This Black Friday, we had the opportunity to speak to Phillip Stolte. His new concept ‘by’ is a retail space combined with his creative agency, HOUSEOFHRVST. Phillip has many years of experience in the retail world and his new concept encourages a ‘No Sale’ policy. We are very excited to be stocked at ‘by’ and to be able to collaborate with this new concept based store in Zurich, Switzerland. At Can Pep Rey we share the same values of conscious consumption, quality and collaboration. We speak to Phillip about ‘by’; the importance of brand selection, and the relevance of retail spaces in the digital age.
Hi Phillip, tell us a bit about yourself?
I'm Phillip Stolte and I’m 38 years old. I studied graphic design, so I come from a classical background of designing. My father is a graphic designer and so is my brother. So I guess design is in my family heritage. I used to run a store in Munich for 10 years and other stores as well, all of which were in my father’s studio beforehand. He had a graphic design studio and I overtook it. Then I had a store, and I did my diploma to finish my studies in graphic design. So I did the corporate identity, interior, everything by myself. Then I just opened it up. From then on, I just cooperated with different partners and different retail stores. I was basically in the retail business for a long time, 10 years. Parallel to that, the HOH agency developed because the store was called HOUSEOFHRVST; that just grew out of it in 2015. That happened when we worked with partners, for the store to do graphics and installations with other brands and partners. So we work with Mykita and Nike and bigger names, but also smaller names. Then we formed out of this a branding agency and a creative agency called HOUSEOFHARVST. This idea is the base of the idea we started in Zurich. We opened up an office for HOH agency combined with a retail space and this is called ‘by’.
Can you tell us about your new concept ‘by’?
I think basically you can say, after working in retail or wholesale for 10 years, I just saw the market changed. This is because of online which is a big theme and a big issue in retail market. Then also the smaller brand at the smaller stores. We work with a high end premium based segment like we bought in Acne Studios, we bought in Dries van Noten and Comme des Garçons PLAY. We had a high portfolio in the end, and it was not easy for us to compete and keep the whole thing going. I decided not to do retail anymore in Munich, and to focus on the graphic design and on the branding. I just had the idea of ‘by’ that there still has to be a fundamental or basically initial idea that everybody has in mind when they want to work in fashion. If you're a designer, if you're in retail, if you're doing installations, if you do marketing for it, if you're writing for it, I don't know; anybody who's involved in the whole process, can cut it down to the ingredients that he likes about it. That is not money driven, but of course, we all have to pay our bills, and we have to make sure that everything's running. But in the end, I wanted to try an exceptional example of how much would brands put in to the project where they say I'd benefit from it. This is basically where we're just talking to different brands and different sized brands for example Can Pep Rey is a brand that my wife is buying for her shop and my older daughter had a postcard in her room from the brand. We contacted Carhartt and they liked the idea and were going to get involved and so did Can Pep Rey. For example, we are working with Vitsœ which is shelving designed by Dieter Rams, a design icon. They think that the idea is also a good indication of how you can join people who have the same mindset under one roof, and bring out their outcome together rather than trying on their own. I wanted to combine all these ingredients and create something new.
What made you decide to open the store in Zurich?
It's because of my personal situation, I’ve been married to my wife for a year and a half. She is now running two stores in Zurich. The location of our store is just across the street of hers, and her store has been there for 15 years. A friend of mine, Benjamin, has his office in the same area so it felt like a good location to have.
What were some of the key elements you had in mind when curating the store?
If people would get the idea behind it, then it would be interesting for them, or not. That would be the natural selection of what partners would be interested in joining it. It’s always curating, but in a natural way; this is how the business works, it kind of selects itself. I can have a lot of ideas but it’s the companies decision if they want see some benefit in it or not. Having the experience from the big brands, they have to have an eye on how they perform in the market. Not only because of making sales and having a lot of money. They need to make sure their brands are not flooding the market. Often they don't want to have their product on sale too much. They don't want to have it on the online platforms; they want to keep an eye on it and say “hey, it's a product that never goes out of style.” I think it’s also how the brand works itself in its hierarchies and that’s how decisions are made.
Tell us a bit about your ‘No Sale’ policy at ‘by’?
The thing is, because of my experience in retail, when you're having this competition of price dumping focus on the cash flow, everybody's going on sale so quickly. If you're in the classic retail situation, then you have to go on sale before Christmas, because people want to consume on Black Fridays. Everything is on online sales and as a small store, you just can't compete. Everybody can say, I can get the same coat much cheaper, because I can go online to one of the retailers. I just want to make sure that we are keeping the selection of the brands and the collections fresh. By talking to the people and saying rather than putting it on sale, we can send the garments back and get some new stuff. It’s a fresh evolvement of products that people like, and also coming back and saying, they always come back because the stock is fresh and new.
People in the fashion and design industry may argue that brick and mortar stores are irrelevant. What do you think about this?
I know from bigger brands, that they need the stationary moment of people coming and looking at the product and trying it on. You might want to make sure that you feel the quality and that is a more luxury way to do it. In Zurich, people can also afford to go to niche stores where they want to shop from a selection of brands. My wife's experience, for 15 years is that she has a loyal base of customers who like to come to the store and discover new brands. If you’re trying to get a customer who is not into too much hype, who is rather quality driven, it’s more about the experience when selecting. For the brands, it still is an important way of being stationed in a store where the partners are relevant to them as well. I think the stationary retail is still something that's in a way needed. It's of course a luxury way of doing it, but combined with our agency, they kind of help each other.
Can Pep Rey values the longevity and sustainability of each garment. Is the environmental impact of the fashion industry something you considered when curating the store?
It comes down to the quality and the idea of partners. I'm always reaching out to the ones that I that I can trust; what they're doing on their side, in the retail business and on the wholesale business, and I can continue this idea into the retail. Often I say to myself, I really like the product but they're producing it really cheap and I can't sell it because of that. It’s a natural selection, finding brands that have the same values that you have. That’s why Can Pep Rey is a good example. I think it's a brand which has big potential by being community and having this (by being invested in community) long term idea. They do really good footage, pictures and writing for the brand.
That's the long lasting moment. It's not the quick hype flashy hoodie that everyone wants this season. It's rather telling a story through whole ideas and a community of people working there.