Sneakers
From the ground up
Malissa Mabey

When you think of Salt Lake City, chances are the first things that come to mind are Mormons, skiing, and the Utah Jazz. The capital of Utah and official headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints certainly isn’t known for any kind of streetwear scene, but concept store Hathenbruck is out to change that.

Started by Caleb Flowers in 2012, Hathenbruck stocks high-end streetwear brands such as Cav Empt, Rick Owens, Acne Studios, visvim, and Stone Island alongside CNY, Vans, adidas, Nike, and Alltimers, all in a brilliantly minimal interior. The store also has its own self-titled line that ranges from elevated graphic staples to Nike-approved custom sneakers.

Flowers opened a store in Salt Lake City by a mixture of chance and circumstance. He was born in Louisville, Kentucky before moving to tiny Fortine, Montana aged five, a village he describes as having “literally a post office, a school, and a gas station” and nothing else.

Flowers would escape during summer vacation, traveling back to Louisville ostensibly to see family, but also to visit the town’s skate shop, fittingly named Home. Going to Louisville “was always like a fast track to new music, brands, and trends,” Flowers says, saying the skate shop in particular “affected how I looked at skateboarding and fashion long before my venture into it.”

Malissa Mabey

As for the rest of the year, Flowers was isolated. Instead of seeing the latest drops in person, he’d flip through mail-order catalogs like Eastbay or CCS to feel any kind of connection to the culture.

“Then the internet came along and I learned so much,” he says. “Being in Montana, a place where you don’t have stores to go in and talk to people, you end up really kind of doing as much research as possible to try to figure out what you’re into.”

Plenty of people grow up in small towns before moving into fashion, but the usual trajectory would be a move to New York or Los Angeles, not Salt Lake City.

Hathenbruck founder Caleb Flowers
Malissa Mabey

Flowers ended up in Utah due to his tumultuous home life. “I dropped out of high school in Montana just before my sophomore year ended,” he explains. “My family, like many families, was pretty dysfunctional and fell apart shortly after we moved to Montana.

“My dad was incarcerated and my mom wasn’t really present. It wasn’t an ideal adolescence, especially being isolated geographically. A couple of court cases later, I got emancipated and my older brother and I decided to move to the nearest big city, which was Salt Lake.”

Flowers ended up working in a local skate shop, immersing himself in the culture and learning the ways of retail, using the experience as a crash course in how to run a store. “I think the age of the internet mixed with kind of streetwear and sneakers and all that,” he says. “I got in at a really good time to pay attention.”

Malissa Mabey
Malissa Mabey
Malissa Mabey

Growing up, Flowers hadn’t experienced going to a local skate shop with any regularity or seeing the brands he obsessed about in person, so he made Hathenbruck that place for Salt Lake City.

“That’s definitely not saying I was super cognizant, like, ‘Oh, I want to do this because I didn’t have access to it.’ But reflecting back, that’s probably what drew me to it. I think it’s a ‘rejection breeds obsession’-type thing. I didn’t have access to it, so I’m obsessive in giving these kids access to it, you know?”

That’s not to say Hathenbruck is the only place of its kind in the city — Salt Lake is home to The Doused Shop, Bastille, and Fice Gallery, for example — but what really sets Flowers’ store apart is its founder’s sheer enthusiasm for running it. Over the course of our interview, Flowers tells me repeatedly how he feels like he’s made to run a store because he loves talking to people.

Because of this, Hathenbruck serves as a de facto community space, and not just for locals. Flowers tells me that kids sometimes drive two hours to visit the store, just to see a product in person. Even in the age of online shopping, it’s clear from Flowers’ experience that people still yearn for physical retail.

It’s a meeting point for everyone from the community, which is less divided than one might think from the outside looking in. “Salt Lake is a liberal city in a very conservative state,” Flowers tells me. That’s definitely an image the city is trying to project. Salt Lake City’s tourism website boasts that it has one of the most vibrant LGBT+ populations in the United States, and the city elected its first gay mayor in 2015.

“A lot of my customers are Mormon, and a lot of them aren’t,” Flowers tells me. “I don’t really think that either side of the fence really thinks about it too hard when they’re in the store. We’re a hub for everyone. There’ll be an event at the store and it’s awesome because you can tell that there are polar opposites in the same small space, talking about the same designer they’re into, even though their beliefs are completely different, or they wouldn’t normally hang out together.”

Malissa Mabey

But beyond Flowers’ drive to build a community through the store, Hathenbruck is also an outlet for his creativity. The store has made skate videos, mixtapes, and inventive custom sneakers.

Most recently, Hathenbruck dropped its custom Nike Air Dripmax 2 sneaker, a follow up to the sold-out Dripmax 1. In what he describes as “a tangible mixtape,” Flowers turned a legit Nike VaporMax into a bootleg, remaking it in all white and adding a hand-drawn red Swoosh. The unofficial project started as an homage to the VaporMax, with Flowers’ line of thought being, “Well, this is innovation, so I’ll innovate their innovation.”

Nike hasn’t offered an official collaboration yet, but the Beaverton giant didn’t call on him to stop selling the sneakers, either, with the Hathenbruck customs retailing for more than $300.

“They’ve been super supportive the whole time,” Flowers says. “I’ve got some friends over there and it’s one of those things. Nike is just a well-oiled machine and I feel like they support things that they feel are authentic and real in the right way.”

While currently listed as sold out, the Dripmax 2s aren’t strictly limited edition — although they also won’t stay around forever, either. The store has been making small batches of its customs, but Flowers says he won’t produce more than 500. “Let’s not get greedy,” he says.

It’s easy to overlook places like Salt Lake City when all of our attention is placed on cities such as New York, LA, or London. But Hathenbruck is a hub of creativity, community, and streetwear in Utah, and serves as proof that you don’t need to be living in a major fashion or streetwear center to make a success of a store like this.

According to Flowers, Salt Lake City “has this counterculture that is really special. It doesn’t feel prepackaged, it doesn’t feel contrived.” But without places like Hathenbruck actually giving kids a place to meet and hang out, that counterculture would struggle to survive.

If you want to open a store like Hathenbruck of your own, Flowers says to just take the plunge and do it. “Keep your overheads low, make a lot of mistakes, and try to learn from them,” he says. “There are no real rules. You can be multi-brand retail and still be your own brand. You can sell furniture, art, and also sell clothing. You can be a pop-up store that’s two times a year and be just as successful as a flagship store that’s open year-round.

“Now more than ever is a good time for new ideas.”

Visit Hathenbruck online and drop by their physical location at the following address:

Hathenbruck
925 900 S
Salt Lake City, UT 84105
USA

Senior Staff Writer

Berlin-based writer and Rihanna enthusiast.

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