X, a guitarist in the hardcore band Liberty, and a skilled illustrator, tells me.
From doing friends and family T-shirts to having kids shoot lookbooks or pack orders, The Good Company’s owners make sure that everyone is included, involved, and therein learning. “Just seeing the way that they do business has been really tight,” Esteban Scott, who interns at the shop, tells me. “I’m just taking notes, soaking up game.” When I ask Jason Fox, an art student at SUNY Purchase who has been hanging around since The Good Company first opened, to try and put a label to The Good Company he describes it as, “A clubhouse, a workshop, a constant brainstorm — for and by people who care about and have a genuine passion for whatever it is that they do.”
One of the more practical services that The Good Company provides the kids who are regular patrons is a site where they can present work and receive feedback. “You can come here and show ideas, and get some constructive criticism,” Chris X tells me. “If I have an idea for a comic or a drawing, I’ll come in here and show Kumasi and Quinn, just to see their perspective, because I trust their opinions. And to hear what people that you respect have to say about your work — it’s almost like a nod, it’s inspiring.” Talking to anyone who consistently sticks around the shop reveals that every individual who is a part of The Good Company’s community has their own creative projects and ambitions.
The store is a place where everyone can come together and discover where their artistic energy crosses over. “It’s like a farm system,” Biscuit, a 22-year-old from Queens who runs his own brand called Authentic, explains. “Good Co. is like the Yankees and they got the crazy farm system, in the sense that they’re flowing people up through the minors. Like my homie Mel, he’s shooting for A$AP Rocky and a bunch of other people now, but if you trace Mel back two years ago he was only shooting for Good Co. They were the first real platform he was on.”
But even more valuable than the knowledge that Quinn and Kumasi disseminate to those who hang around the shop is the sense that The Good Company is a safe house, a place where those who feel ostracized or disconnected can go to be accepted without compromising who they are. An old Freedminds T-shirt, printed before The Good Company was even an idea in the minds of its creators, features a small hit on its back that reads “A rest haven for lost souls. Rebels on the rise,” a description that feels accurate, and like a precursor, to what The Good Company would come to signify to its loyal clique.
“It’s like our own Dover Street Market,” Biscuit tells me at the shop. “Except when I’m in Dover it isn’t really my forte and I feel uncomfortable, but when I walk in here it’s just like, ‘‘Sup bros?’ People here aren’t like, ‘I’m wearing this brand and I’m better than you because I have on a $700 sweatshirt.’ In here we all look each other in the eye when we speak to one another.” Over the course of my conversations with the kids who form The Good Company’s community, it becomes evident that the role the shop plays in each of their lives is genuinely familial. “It’s where I met most of the people who are now my best friends in the world,” says Jason. “The Good Company has become my home away from home. Chill vibes always, constantly learning about new shit, good conversations no matter the topic: design, music, life. The shop’s just such an organically constructive and positive place.”
As the internet becomes increasingly integrated into daily life, the value of a physical space like The Good Company is immeasurable. Existing as part of a subculture that the internet is rapidly transforming (and in many ways decaying), The Good Company is an important outpost that maintains and teaches values that are universally applicable. Beyond streetwear, there are lessons in the way that Quinn and Kumasi have done business and raised a community that are pertinent to life in a broader sense.
The store has had an enormous impact on what would be an otherwise disenfranchised niche of youth in New York, and The Good Company’s distinctive communal experience is one that Quinn and Kumasi talk of one day bringing to other cities by opening more shops. Through its willingness to allow its environment to inform the brand, rather than resisting its surroundings, The Good Company has become a veritable thread in the fabric of the Lower East Side. The love that they have shown is requited by the city, and it is difficult to imagine a future where Quinn and Kumasi are no longer on Allen Street.
When I ask Kumasi if he has any parting wisdom, his answer is characteristically sage. “Just do your fucking thing. Most people are going to say you can’t do this and you can’t do that, or call you crazy. I might be a little crazy, but I think that’s a good thing. You have to be willing to take a chance and go for yours. It’s no guarantees, but you’re guaranteed to not get shit if you don’t try. Get your vision together, get a team and start executing. If you put in the effort you’re only going to get better. Ten-thousand hours. Better than yesterday.”
Pick up a copy of Highsnobiety Issue 14 here.
- Photography: Esteban Scott