The phrase ‘London concept store’ rolls off the tongue today – visitors to the city expect the wave of edgy, pristine stores that line the streets of Shoreditch, often looking more like a gallery than shopping space and commanding a loyal, sometimes frenzied engagement. 10 years ago, this wasn’t the case. High street stores such as Topshop ruled womenswear, and Shoreditch itself was still a burgeoning destination in London, with more abandoned warehouses than packed artisanal coffee shops.
It was against this backdrop that Goodhood founders Kyle Stewart and Jo Sindle decided to quit their jobs and start a new kind of store in London: one which promoted niche, independent labels and demanded a certain level of cool, savvy shopping knowledge to discover its existence at all. Fast forward a decade and Goodhood is an institution on the London shopping scene. Much like Colette in Paris, or Dover Street Market, it’s a destination, offering an eclectic, expertly curated selection of mens- and womenswear from across the world. Downstairs, shoppers have the opportunity to lose themselves in the lifestyle section, then take a break at the Goodhood café.
I meet with Kyle one overcast Tuesday morning in Shoreditch House. Finding a spot is near impossible – another example of how changed the area is (if the slew of luxury apartments and installation of a Veggie Pret weren’t signal enough). In among the undulating backs of MacBook airs and and crisp flat whites, we looked back on Goodhood’s journey to talk nailing e-commerce, Japanese retail and enjoying the custom of Frank Ocean.
Culture Trip: What was the landscape like when you started and how did the idea come about?
Kyle Stewart: The landscape in London was quite dry. It was pretty poor in terms of independent retailers. That was 2007. The highstreet was super dominant and everybody, it seemed to me, supported the high-street culture. Independent retail was stagnating and falling apart. When we [Kyle and his partner Jo] talked about starting a store the immediate reaction from people around us was, ‘why do you want to do that?’ Myself and Jo are post-corporate entrepreneurs and I don’t want to be down on corporate jobs but I was working as a graphic designer at a big sportswear brand and life was just totally unsatisfactory, and so we hatched a guerrilla plan to start a little shop.
CT: Who were the first designers that you approached?
KS: We self-funded it at the start. I always remember thinking at the time that the amount of money we had when we began was the most amount of money we ever had, and now looking back it’s comedy that that’s what we started a shop with. It was a mixture of Japanese brands like Bernhard Willhem, a friend’s label from Japan called Black Dollars, we imported rucksacks from Japan, a Japanese version of Gregory, which is an American outdoor brand. I could go on with other brands but they’ve all gone bust since then. It was very difficult to get people to sell to us at the start, it still is.
CT: This was pre, or very early on in, the Internet age. The amount of research you had to do to find something new and cool, and from somewhere completely different, was inordinately higher. So was it just a case of buying from your mates and discovering things on your travels?
KS: Yeah exactly that. When we were working at other brands we got to travel around the world and we just got to see stuff going on. In Japan they have a concept store called the Select store. There’s an enormous independent retail scene there. People just start up shops in cupboards, in the middle of nowhere, and there’s something beautiful about that. There’s a shop called Cosmic Wonder where you had to go down a little alleyway, you got into the store and it was just a white room, there was just one sales assistant, and then all the walls rotated round. You had to know it was there.
CT: Shoreditch as an area has changed so much in the past decade. Presumably when you started the wider area wasn’t what it was now?
KS: Shoreditch in 2007 had nothing here. There wasn’t a Pret or Itsu on City Road, there was only Start fashion store – that was probably the only thing.
CT: So how did you begin to get people to visit?
KS: I think quite luckily because of the way we started – the Internet started in like 1983 but in 2007 is was still just beginning, with e-commerce and things like that. The ‘blogs’ at that time were tiny – like Hypebeast [which now has about 9 million monthly UVs] and Highsnobiety [6.5 million monthly UVs] were tiny, and they wanted to write about cool stuff going on in East London. We just became a go-to point for them. We didn’t have any baggage about the traditional approach. In other places, these bloggers would get treated like dirt, but we were inclusive and we’re still inclusive and they’re still writing about us. All those historical link-backs have enabled us to build an e-commerce business without having to invest millions of pounds. So it happened organically.
CT: Who are some of the designers you’ve been most excited about discovering and stocking along the way?
KS: It’s been a lot of different people, but very early the guy who started Norse Projects came to us with three hats and asked if we wanted to stock them, and we said ‘yeah’. And from that we were the first stockists for their brand outside of Denmark, and Norse is now worth millions of dollars. That was a nice thing, to build businesses together. I can remember when Comme [des Garcons] agreed to sell us Junya Watanabe, and I remember dancing about the room because it seemed like a very important milestone. Going to see them was obviously petrifying, still is! And at that point Shoreditch was getting hotter and hotter; there were so many new businesses and so many people were scrambling to get brands. We had to keep our head up above that and convince people that we were big enough, and credible enough, which as quite a challenge. The industry doesn’t necessarily, I don’t think, support start-up culture. It’s about money, which I get, but at the same time, for us, the idea of starting a store was like – and I’m not saying we’re comparable – but like McLaren and Westwood with Let it Rock and Seditionary, it’s about creating a culture and a touch point. You can talk to people. One of my gripes with media in general is that they often write about designers all the time, but designers need shops to connect to culture and create the culture.
CT: How do you think London consumers have changed in terms of prioritising how they buy and what they buy?
KS: Well obviously e-commerce is the norm now, and I could hypothesise that the discovery process is a bit different. We found that as we were trying to grow – we always thought that we needed Chloé or Marc Jacobs, but what we’ve had real success with is introducing niche Korean labels to our audience. I think our customer base is much more open to going off piste with labels.
CT: So much has happened since you started. What have been the highlights of the last ten years?
KS: There’s been some brilliant moments. We’re not into celebs but when our heroes come into the store that’s quite big. Frank Ocean used to come to the store, the old one, all the time then it was on a backstreet in the middle of Coronet Street. That was a funny moment because where our store used to be is one of the last cobbled streets in the East End and it always gets scouted for film locations. So film scouts and directors, who tend to think the world revolves around them, would come down Coronet Street and say they were going to close the street off for shooting, which was obviously bad for our business. Their attitude was always like ‘this is just a tiny, shitty shop’ and when they were doing the scouting for one film just as they were slating our shop, and at that exact moment a white Mercedes pulled up and Frank Ocean got out and walked in.
CT: Looking ahead, what do you hope to achieve in the next decade?
KS: I guess people always ask that question and the thing is that obviously we have plans – we’d like to open stores elsewhere, but we’d also like to move vertically along the platform. I don’t want to expand in a clichéd kind of way – you have that, now open an identical one elsewhere. When I was in Japan last year I realised that they think about it totally differently there. So rather than opening another shop I’d rather open a curry restaurant or falafel place across the road. At some point, when things get so big, they begin to be a bit of a pain. As far as Godhood goes, how big does it need to be to be successful? I have a place I want it to get to – and then maybe we’ll do what Colette did and just shut it down. That’s a beautiful thing.
Visit Goodhood at 151 Curtain Road, EC2A 3QE or shop online.