Home Sweet Home: The Rise of In-House Brands

The retail market is an extremely competitive one as everyone tries to carve out their piece of the

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The retail market is an extremely competitive one as everyone tries to carve out their piece of the pie in the digital era. From brick and mortars to online spaces, they are continuing to find new and unique ways to educate consumers with a well-curated lifestyle while separating themselves from competitors’ philosophies in an attempt to create make a new customer, and solidify the opportunity for a returning customer. While marketing strategies and constantly working to find the next great latest brand is obviously a good way to bring business in, we have started to see more retailers producing in-house as an extension of their offered experience. Offerings produced in-house are not exactly new, as a number of stores have always had that odd keychain or tee, however, we are starting to see more retailers developing full-fledged apparel lines that take a step away from simple logos on a tee. Recent times saw numerous debuts of expansive collections from longstanding and respected retailers such as Très Bien, HAVEN and VFILES. Stores like Bodega and Concepts began to really focus their efforts on in-house offerings as we continue to see more adventurous takes on designs and fabrics.

Retailers separate themselves from others based on their curation of goods so that “this particular grouping was built around this particular consumer.” To bring it all together, in-house brands are developed as a culmination of this curation. To appeal to this consumer, the retailer has imagined and established over the years, with just one brand, instead of a collection of brands.

As retailers understand best who their loyal customers are, it is no wonder why more and more are deciding to operate by themselves. Collaborations have always gone hand-in-hand with stores over the years but creative freedom then strikes a compromise between the respective imprints, where control over how the final product turns out could rest upon the side with the manufacturing abilities. In-house brands can offer a blank canvas of which the store can decide whatever direction to take it in. With a customer base, a knowledge of what they tend towards, and a platform to sell their product, in-house lines may be the best way to deliver what they want, turning a store into a fashion brand.

We asked a few stores that have developed reputable in-house brands to shed light on the movement and the reasons behind it. Julie Anne Quay of VFILES, Rhett Richardson of Concepts and Dan Natola of Bodega all talk about where the idea stemmed from, discussing the advantages of going in-house and how starting off as a retailer brings along levels of knowledge that provide an edge compared to fresh startups.



When did you come up with the idea of creating the line?

Julie Anne Quay

VFILES SPORT PLUS first came to light in Spring 2014, and we had discussed it on and off earlier in the year — VFSP is the brainchild of Zachary Ching and Erin Magee.

Rhett Richardson

We have been working on the transition for the past couple of years. It’s important for us to take our time and make sure we’re doing it the right way.

Dan Natola

From the start of Bodega as a project, we always wanted to create products as a vehicle for our perspective and worldview. Starting with the shop, we saw it as test lab as well as a gallery of our work and influences. The fact that we can make something and have it travel to another part of the world, and have utility and meaning blows my mind — even if we’re just talking about a limited edition sneaker, an apparel piece, or a Pyrex mug.


Why did you believe it was the right time to launch it?

Julie Anne Quay

If you’ve been to VFILES, you know that our office and store are in the same building and we all spend a lot of time in the store. So many customers had been asking for merch with a VFILES logo and we decided to deliver it — we didn’t analyze the time or the date — when is the time ever “right” to do anything?! Good merchandise will always find a home no matter what the date or season.

Rhett Richardson

Concepts already had a well-known reputation from our sneaker collaborations and carrying the top brands and products. Creating the Concepts line was a logical step for the brand and gives us a chance to further convey our vision to our customers.

Dan Natola

We started with some Bodega tees when the shop launched back in 2006 and people around the world started asking us for them. That led to some New Era caps and even more buyers were into our work. Once there was enough demand from other people in the industry asking us to make a range, we launched the in-house line.



Did selling product for other brands to start with help the process in launching your own line?

Julie Anne Quay

At VFILES there is a real feeling of all being in it together — we feel a real kinship with the designers we sell in the store, who we represent in the showroom upstairs, and who we connect with on VFILES.com. There are over 3,500 designers on our platform right now. So while maybe other designers lead the way in the store, the shifting dynamic of fashion is such that anyone can be a brand. We wanted to join the action.

Rhett Richardson

Selling product from other brands definitely can help show you what sells and what does not. We don’t really focus on what the next brand’s doing because we want to make what’s right for us. This helps us stay true to what we have set out to do instead of just chasing trends or riding waves… If we are going to do that, we can just carry that kind of product from another brand and not worry about it for our own.

Dan Natola

Being on the front lines of buying and on the sales floor definitely influenced everything about how Bodega’s line functions. There’s existing relationships at all levels (buyers, designers, industry veterans). We also see what else is in the market and have an open dialogue with potential collaborators through that role as retailer. Lastly, through our shop/clubhouse, we have a direct link to the ones who support the brand and talk to them every day.


You probably know what your customer likes more than anyone but was there a difficulty in deciding whether to cater towards that or starting something you truly liked?

Julie Anne Quay

At VFILES we never do anything that we don’t think is amazing — every product in our store, everything we create we love. So we didn’t really consider that when actually conceptualizing the line because we are one and the same with our customers; if we like it, our customers are going to like it too.

Rhett Richardson

The Concepts line broadened our scope and helped spread that vision from more than just collaborations and carrying product. Now we’re better equipped to focus on our interests and what we want to present. Also, with us being located in Massachusetts, we are able to tell another story of almost making the whole line locally and entirely in North America.

Dan Natola

That is the ultimate challenge of designing for fashion — one must not only create the future collection but make it progressive enough to satisfy their ambition, while retaining commercial viability. Luckily in menswear and sportswear, things change a bit slower than in the women’s market.



How did you tailor your products towards your customers that were already shopping with you?

Julie Anne Quay

We approach things a little differently — by fashion moments that we like as opposed to shapes, colors and what’s selling. It’s all about being connected to your customers and sharing something with them that you know they will enjoy conceptually, and want to represent in their universe.

Rhett Richardson

We wanted to create product of great quality, fit and style. A lot of inspiration for our line comes from where we are located; materials, fits and product choice in general. From us carrying and working with the top brands in the world, we had certain things to surround ourselves with.

Dan Natola

On the best days, there is harmony between your target customer and self, and design is simply the method for conveying your personal ideas through the object you are working on.


How do you strike a balance with the margins in design versus the business aspect of things?

Julie Anne Quay

We make clothes that are sellable and fun to wear.

Rhett Richardson

At the end of the day, you have to make money while keeping your integrity.

Dan Natola

We are still working on that and most likely always will — it is a daily practice that requires compromise and communication between different silos of our small team. What surprisingly helped that type of communication was playing pickup basketball together after work in the summers. That was incredible for building that flow between the business and the creative.



We are seeing more and more retailers starting in-house lines, do you think there is a reason behind this current trend?

Julie Anne Quay

The obvious one is control of product, delivery to store, and margins, but the more subtle realization is the shift of retailers understanding that they can be their own brands and control their brand culture. Otherwise fashion can become a sea of markdowns and a lonely place for unloved merchandise!

Rhett Richardson

When products (brands) and collaborations are offered to most stores now, you need to find a way to differentiate yourself from the next store. Certain lines are solely based off trends as many can see. The end product will show if they are doing it for the long haul or if they’re trying to ride a wave.

Dan Natola

The energy of our community — art, sportswear, streetwear, fashion, sneakers , menswear, industrial design, music, architecture — is about creation. If you contribute to the scene, you help build it. Nowadays with the tools of production in more hands, more voices can be heard. There’s more transparency in the how things go from an idea to market so anyone with passion and hard work can get in the game. Combine that with the idea that everyone is a personal brand, and we see why the current climate is this way.


Apart from in-house lines, what’s next for retail stores continuing to deliver their experience to customers?

Julie Anne Quay

URL2IRL, online and in-person, consistency, and a strong brand culture – a name that means and stands for something. That’s what’s important.

Rhett Richardson

For us, it’s to continue putting focus on the Concepts brand whether it is through the clothing line, collaborative projects and new locations.

Dan Natola

I love when brands are able to combine a constant stream of ideas via media but also balance that with experience outside of the screen. Our retail concept has this incredible impact on those who are able to visit in person and we struggled with how to create a similar impact online. I think we came close when we were geocaching the Bodega x ASICS “Get Wet” packs around the globe, and got people around the world running around and exploring. Bodega can keep creating experiences and product around the planet thanks to support from the public and the crews we work with (HYPEBEAST included!).

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