Aleah Speranza, Co-Founder/Creative Director, The Hoodie Shop, NYC
Aleah Speranza, Co-Founder/Creative Director, The Hoodie Shop, NYC
Retailer of the Week
 

17 Jul. 2013

Aleah Speranza, Co-Founder, The Hoodie Shop, NYC

Opened in March 2012, The Hoodie Shop on Manhattan’s Lower East Side is a unique retail concept because: a) its 1960s-inspired décor allows it to double as an event space and b) all of the apparel it sells has a hood. Its assortment for men and women spans everything from standard hoodies to hooded tees, swimwear and outerwear. A highly original retail destination that is definitely worth visiting during the men’s trade shows in New York next week, this unusual store is open at least until 9pm Monday to Saturday. Here, Aleah Speranza, the store’s co-founder and creative director, explains why The Hoodie Shop is arguably one of the coolest shops in, well… the ’hood. Interview by Christopher Blomquist| Photos by Michael Jurik

What is the history and background of the store?
I have had this idea for quite a while but the concept became a reality when I met my now business partner, Peter Shapiro, three years ago. Peter has had a long history as an entrepreneur in the live music industry and when I told him about my idea we created The Hoodie Shop as a hybrid music venue/retail space which was sort of a celebration of many things we are both passionate about. The shop is definitely a celebration of live music, positive energy and a clubhouse for our friends on top of being a hoodie shop.
The Hoodie Shop in NYC
The Hoodie Shop in NYC


Selling only things with hoods is a rather unique retail concept. How did that come about?
I guess I built my dream closet! I've always had a thing for hoodies and rarely went anywhere without one. Then I realized it was not really just about what a hoodie is as an item of clothing but what hoodies mean to people. What really fascinated me the more I started to think about it was that here is this item of clothing that almost every brand has sold at one point or another at almost every price point. Everyone has a hoodie in his or her closet. It’s a wardrobe staple like denim or jeans yet there has never been one place that has specifically celebrated this item of clothing.
People have a very strong emotional attachment to their hoodies unlike any other article of clothing. Nine out of ten people have a really specific hoodie story from their past and/or have a favorite hoodie in their closet that they can’t part with. There is something about your boyfriend’s hoodie from college that is ripped up and has been washed 100 times or the hoodie that you wear every day on its own, as a layering piece under a jacket or to bed. There is no replacement for it. I just wanted to create a place that sold your “next favorite hoodie.”

What are some of your current bestsellers item-wise and brand-wise?
Well, interestingly enough, I have carried over 50 different brands and designers since opening and our in-house label has been doing the best. I think there is really something to be said for a unique product of any kind that you cannot get anywhere else. Combined with knowing the hoodie was made domestically and in a limited run, this has sold our brand more than any of the others so far! People seem to really appreciate the care and love that has gone into creating the hoodies under The Hoodie Shop label and the sales reflect that.
Our other top selling brands have been Aviator Nation and B:Scott. These are brands I am personally in love with and actually both come from designers who are incredibly passionate about what they do. They both have a distinct aesthetic and have nailed “hoodies” each in their own unique way. Again, I think the passion I and the people working here show for those brands is part of what sells them in a similar way to selling our own brand.

Talk about the store’s exclusive collaborations. How do you find designers to work with, etc.?
The collab with [Brooklyn-based designer] Alexander Campaz, for example, came about because of mutual friends. His is not a brand we had previously carried but when we met we had instant design chemistry. Alexander is a very inspiring and incredibly hardworking dude so he and I really bonded over the small business grind and the passion for what we do. I was really proud of that collab since it was the first time I got to channel a lot of what I have learned about hoodies into a garment under our own label.
We also recently launched our limited edition women’s collection for summer ’13 under The Hoodie Shop label, which is exclusively available at the shop and online at thehoodieshop.com. It consists of hooded tees and tie-dye hoodies perfect for this season. They are a great example of the fact that hoodies are not just something you wear when you are cold in the winter.

The Hoodie Shop in NYC
The Hoodie Shop in NYC
Who is your “typical” customer?
I would say our customer is an equal division of men and women, ranging in average age from 25 to 35. Many of the styles in the shop are unisex and appeal equally to men and women. We do not carry anything with heavy logos or crazy prints so our customer tends to be someone a bit older who works in an industry where they want to dress nice but casual. We get a lot of couples in here too who both walk out with hoodies. The common factor among our wide range of customers is that they are all looking for something unique that doesn't necessarily scream, “I am different.” But they appreciate a product that isn't available everywhere else.

Please discuss the shop’s unique decor.
When I went to create my dream store I decided to design my dream clubhouse as well. I would say it’s a mash-up of all things that inspire me and that I love from an aesthetic perspective. The original inspiration came from the Fillmore poster art of the ’60s and ’70s that you see in the 360-degree mural and the giant theatre marquee. I ended up channeling that era into every aspect of the space. The furniture was all originally designed in the ’60s or ’70s and even the design of the merchandising bars was inspired by the heavy use of acrylic in furniture design during that era. I wanted to challenge myself to create a space filled with positive energy that made people feel happy, cozy, welcome and inspired immediately when they walked in the door. The layout itself was designed to ensure the store could morph from retail space to event space to venue to movie theatre without a great deal of rearranging.

How important are special events at the store?
The events are really important to me as they create an opportunity to invite friends, family and our customers into the shop and bond with each other in a unique environment. If I am ever not working, I am probably out at a show at another venue in NYC so being able to bring the live music here to the shop is amazing to me! We have had over 25 different bands in the shop already and it’s really fun to be able to offer our customers more of an experience and relationship with the people behind the brand and shop beyond the hoodie they purchased here and have in their closet at home.

How do you keep in touch with your customers?
Again, the parties are a great way to keep in touch.When you join our e-mail list, you are not just getting blasted with information about our product but you are getting invites to some really fun events. We have already made a lot of local friends who have become regular customers just because of the friendly neighborhood vibe of the Lower East Side. I get to walk around and see our hoodies on so many people wandering around here. These people are in fact repeat business to us but we have really gotten to know them because when they purchase a hoodie they sort of become part of our clubhouse here and stop by to say hello when they are in the neighborhood.
We also send a handwritten note with every Web shop purchase. I’m an old-fashioned brick-and-mortar girl at heart so I think I am still blown away by the reach a Web store can have around the world. When someone in Australia or Japan purchases something from the shop here in NYC I can't help but feel I want to personally thank that person for choosing The Hoodie Shop. Therefore we personally thank them with an old-school handwritten note. The best part is that we have gotten handwritten thank you notes back!

Where do you find new brands/merchandise?
Everywhere! But oddly enough almost every brand I carry is based on the West Coast. That wasn’t necessarily intentional at first but I went very out of my way to find brands and designers that you don’t see much in NYC. Australian brands are pretty awesome when it comes to great hoodies and the weather and attitude of the West Coast seems to create a good environment for brands and designers to create great hoodies.

The Hoodie Shop in NYC
The Hoodie Shop in NYC
What's the best part of having a shop on the Lower East Side?
There is so much energy down here. Never a dull moment. People seem to come to the LES to explore and it’s really fun to watch them stumble upon The Hoodie Shop. I live in this neighborhood and have the shop here so it has become home to me and it’s pretty amazing to have a shop anywhere in the biggest city in the world much less in my favorite neighborhood. To me it’s sort of the last neighborhood in NYC that hasn’t been completely taken over by retail chains and big business so there is this unique comradery among small business owners down here.
The LES is a late neighborhood and bars and restaurants are really the main draw here. We stay open pretty late because the foot traffic is higher at 11pm than it is combined the entire rest of the day. It makes things interesting for retailers because there is honestly no rhyme or reason to when foot traffic will be high or low. Weekdays, weekends, mornings, 2am... I find myself staying open a lot of hours throughout the week to accommodate the constant varying levels of foot traffic. I have had some of the most interesting and sometimes famous customers come in at odd hours of the day when no normal retail store would normally even be open so I'm not going to complain!

What is the biggest challenge of being an independent retailer today?
Price competition is a huge factor. As a giant retail chain you are able to produce a garment at an absurdly low cost overseas because you are producing thousands and thousands of one style therefore significantly dropping the price per garment and being able to offer your customers low prices while still getting huge margins. As the little new guy trying to produce new styles in small quantities and in my case, doing it domestically, you literally cannot compete on price when you are first starting out.

What are some “golden rules” every retailer needs to follow?
As far as new retailers go, stick to your vision, whatever it may be. It is and always will be the only thing that sets you apart from the competition. You can easily be swayed to sort of want to follow what others are doing but if you feel passionate about what you are doing, that will show.
Specifically though, as far as retail goes, start small. It is better to sell out of an item than to be holding on to too much inventory. That inventory is just money that could be invested into what is working for you and into new ideas to keep growing. Try new things and new products in the store for your customers but test the waters in small quantities per style and see how people respond before you go too deep into a style or product each season.
Lastly, be patient. Starting a new small business in any industry is about building trust with your potential customers. At least half if not 75% of our current in-store and online business is to people who have visited the shop multiple times before making a purchase. Be thankful they have chosen to spend their hard earned dollars with you.

Store's address:
The Hoodie Shop
181 Orchard Street
New York, NY 10002 USA
+1 646 559 2716
thehoodieshop.com

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