Activewear brand Howies was determined not to compromise its ethical intentions in its first retail concept.
Howies could not have wished for a better location for its bricks-and-mortar debut. The 12-year-old active-inspired young fashion brand has opened in the middle of London’s Carnaby Street, and the high-profile location has everything to do with the spending power of Howies’ US parent company Timberland, which bought the brand 12 months ago.
The site previously housed a Timberland Boot Company store, but switched to Howies in October. Howies store and wholesale operations manager Adrian Gunn-Wilson says: “Timberland Boot Company is a lovely brand, but I’m not sure this was the right spot for it. We’re smack-bang opposite Diesel here and this location needs a younger feel.”
Despite Gunn-Wilson’s assessment, the store has an ageless charm and a laid-back feel that accurately sums up the Howies personality. Creating the stark white box backdrop was complicated by the brand’s eco standards. Gunn-Wilson says: “The paint we used was water-based so took longer to dry; that alone took days out of our schedule.”
This same principle explains the in-store drinking-water tap, while a feature wall hosts a hit parade of products aimed at outdoor/surfer-skater/ethically-aware types, from tide clocks and vegan food to social-conscious literature and portable solar energy packs.
Fixtures and fittings include modular T-tree display units, a table with an undulating surface designed to resemble a landscape, and another low-level display unit constructed from wooden offcuts. All are made from unfinished Pembrokeshire oak harvested from a sustainable tree project.
The effect is a fast-paced, free-flowing shop that is easy to navigate. Gunn-Wilson says: “There is quite a lot of space. Timberland told us not to overkill on the stock – it is important to have the brand personality in there too.”
It was a lesson the Howies crew took to heart, substituting some white walls with fresco-style coloured pencil drawings. “We started off with graphics and photography, but it just looked like any other shop”, says Gunn-Wilson. “So we took it down and had it illustrated – the shop looks more like our brochure now.”
Product is split 50/50 between menswear and womenswear, which is scattered through-out the store. Trousers are upstairs where people are likely to linger and use the fitting rooms, while entry-level pieces are downstairs. At the till, a device registers how much energy the store is using. Gunn-Wilson says: “We try to be as transparent as possible. The last thing we want is some journalist finding out that something we’re doing is wasteful.”
He admits to fearing just such a moment with the lighting. “Our landlord told us that as part of the deal we have to have our lights on 24 hours a day, which we weren’t happy with,” he says. “We have had to relent because it is in our rental terms, but we are making
sure all our lighting is eco-friendly.”
42 Carnaby Street, London W1F
1,500sq ft: The size of the shopfloor, spread over two floors
300: Number of styles sold in-store
£500,000: The store’s target turnover in its first year
£4m: Howies’ turnover for 2007, up from £150,000 four years ago