In the past, avant-garde fashion tended to be housed in exclusive European shops with a flair for pageantry. Shopping experiences could include a personal salesperson, private seating areas, refreshments and highly thought-out interior design. This year saw the addition of re.porter to the avant-garde retail landscape - an exclusively online retailer that combines the avant-garde market's love for presentation with online accessibility.
Yohji Yamamoto Pour Homme
The Vancouver-based company was founded by Canadian Graham Newmarch who, drawing from his own background in theatre and retail, has created an e-shop with a flair for the theatrical - from its apparel presentation and site design, right down to its website copy - while still retaining a minimalist quality.
High fashion lends itself well to both theatre and dramaturgical theory (a means by which individuals express their sense of self). The dark theatricality that underpins the runway shows of designers such as Rick Owens, Odyn Vovk and Inaisce are the lines that re.porter offers in a retail experience that combines quality, history and drama; celebrating designers from around of the world of the avant-garde variety, ranging from Number (N)ine and Individual Sentiments, to Ann Demeulemeester, Carol Christian Poell and Comme des Garçons.
As its name suggests, re.porter (meaning, "to wear again") predominantly offers pieces from past seasons. Newmarch sources dead-stock from boutiques around the world, while also seeking out and accepting consignment pieces - giving customers the opportunity to buy pieces they may have been lusting after for years. Each piece is given a makeover, newly styled and photographed for the website.
Shying away from traditional e-commerce tropes, re.porter's website is free of marketing and advertising and there are no banners proclaiming its presence. The aesthetic is sparse and well executed for high-end, detail-oriented clientèle: a look that emphasises that the e-shop is about fashion and fashion alone. Upon landing on the main page, visitors only see apparel items and a (tiny) "hello & welcome," along with a navigation sidebar. Instead of a shopping cart, Graham adds a strong personal touch by handling all transactions personally via email, allowing him to build a strong rapport with customers, while also decreasing impulse buys that tend to have a high return rate. And instead of encouraging others to sell re.porter items for a commission, the store does all the work for the consignees and boutiques that have transferred deadstock items to the site - keeping with the model of traditional brick and mortar consignment shops.
The online avant-garde market is known for extreme attention to detail and prolonging the life of signature pieces. By looking at forums such as StyleZeitgeist, it immediately becomes clear just how much individuals interested in this genre of apparel engage with their designers and attire. By creating a great deal of discussion surrounding pieces, participants are able to extend the life of critiques and appreciations of certain designs and aesthetics beyond those established by their creators - a sort of second-hand history. As expressed by re.porter's official press release, the site acts as "an online amalgam of gallery & boutique; facilitating the continuation of this very conversation by offering its participants a modern environment for the buying, selling, & perusing of garments whose respective values are not governed by time."
Known more for the newest season of The Real Housewives and the exorbitant price of real estate, Vancouver has never been a fashion capital. The avant-garde is relatively invisible in a city overrun with both fast fashion and big fashion houses. While some independent retailers like Lark, Crome Yellow, Neighbour and Haven have carved out their own niche, they remain tucked away from the every day consumer.
Many Vancouver residents - and even those in the international avant-garde fashion industry - are unaware that the seminal avant-garde boutique Komakino began here. Now transformed to also include Darklands and Nag, the Berlin-based conglomerate has become a central fixture within the industry: something it wasn't able to achieve while cooped up along Canada's west coast. Newmarch, in fact, worked at Komakino while it was still a guerrilla shop that changed locations every season. It was under the tutelage of Campbell McDougall - Komakino's owner - that Newmarch learned the importance of the hands-on and personal approach that he uses today with re.porter.
Carol Christian Poell Jointed
Traditionally, many independent online sales platforms (including Komakino and its associated groups) have been built as secondary sources of income on top of brick and mortar locations. re.porter, on the other hand, exists solely online, allowing the company to source and sell materials from any location. Operations could easily be moved to any other city or country, with very little impact on the company and its operations. For a young entrepreneur, this greatly reduces overhead costs and allows Newmarch to invest more time and funds into expanding the business and obtaining product, instead of paying for rent and more staffing.
re.porter stands in a distinctive position within the over-saturated online retail market. By playing to his strengths and having a keen sense of his audience, Newmarch has created an engaging and artisanal experience that plays well on the established norms of the avant-garde marketplace. With opportunities to expand the store and the possibility of relocating, an evolution of the brand may be near. While establishing return clientele can be an uphill battle, in a short time, re.porter has managed to attract an audience that has put it on the initial road to success.
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