Experiential retail was a buzzy concept in the fashion industry well before the COVID-19 pandemic, with stores incorporating a vast range of immersive concepts, from Instagram photo ops to technologies like artificial intelligence or virtual reality.
“In the beginning when we were starting with the store, everyone kept saying, ‘What’s the point of doing retail? Retail is dead. If you’re not going to be immersive and it’s not going to be experiential, then what’s the point?’” said Essx cofounder Laura Baker. “All of these headlines were about experiential retail and I honestly didn’t know what that meant. Like will you have dancers in the store and movie screens? What does experiential retail look like?”
Baker alongside cofounders Abe Pines and Yoel Zagelbaum are behind Essx, a 7,000-square-foot streetwear-oriented retail store located at 140 Essex Street. The store, which will open its doors to the public this week, has been years in the making with a $7 million investment.
The cofounders — Baker is behind menswear showrooms Pblc Trde and Common Trde, Pines is the cofounder of streetwear box service Scarce and Zagelbaum is the president of real estate agency Riverside Abstract — came together with the shared interest to reinvigorate the New York fashion retail scene, which they described as becoming increasingly lackluster over the years as retailers like Barneys New York, Totokaelo and Opening Ceremony have shuttered their doors.
Their aim is to recreate the experience of the New York streetwear retail scene of previous decades, where stores had lines of customers eagerly awaiting the latest coveted drop.
They saw a white space for a retail concept that housed advanced contemporary labels, both emerging and established, from across the globe. Essx will offer roughly 48 brands at launch, including the likes of Diesel, Marni, Kenzo, JW Anderson, Helmut Lang, Winnie, Wales Bonner, Martine Rose, Mowalola, Y/Project and others.
“We’re unique because we’re discovering new brands and mixing in the more popular brands, but the way we buy the popular brands is still not going to be the way other stores buy them because everybody’s really logo-driven,” Pines said. “It’s all hoodies and T-shirts. We’re looking for people to actually get dressed and wear clothes that are unique to them.”
One of the store’s main missions is to champion new brands by creating an immersive experience where customers can easily learn about the labels. Essx will have rotating activations where brands can showcase their offerings in a format of their choosing, creating their own brand experience within the store.
“We really want to be a home for New York designers,” Baker said. “We know it’s great to get press and be a part of these CFDA and LVMH Prize things, but unfortunately it doesn’t go further after that. We think within our group here, we have so many great people that can really help incubate some of these brands.”
Essx will also be embarking on a partnership with Pines’ Scarce, incorporating the business into its merchandising. Pines launched Scarce roughly two years ago with business partner Yossi Shetrit as a platform that purchases overstock items from streetwear labels like Amiri, Supreme, Off-White, Comme des Garçons, Rhude and others, which are then sold as curated mystery boxes to customers. The business model was established as a way for brands to maintain their overstock items and not have to resort to markdowns, which can dilute their brand image and decrease sales.
The store will partner with Scarce to offer curated mystery boxes after each season that will be released in a drop model. Customers can choose what brands, colors and types of clothing they want, and then receive a curated outfit based on their preferences.
“I had a lot of inventory and it was around the pandemic,” Pines said of the idea behind Scarce. “I was like, ‘What do I do with all of this inventory that people don’t want?’ I realized that there’s something like putting a package together in a clever way where people can get a value, but at the same time they don’t feel like they’re buying something cheap.”
Essx will also have an e-commerce platform that is scheduled to launch next month; however, the online side will offer a smaller assortment of the store’s offerings and focus on content. This strategy is to reinforce Essx’s commitment to its in-store experience.
The store also offers a gallery that will showcase artwork from various creatives and a style studio helmed by stylist Lauren Ferreira that will rent out clothing to customers, celebrities, movie and TV productions, magazines and other clients.
Overall, the cofounders’ goal with Essx is to create a community space where customers can find something new and come together to celebrate their shared interest in streetwear and fashion.
“We’re going to have [Essx] function where you have people hanging out and talking about fashion and what’s going on,” Pines said. “We want that kind of hub of fashion and culture in one space. I think we’re going to achieve that with this store. The location is perfect for it in the Lower East Side. We just feel that it’s a proper experience with proper brands. It’s going to become that spot where everyone is going to want to discover the brands and see what comes to Essx.”