As the influential east London independent retailer turns 10, co-founder Kyle Stewart discusses the highs and lows of running a store, and reveals Goodhood’s plans for future expansion.
Goodhood co-founders Jo Sindle and Kyle Stewart
There are only a handful of fashion stores globally that are considered “cult” retailers: famed, celebrated and often imitated thanks to their curated brand mix, inspirational store environments or innovative digital approach.
East London’s Goodhood is one of them. Launched in 2007, it has grown from an insider’s secret, hidden on a quiet back street, into a successful and influential lifestyle retailer with an international reputation. This month it celebrates its 10th anniversary.
“Goodhood is a shop that sells the raddest shit, basically,” explains co-founder Kyle Stewart with typical humour, highlighting the store’s decade-long focus on product.
Having swapped the world of design for retail on something of a whim, Stewart launched Goodhood with his partner and the mother of his two children, Jo Sindle. They met in the design studios of Levi’s but became disillusioned with the corporate design world and decided to turned their passion for product into their own business.
An amalgam of the words “good” and “neighbourhood”, Goodhood launched on Coronet Street in east London’s Shoreditch long before the area was celebrated as a destination for cool consumerism. Selling men’s and women’s wear, the concept focused on new niche labels and unknown brands. They rented out desk spaces in the store’s basement to freelance workers to help pay the rent.
“When we opened I thought: ‘I’m going to be loaded in a year and a half.’ Boy, was I wrong,” laughs Stewart. Some days not a single customer visited the store, he recalls. “It wasn’t easy. It’s crazy how hard it was.”
“If you’re at all self-conscious, like I am, it’s quite daunting trying to persuade brands to sell to you in the early days. People would say, ‘No, you’re too small. You’re not good enough.’ All of that was churning me up,” he admits. “But at the same time, I felt: I’m going to show you, I’m going to come back and one day you’ll regret that.”
With no previous retail experience Stewart claims the pair’s “naivety”, determinedness and “bloody stubbornness” helped in the difficult early days, and deliberately starting small meant they could learn as they went. “It was really idealistic too, because it was an independent store selling only independent brands,” he says of the unknown labels they stocked. “It still has that ethos, but it has evolved. It has grown up. And we’ve become a slicker business.”
And Goodhood certainly has matured. A transactional website came in 2008, followed by a popular homewares and lifestyle element in 2010. As the brand list expanded, Stewart and Sindle gained a reputation for their unique selection of up-and-coming brands and exclusives, blended with their edit of the best bits from big-name labels – a mix that proved popular.
“People couldn’t believe what we did [in terms of sales] on a back street in Shoreditch and with no other stores nearby. People were shocked,” says Stewart.
By 2014 the store had outgrown its original 800 sq ft home and moved around the corner to Curtain Road – a more prominent location with much higher footfall. The two-storey, 3,000 sq ft shop made a statement: its design blended Goodhood’s uniquely quirky character – a real log cabin nestles in one corner, for example – with an elevated premium feel and upped its brand roster to more than 200 labels.
Men’s and women’s wear, footwear and fragrances were complemented by furniture, stationery and beauty products – Goodhood’s cool take on a high/low luxury mix had turned into a truly shoppable lifestyle universe.
“Moving was a gamechanger. It’s been wicked to have moved and seen the growth. It’s made a massive difference,” enthuses Stewart.
The team has grown from “a small gang” to 25 full-time staff, plus 15 part time, with sales split 40% menswear, 27% womenswear, 12% homeware, 8% beauty and grooming, 7% unisex and 6% jewellery. According to Stewart, gross revenue is up 45% on the previous year, and historically Goodhood has grown around 40% year on year. He says operating profit this year is 15% of turnover. Of its current 250 brands, bestsellers include Norse Projects, Neighbourhood, Aries, Nuel and Baserange, plus footwear brands including Vans.
“We’re excited by product. There are no rules,” says Stewart of Goodhood’s buying strategy. “If we find amazing, brilliant product, then we’ll get it. Can you sell it? It doesn’t always matter, but we buy it because we love it. We never want to lose that element.”
Stewart and Sindle find brands in all sorts of ways, but Stewart admits they still scour trade shows “hunting for gems”: “I know people talk about the trade show being dead, but for us it will never be dead. We are product people, we need to see the product,” he says. Man and Capsule in Paris are key, while Copenhagen’s CIFF is also a must-visit.
While their gut instincts help, the pair’s matured business minds also come into the decision-making process now. “I look for new stuff that doesn’t look like what we’ve got already. It needs to fill a gap that we don’t have covered,” he says. “It took a while for us to find out what the economies were within our business too, but we’re quite militant in policing it now, because the margin is fundamental to surviving as a business. There’s no point in us selling loads of cool stuff if we can’t make any money on it.”
The duo built Goodhood’s website in house to create a totally unique system, linking it to the store’s epos system and stock room, which means that they also have customised data to help inform buying decisions.
“It’s data balanced with that gut feeling now,” admits Stewart.
Goodhood’s influence can be felt in a number of stores around the world, picking up on its brand list, store interior or online style – there’s even a copycat Goodhood with the same layout and branding in Indonesia, though Stewart tries to take imitation as flattery. Is it a pressure to constantly try and be the best; to be the first retailer to find the newest brands? “Yes, but we’re up for it. That’s what we do. That’s what we love. We’re product vultures.”
Looking to the future, Goodhood will focus on digital, with the website now accounting for 40% of total sales. “We’re totally invested in online. We want it to a big part of the business. The opportunities online are unlimited,” says Stewart.
The team is also opening a 4,000 sq ft warehouse not far from the store in the borough of Tower Hamlets, which will focus on dispatching online orders, as well as housing a photography studio.
Vans x goodhood collaboration (1)
What about a second store? “Yes definitely,” reveals Stewart matter-of-factly. “We’ve got plans. We’re at a point now where we could scale it really easily. We’re sort of looking, maybe, for the right investor, but we’ve got a milestone that we want to hit online before we think about more stores. We will do another store, but we want to have a really solid online business first.”
Stewart reveals the current store will probably expand first, while the location of the second store might surprise people: “I was in Japan recently and I had an epiphany. Kapital has three stores there within a two-minute walk of each other. You don’t have to open a store in west London, or south London, or in Leeds, Glasgow or Birmingham. Why don’t we just open one down the road? That’s how we’ll approach it.”
Ten years in, and with collaborations launching to mark the retailer’s 10th anniversary including Goodhood x Vans shoes, what has been Stewart’s highlight? “When our heroes shop in the store, that’s totally the biggest pat on the back,” smiles Stewart. For him, the pinnacle was a famous musician he asks us not to name: “I saw his band perform in 1996 when I was 18 and that was literally the best gig I’ve ever been to. If someone had said to me 10 years ago that he would shop in my store, I’d have thought that was the best thing ever.”