Ouigi Theodore sat on a green metal-studded leather chair in the corner of his flagship retail store, balancing the tasks of dressing impeccably, watching his BlackBerry phone for messages and overseeing the rest of the ongoings in the shop.
“I started this business to sell t-shirt designs,” said Theodore. “Now I’m stressing over people offering me deals and turning them down.”
Theodore is a co-founder and creative designer of The Brooklyn Circus, a high-end men’s clothing and lifestyle brand established in 2006 that has found a niche riding the strength of an nontraditional retail customer; the working male.
Many sectors of retail sales have struggled as consumers battle high gas and food prices. However, merchandise sales have been steadily rising, and mostly because of the sale of luxury items, like the colored suede saddle shoes or the linen varsity jackets that The Brooklyn Circus were showcasing from their spring line, have continued to rise.
A strong holiday retail sales season closed 2010 with a 14 percent increase in luxury sales versus the previous year, finishing with $256.6 billion in sales. This tops the previous record, which was $253.7 billion in 2007, according to a worldwide market study of luxury goods by Bain & Company.
But where as historic growth in luxury goods can be tied to high-end women’s wear, a pattern of well-dressed men have pushed this recent groundswell.
There has been a more than 12 percent growth in men’s clothing sales over the past year, according to a study by MasterCard Advisors’ SpendingPulse. Over that same time period, clothing sales as a whole are up just 10 percent in comparison.
The growth can be pegged to young professionals, who have developed a new level of taste that now matches their earning potential.
Yosh Huang browsed through racks of suit jackets at John Varvatos, a retail store from the American designer located at 122 Spring Street in SoHo. Huang, who works as an administrative assistant in lower Manhattan, has spent “probably around $1,000 here recently, nothing huge” on clothing, as he’s retooled his closet to match his lifestyle.
“I’m more often going from work straight out to bars and clubs, and stuffy suits and old-men items don’t fit in,” said Huang. “Sometimes it pains to see my credit card bill after buying new things, but I don’t regret it at all once I put it up.”
Consumers that are looking for clothes that fit different scenes and are wearable not only in multiple seasons, but years as well, is exactly what Theodore and The Brooklyn Circus are aiming for.
“We have people coming in to purchase investment clothing,” said Theodore. “It’s the type of stuff that people can throw on in multiple situations and it works. It’s not about buying 10 suits just to have 10 suits, it’s now about buying three suits that are both high-quality and will work today and 15 years from now.”
The return of that mentality from the mid-1900’s is helping businesses like The Brooklyn Circus grow, even in a subdued economy.
After establishing their first retail presence and collection of pieces of 2006 in a small storefront in downtown Brooklyn, word of mouth about the products spread to blogs and various men’s lifestyle publications. That growth led the company into their new corner location at Nevins Street in Brooklyn, but also to San Francisco and Chicago, and in stores in cities ranging from Tokyo to London.
However, while the recent growth in men’s purchases are an encouraging sign for both individual brands and the economy as a whole, some economists warn to not
“Buying one high-end item after waiting months doesn’t have the market impact as multiple purchases,” said Sean Incremona, economist at 4CAST Ltd. “Some consumers stayed away from shopping to pay for other things, so now that someone is buying a suit or two might not mean they’ll buy another one in the next six months or so.”
However for Theodore and the rest of The Brooklyn Circus, the growth of the industry is more due to a new mindset, rather than men realizing they have a few extra dollars in their bank account.
“For a long time, you were just a Ralph Lauren guy wearing their stuff, or a Nike Sportswear guy wearing sneakers, and you rarely saw crossover between distinct styles,” said Theodore. “There’s a mix now, men are understanding that different pieces can accent strengths in something else, and there’s an emerging market for fun and hip, while still casual and quality-made products.”
Theodore brushed off his red sneakers, which are part of American men’s designer Mark McNairy collaboration with PRO-KEDS. He currently is renovating part of an old office for the retail store, converting it into space for an additional retail space that will specialize in unique vintage pieces of clothing.
“Everyone recognizes that money is really tight for people out there now, myself included,” said Theodore. “But wasn’t money tight in the 1930’s during the depression? That didn’t stop men from dressing well and appreciating quality goods, and that’s what this movement is about.”
Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.