The Art of Reuse is a band of young, smart, and driven individuals who are not only bringing great clothing at an affordable price to a city near you, but are ultimately giving shoppers an alternative to the typical retail experience. The Canadian collective recently occupied The Brooklyn Circus boutique in San Francisco, CA and I was lucky enough to get Sean, Courtney and Graham for a bit of time off their busy schedule to sit down and talk.
Waiting on a bar stool in a small neighborhood bar in the Mission, I sat there with no expectations of the person I was about to meet. I had been in contact with founder, Sean Brown, for a few days now and with our exchanges of short e-mails and quick texts, I was anxious to meet him in person. Naturally, I got acquainted with the brand, their story, and their plans here in San Francisco prior to interview and was thoroughly impressed. Not only was their website a concise, user-friendly, and informative tool behind their message – it was a thing of beauty. Honestly, it was a surprise to me because after all, weren’t they selling used clothing? Why put such a great amount of detail, effort and energy into selling thrifted items? Because I can tell that even just one photograph, yet alone a whole website and marketing campaign was conceived with plenty of love, skill and time. Yes, I was a bit naive going into it, but the more it digested in my system and the more I absorbed what it really was these guys were doing – the more it all began to make sense.
Finally, Sean found the bar, I gave him a hearty hug, and with a genuine greeting that all Canadians have seemed to master, we begin talking…
How did The Art of Reuse came to be?
I was working at a store called Nomad back home, but I wasn’t buying anything there. I didn’t grow up on buying expensive clothes like that. But I was wearing things that reflected the lifestyle that the owner and my manager was trying to portray but I had my own style because I was thrift shopping. Then I introduced Courtney (The Art of Reuse co-founder) to thrift shopping in 2008. We thought it would be really really dope if we took the aspect of how Comme Des Garcons does their guerilla and pop up shops and how Bape would only allow you to buy one thing a day. What if we did a thrift event that was only supposed to be a one day type of thing? So I named it, we got a logo, started branding it and thought we could actually take it places. That’s when we established the 3 items per customer limit, and nothing over fifty dollars then we just kind of ran with it.
How was the response to the first Interim shop?
Everything sold out in fifteen minutes. I think everyone thought it was a really cool idea, it was dope, but at that point, I don’t think anyone thought that we were going to take it overseas, or keep going with chapters and make a brand out of it. I don’t think anyone foresaw it with that first one.
A few minutes into our interview, co-founder Courtney Eastman and web developer Graham Robertson popped into the bar and joined us. Two more of the multiplayer team have now graced me with their presence and we resume the interview with Courtney easing right into the conversation.
Why did you decide to name your pop up shop Interim?
Courtney: We were going through a bunch of names we wanted to call it then he sent [Interim] to me. Sean has a gift for really understanding visually how to break down definitions of what something means to him. So I left that with him to discover. When he came to Interim, he was like, “Yo Courtney, it means temporary!” And I thought it was genius because we were only open for one day and its like we’re there and then were gone. We’re like a travelling circus.
What I think is happening with youth culture and fashion right now is that there’s a nostalgia about things. A harkening back to what people wore back then and how people lived. Everyone now is so bombarded with technology and the quickness of it all. I think that you guys have been able to combine the two – with great marketing material online and a one day pop up shop. But you’re showcasing and selling these clothes and pieces that have history and you’re returning the life back to it. I want to know your take on culture, your customers, how you feel their experience is, why are they so attracted to the Interim pop up. What do you think the appeal is for them?
Sean: I think that in our generation today, everybody feeds off of passion. And I think that we exude passion between all of us and there’s such a high level of it circulating throughout the whole group. Through every aspect, I think people appreciate how much time and effort we put into everything. The fact that we take our own pictures, the guy who built the website is part of the company, the person who’s part of the company does the styling and the merchandizing. Everything is done internally.
I believe that people appreciate the time that we put into the posters, to mail postcards to your house, write fictional acceptance letters, and go buy Super 8 film and get it developed. I think the fact that we take old ideologies and old ways of doing things that a lot of people have forgotten about . We like doing things the old fashioned way but still adjusting to the times. I think that is one of the reasons that makes the brand so attractive.
Everything is on purpose. Nowadays everything is just so fast, if you’re a musician then you have to constantly putting out music and you can become an afterthought very quickly. But we take our time with everything and execute it at the right time when its ready. Its not that boastful mentality that’s going on right now. We’re offering a service – telling people that you can actually save money by chartering into this alternative that we’ve created. You don’t even need to go to Goodwill to do the work, we’ll do it for you and then make it beautiful and the price is still low.
Graham: For me being in the technology side of the company and working in the industry – when I was in high school, I used to shop a lot of thrift. That was because I had time. And I think now, with my job, in the field I am, working with techonology – everything is so fast paced that I don’t have time to thrift. I think there’s something to be said to about how The Art of Reuse curates everything into Interim and people can come and find that fit and of quality.
Court: I’m speaking in terms of a store manager – I think people appreciate it more when they can walk in and see the atmosphere of the store, smell it and visually, it looks appealing. What really gets to me sometimes, is when customers don’t really know if its thrift or not. We live and stand by everything has to be quality the fits and looks great. Even if we have to take our last few dollars to dry clean it to make it look good, we’ll do it.
An hour and a pint of beer later, I realize that these guys are ahead of the times simply by looking back. In literally bringing back items of clothing long forgotten and reviving them into a new wardrobe, they allow shoppers to forego current trends and really look at what style suits their persona. In bringing back the old school way of building clients personally through the medium of a website, a blog, and cohesive branding experience, they foster lasting relationships.
A few days after the interview, I visited the Interim shop in one of San Francisco’s revered men’s boutique in the historic Fillmore district – The Brooklyn Circus. The one of a kind garments provided by The Art of Reuse married perfectly with their host’s current collection. The salvaged stiped cotton button up shirt circa early 90s for $28 was not unusual next to the new trademark leather letterman jackets from The BKc. Although varying greatly in price, their appeal was exactly the same. “We’re not concerned with fashion. We’re focused on style. Style never goes out of style.” And style is just what Sean and his team exude and expertly share with the rest of the world. He couldn’t have said it any better himself when trying to summarize the revolution they’re trying to bring about, “The Art of Reuse has this unique way of bridging the gap between cultures, between music, and between retail itself.”
Upon reflecting on what this group of smart, stylish and savvy Canadians are doing to the world of retail, I couldn’t help but think about the kind of generation that has sprung up due to the internet and easy access to maintain the D.I.Y. mentality. While the tools are readily available, there is still a kind of talent and passion that not every person who can “do” possesses. This intangible will to revolutionize a way of thinking can only come from innovator who don’t come around every other day. This comes from a few select groups and The Art of Reuse is one of them. Definitely keep a lookout for them and expect nothing but a renaissance.
“I call it acting on a complaint. Everybody has a complaint about something they don’t like in the world, something they don’t like in their life. And we had a big complaint on people going to a shopping mall and getting ripped off. So we saw that and rather than sit down and do nothing about it. We decided to act on our complaint. Like the Wright Brother’s who just got sick of walking around everywhere and was just like “yo, we should just find a way to just be in the sky” and someone was like “no, you’re an idiot, that’s impossible” and you know, we booked a flight to get here. And that just goes to show you how far that idea went.” – Sean Brown