Dipt is a hip hop clothing store with deep, deep roots in the industry in Vancouver. Jeff Martin, AKA Martini, also the creator of the Vancity Original brand, gave us his story on starting up and his experienced views on the industry.

Can you describe yourself to the readers?

Well I’ve been in this game for a long time. I co-owned one of the first hip hop clothing, music and graffiti stores in Canada back in the mid 90’s. Everything just kind of branched off of that with Dipt opening in 2000 and the Vancity Original brand, which is a popular staple for Vancouverites coming out of that, and even with my new store, Freshman. I’ve always been into fashion and hip hop, and it all sort of came together for me. I’m lucky to be doing what I like to do.

What does Dipt mean and what is the story behind it?

The name? It came from slang, like, if you’re dipped then you’re well dressed, fresh and fly, and when you’re looking for a name, you want it to reflect the business and what you do, as well, you want it to have some flavour. I juggled a whole lot of different names, but Dipped really stood out to me, and it was actually my dad’s idea to personalize the spelling. I thought it was a good idea, so I took it and changed it to D-I-P-T and there it was.

How does your passion and your love for fashion shape your boutique

When I started Dipt, it was before anything we have now. There were no sneaker boutiques or anything, so we were the store for sneakers and dope hip hop apparel. I left my first store to start Dipt because I wanted something that catered more directly to hip hop fashion, but also was something that could appeal to anyone. It was basically my passion for the fashion that got me to step it up. I could see the whole industry was about to blow up; you got your Phat Farm, your Pelle Pelle, Mecca, Karl Kani, Rocawear, Enyce and all these brands just starting to get their foot hold in the fashion world. Things always are progressing too; I don’t carry any of those brands anymore and I always just try to stay ahead of the game. I have brought in numerous brands in the past that we were kind of ahead of our time on and weren’t received all that well initially. It’s kind of frustrating because they don’t do that well and people aren’t that into them and by the time they do, your competitors catch up and they capitalize on it after you’ve done the work to break the brand. It was and is important to me to break brands and kind of be a leader.

Can you give us a brief history about the store and any challenges while bringing it up?

I had a store before Dipt called F.W.U.H., and in 2000, I left and opened up Dipt. I wanted to move on and I saw the whole hip hop fashion scene about to explode. I wanted to be in the main shopping area downtown and offer an experience that was more inviting. In the past, hip hop stores were kind of dark and uninviting. They were really meant for the heady people. I wanted Dipt to stand with the masses but still keep it real. It took me a long time to find a right location because I wanted to be within a couple square blocks of this area (Robson). I was looking around for months and I guess it took me about six months to find this place; it was kind of like a fluke. Some people were like, “it’s a bad location, it’s not going to be good”, but in the end, it turned out to be good. We’re right off Robson and Robson has always been, and always will be, the premier shopping area of Vancouver. There’s definitely an explosion in Gastown and stuff, which is good to see but it’s still not the same as uptown. Getting the money together and putting the business plan together was a great challenge.  For a while, I was working there all day, every day, by myself. It’s always tough starting and running a business, especially these days with the recession; you got to look for ways to cut costs but at the same time, not sacrificing the selection and vibe. The challenges are part of the fun! I never wake up and feel all shitty and like, “ugh, I gotta go to work”. I don’t know what else I’d do! When I do take time off, I feel guilty and I feel like I should be at work.

How do you choose what brands to put in your store?

I kind of just go with what I’m feeling. There are brands that the store has had success with for a while , but one day, I might be looking at what to order next, and I just go, “you know what? I’m just not feeling this anymore.” When I start feeling that, it’s just time to phase out and look for something new. Over the last  couple of years I’ve made a lot of changes to the brand selection because I think there has been a major transition out of the whole urban fashion thing that kind of changed to the street wear thing, which really is all the same thing, just a natural progression in the fashion world, you know what I mean? It’s all based around hip hop still though.

Dipt has been really strong over the years. What do you think is the biggest challenge in keeping up the HYPE for your store?

That’s a good question. You know, it’s something I think about a lot. It’s hard because when I opened, I kind of had a monopoly almost; there wasn’t any where else to get the unique hip hop clothing or streetwear that we’ve always carried. Now, there’s a lot more stores, a lot more brands and we’re all fighting for our piece of the pie. I try to have more foresight, and try to get on brands before anyone else. It’s hard trying to find the right product mix but you got to keep an open mind because I’m not just buying for myself, I’m buying for a whole scene that is made up of many people with many tastes. I just want to attract as many as possible! I love Vancouver for that; it’s such a melting pot of different ethnicities. Everyone just mixes together and there really isn’t that element of racism that may be more prevalent in other cities. I grew up always interacting with people from all walks of life. Even with Toronto, I think there’s more ethnic segregation, which can be a good thing in some ways, as there is the stronger cultural sense of one’s people. I get all types of people coming into the store. It’s like all walks of life and that’s what I was kind of striving for. It’s not just about black dudes, asian dudes, indian dudes, white dudes or whatever, it’s for everyone. That’s the message that hip hop has awarded me.

How do you view connections in this industry and how do you get your connections?

Connections are pretty important, especially for Vancouver because it’s still a pretty small scene. People benefit a lot more from working together and trying to grow the whole scene, rather than fighting the whole scene or parts of it. I keep my connections pretty positive and try not to make any enemies, you know? It’s much better to have friends that may be able to help you in some way some day or who you can lend your help or expertise to.A lot of my connections are deep rooted because I’ve been in the Vancouver scene for so long, but other ones are pretty new. The store is such a meeting place too and a lot of my employees, as well as myself, have gotten opportunities from the people coming in and out of the store. I’ve sponsored almost every major and, minor for that matter, hip hop related event in this city for the past 15 years. We always have done this and always will.

Where do you think your store stands in comparison to other stores?

Dipt is straight up OG. Say what ya want. We were selling sneakers before any sneaker stores. We had that Nike account when Nike just first started selling to indy retail stores, rather than just majors. We had the exclusive gear before anyone. I try not to look at it as a competition, but really it is. It’s a small scene and you’re trying to get your market share and finding your loyal customers and supporters. I got people still shopping with me that were shopping at my old store; they just followed me through the years. Thats like 15 years. We treat our customers really well and make everyone feel like fam. You just got to do what you do and try to do it best and find your lane and hope you get that respect and loyalty.

What is your most anticipated item of the year?

This (Air Yeezy) will be the biggest item of the year. The demand for these shoes is crazy. People are lining up all over the world, days before they release. I’ve been getting calls from all over the world asking me to hold on to a pair. The problem is, I’m not getting that many pairs, which I’m kind of mad at Nike about. I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of disappointed people tomorrow (April 4, 2009) as these shoes will be sold out within the first five minutes. We just got the one colour: the gray version and I think the black ones are next. I’m trying to think about the last time there has been this much HYPE for a shoe. The whole shoe thing got a bit played out with the sneaker explosion. Nike has to slow their roll a bit in my opinion because they killed the Air Force 1’s with the 25th anniversary, and are doing it with other shoes too. They just put out way too many shoes for that anniversary and that took away the HYPE. For the record, I have echoed this sentiment directly to Nike, so I’m not shit talkin’ them. Nike is boss in the shoe game, straight up, but it hurts me because the Air Force 1’s was my favorite shoe and anyone who knows me knows I have a whole room full up with those joints. Before, it was such a sought after shoe and now, they over did it and it wasn’t such an exclusive shoe anymore. People used to line up for those shoes and now they’re everywhere in every color possible. This Yeezy is just crazy all over the world. It has been a while since Nike put something out this big and I’m happy Dipt is part of it.

How did you come up with the Vancity Original line?

It actually happened off of my other store. With F.W.U.H., we had a shirt which had our logo on the front, and on the back, I put on “Vancity Original Since 1994” in reference to the store being a Vancity Original since 1994. I liked the sound of it, and people loved the shirts so I decided to just make Vancity Original tees. I used to put out shirts whenever I felt like it or had an idea. I’ve been doing it for 10 years now, and a few years ago, I decided to push it hard. I’m actually starting to map out the collection for the whole year and start having releases every two weeks, whether it be a hat or a t-shirt, hoody or whatever; I really want to build it up for the Olympics. I’ve had a lot of well known people coming through here reppin’ it, like Method Man, Talib Kweli, Mos Def and others on stage rocking a Vancity Original hat or tee. Mostly we have gotten mad love from all the local artists. I won’t even try to start listing them all, but you know who you are and respects to all y’all. I’ve had a lot of opportunities meeting rappers now and artists and what not because they come to the store. 90% of them are hella cool, but some of them just think they’re too cool for school. Fat Joe came through here one day, and he had mad attitude. He was looking through the shoes and was just like, “got ’em, got ’em” and it’s just like, buddy, who asked you? So what? Then you got some people like Method Man, the realest, coolest dude ever. I’ve known him since ’98 or something and he says it himself: “the first thing I do when I get off the plane is go see Martini at Dipt.”

What do you think is currently the most important aspect of the industry?

Like I said, there has been a bit of a trend over the last few years. You’ve seen a transition of the hip hop fashion trend; it’s a bit more fragmented. We’ve got your hood dudes that still rock the real big stuff, and then you got your guys that are trying to be like Kanye and that whole crew that are a little more of the fashion tastemakers. You also have your street wear dudes who are kind of a mix and of course your Ed Hardy bejewelled dudes, but we won’t talk about them. With stores, you got these small little boutiques here and there offering different brands and looks on a more exclusive level, and the department stores still working the more urban brands that we may have messed with years back. Everyone has to be on the next big thing to stay on top of the game. I try to find a happy medium at Dipt so I can have a broader appeal and satisfy more customers without giving up the exclusivity. We never carry too much of any one style because no one wants to step out feelin’ fresh and see next dude with the same gear.

Do you have any plans to keep things through while this recession cools down?

Yeah, it’s going to be a tough year, and it already has been tough. What I’m working on right now is rebranding Dipt; I’ve been working on a new logo which has a little more character. When we did renovations a few years ago, and I kind of just wanted to clean everything up so we went with the really simple logo. Now, it’s time to bring back a little more flavour and a little more pop. We’re bringing in a few other brands that we haven’t had before and some new footwear and just flipping it a bit. We’re looking towards a late spring, early summer re-launch with the new logo, brands, etc. One thing is for sure, Dipt is hip hop all day, everyday!

It’s so obvious that music plays a huge role in what you do so what are some artists that you look up to?

Back in the day, we would listen to whole records. Now, it’s all singles and, granted, there are some pretty dope singles, but it’s rare to wanna listen through a full album these days. I would have to say Jay-Z is my favorite artist. It’s very rare that an artist gets better and better, doper and doper with age, and Jay-Z is definitely one of the rare ones. Also, from a business perspective he is on point too. Everything he’s doing is just getting sicker and sicker to me.

What is HYPE?

HYPE is something that is personal.  HYPE is something that illicits personal excitement like, there’s a lot of HYPE over the Kanye shoes for alot of people but not everyone. I guess it’s something that just stimulates your senses and makes you feel extreme emotion. HYPE is HYPE.

More of Dipt is available at www.getdipt.com

Photography by Jarvis Ho