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Gavin Colwill

In less than two years, Drapers Award-winning menswear indie Kiosk 78 has caught the industry’s attention with its cool brand mix and the razor-sharp business acumen of its co-owner

Some retailers boast an enviable brand mix, others offer unrivalled customer service and some create a store experience that keeps customers coming back for more. Some indies are so sharp that their business acumen is better than an accountant’s, while their market knowledge is superior to any analyst’s.

But every so often you find a retailer whose every function - from sourcing to sales - is so intertwined that the end result is one clear, unified “brand” with the sales figures to match. Step forward Kiosk 78 in Leeds.

First and foremost, it’s the mix of super-cool, exclusive labels with more established heritage brands that sets this menswear indie apart, which last November took the Best New Business accolade at the Drapers Awards 2009.

Co-owner Gavin Colwill, who set up the Duncan Street business less than two years ago with friend Damon Bryan, has not only brought new brands to Leeds, but also to the UK. A specialist in Japanese selvedge denim, Kiosk 78 is the exclusive stockist of the likes of Pure Blue Japan, Warehouse Company, Skull Jeans and Allevol, alongside more well-known brands including Fred Perry, Folk and APC.

Colwill’s face lights up as he starts to list the new brands that will fill the shopfloor in a few weeks’ time for spring 10. “[Canadian brand] Naked & Famous is stunning,” he gushes. “It’s made from Japanese denim and the quality is incredible for the price. It retails at £100. They’re obsessive denim heads.”

The same could be said for Colwill, and this hasn’t gone unnoticed by suppliers. “Kiosk 78 has gone beyond what most retailers do, which is just copy others,” says Russ Gater, co-owner of Heritage Research, which will be stocked by Kiosk 78 for spring 10. “I like its enthusiasm and it is very focused. When we decided to launch in the UK, we made a list of five retailers we wanted to be stocked in and Kiosk 78 was one of them. The next day, Gavin called us.”

The relationship has since flourished, with Heritage Research collaborating with Kiosk 78 on an exclusive colour for one of its jacket styles. Colwill also wanted one of Heritage Research’s aviator trousers in corduroy - the brand happily obliged, demonstrating an acute understanding of what indies need to set themselves apart.

But Colwill’s talents lie beyond identifying leading brands; he also understands his consumers and how to market to them - helped by the fact that, at only 31, he is a typical Kiosk 78 customer.

Colwill admits he took a gamble by opening a niche store at the start of the recession. “We opened with five brands unique to the UK and three only known to the fashion world. We must have been crazy,” he laughs. “Raising awareness was tough but our heart and soul is being daring. We held store parties and we created look books using our customers as models [to interact with them].”

Colwill has taken the seasonal look book concept a step further for spring 10 by asking members of Leeds bands, including up-and-coming act Exit Calm, to model the product.

As for taking a gamble on unknown brands, Colwill quickly mitigated that risk by introducing established brands to the mix with better margins, which also protected the business from the strength of yen against sterling. “Fred Perry has done brilliantly for us, with 100% sell-through,” says Colwill. “It’s the same with Folk. We actually should have been sharper on reorders”.

Colwill also bought in styles from Levi’s (on which he says many Japanese designs are based) and Nudie, which has a similar following to the Japanese aficionados, to offset the fact that Kiosk 78 had to take a hit on margin because of currency fluctuations with its Japanese selvedge denim labels. “Japanese selvedge denim is made in small quantities so you have to monitor your cash flow.” All this has paid off, with Kiosk 78 racking up annual sales of £200,000 and profits of £30,000.

While customers are still willing to pay up to a £180 price tag, Colwill admits they won’t venture much above that and that they demand the highest quality. According to reports in the US, this is a global denim price trend, with consumers now unlikely to pay more than $250 (£153) for a pair of jeans and the denim “sweet spot” now sitting firmly between $100 (£60) and $175 (£110). “Pricing is key and we start from about £60 for Wrangler,” says Colwill.

A wide price architecture and unrivalled quality is vital for streetwear indies, particularly given that denim is a key trend set to translate to the high street this spring. Colwill is not too concerned that his customers will stray. “Our denim has heritage so people have been buying it for ages,” he says.

As for autumn 10, Colwill is looking forward to the start of his buying trip, which encompasses trade shows Tranoï, Capsule and Rendez-Vous. “Bread & Butter is too commercial,” he says of the Berlin trade show giant. “We will keep a look out for any interesting washes. The only washes we’ve seen that give a great vintage/authentic feel are Our Legacy and Flathead denim, which we carry. We’ll stick with a slimming silhouette - Skull Jeans, Pure Blue Japan and APC standards are our favoured fits.”

Beyond autumn 10 Colwill is eyeing different brands and says he would like to grow the website, which currently accounts for 50% of sales. “We’d also like to improve the look of the shop,” he says.

Colwill’s passion for product means he has no regrets opening a store in a recession and advises others to expect a lot of hard work. “And don’t organise your wedding at the same time as opening the shop,” he jokes.

CV

2009 Kiosk 78 wins Best New Business category at the Drapers Awards; achieves number eight spot in FHM magazine’s best 100 places to shop online; voted in Esquire magazine’s top five independent menswear stores

2008 Opens Kiosk 78 with Damon Bryan

2001 Freelance graphic designer

2000 HND Design Communications, Sheffield University

Q&A

Which is your favourite shop?

Warehouse Company in Osaka, Japan. The shop, workshop, studio and bar is made from vintage wood shipped from the US to honour the vintage Americana denim period. Inside, they have artefacts including actual gold mining trays from the American Gold rush and ridiculous amounts of denim and overalls from the gold mining era that they use as inspiration for their denim. Osaka helps to provide the perfect backdrop.

What is your proudest achievement?

Opening Kiosk 78 and growing the business in a difficult climate. And winning the Best New Business category at the Drapers Awards last year.

Which are your favourite brands?

Being a denim obsessive, Skull Jeans, PBJ and Flathead are among our favourite brands at Kiosk 78, especially given the lengths they go to to produce their denim. Folk, Nom de Guerre and Heritage Research are my current favourite clothing brands.

What would be your dream job?

Other than a footballer, it’s hard to choose another job I’d want to do other than co-owning Kiosk 78. If this was a job I didn’t enjoy then I wouldn’t do it. In a perfect world I’d like to work in the sun, preferably by the sea, in the summer months and be back in time for autumn (my favourite time of year in the UK). The only other job I wanted to do was to coach football in California (I secured a long-term contract out there) but a serious knee injury put an end to that some years back.

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