Written by Joey Tsoi
Edited by Amie Nguyen and Alan Ng
Photography by Jenkin Au
We are fortunate enough to have some quality streetwear boutiques here in Vancouver. I’m going to make a critique analysis of what I think makes a good boutique.
To start, we need to define what streetwear is (in my opinion). It is a distinctive style of fashion that is not to be confused with hip-hop fashion, although the styles do overlap. Most streetwear brands take inspiration from skateboarding and hip-hop cultures. People ask me all the time, “What is streetwear? ” when they look at how I dress. Some people think I’m a hip-hop poser and others think I board, but I don’t. The easiest answer I have for them is just naming brands. Supreme, Stussy, Alife, Undefeated, The Hundreds; the list goes on. I think the real trend that was present before in streetwear was the obsession of owning some of the more limited and highly popular kicks. I don’t know if what I have said really sums up what streetwear is, but those of you who sport this style of fashion knows where I am coming from.
In Vancouver, I think we only have one quality streetwear boutique store. And this is not to be confused with shops (not boutiques) you find in malls around the lower mainland. The biggest difference between a shop in the mall that claims to sell streetwear fashion and a boutique that actually sells streetwear fashion is that the mall shop is trying to make money fast. They don’t care about brand synergy, they care about putting in the brands that sell and attract the attention of the most shoppers. A streetwear boutique may only break even at the end of the month, but they are consistent with what they bring in. They care about their customers and want them to come back. There might not be a lot of traffic, but they only bring in that style of fashion regardless if it is selling or not. My biggest fear here in Vancouver is that the brands that I love will start to move to shopping malls. I’ve seen a store already that sells Alife and G-Star (Brand synergy?). To be honest, I think Vancouver is really behind in fashion. I have tons of examples but maybe I’ll save that for next time.
Onto our quality streetwear boutique, it is by far my favourite store in Vancouver and that store is Livestock. Now what separates Livestock apart from the rest of these stores is the amount of brands they carry, and most of their brands are only sold at their store in Vancouver. You can’t find it anywhere else in Vancouver. In addition, they still support the sneaker game. They still bring in those sweet kicks that people will line up for the night before. Their customer service is excellent in the way that they don’t try to push a sale to you like shops in a mall. They’ll ask you how you are doing, what you’ve been up to that day; but they won’t try to tell you the second you walk in about their new arrivals or what’s on sale. They know you know what you want. Next is their stock; they don’t bring in a lot of each style, which is good because you don’t want to be walking down the street bumping into a guy with the same sick baseball jacket you just copped. Another big plus is their website, which is updated frequently with what just arrived at the store. If you check it every day, there is always something new. That is another reason why the employee’s know you know what you want. Oh, and don’t forget their insane sale they have twice a year. The prices are ridiculous and they do it twice a year, every year.
Now, I’m not saying the other ones are bad; I think we are lucky to have, in Vancouver, a small section in our city (Gastown) where the vicinity of all our streetwear boutiques are within walking distance. Alife, Stussy, Livestock, Complex are all in the same area. I don’t think flagship stores such as Stussy and Alife count as boutiques since they carry basically one brand, but it’s good we have flagship stores in Vancouver. Other urban cities in the world such as New York, LA, Japan, have these small “sections” in the city where you will find all these types of boutiques within walking distance.
A couple other stores that come to mind (but are unfortunately not in Vancouver) are Compound and Benny Gold. Compound is in Portland and I’ve been there twice. They have a lot of brands, toys and art as well. The store is basically a bigger version of Livestock and every time I’ve been there, the owner is there. The owner was really nice and I got a chance just to talk to him about streetwear in general, asking him questions like if he would bring in “such and such” brand or what do you think of this brand. The other store, Benny Gold, I have never been to because it is in San Francisco. I always order stuff from their store and every time, I get a personally written note from Benny Gold saying thanks for supporting him. After the second or third time, he actually added me on Facebook. This is what I am talking about. If an owner is devoted to building a customer base, then that is what makes a top quality store. It doesn’t matter if I’m in Vancouver and he’s in San Francisco, going out of your way to build good relationships with customers is what will bring people back to your store.