Ivan Gilkes co-founded In Support Of, a retail boutique in the meatpacking district of NYC. Here are a few of the questions / answers I thought we would share with you.
Can you share a story of one of the brands you carry and how you came to discover them? What are the best resources for you to find new brands?
I think one of my favorite stories is how we found the brand Calle del Mar by Aza Ziegler. I was browsing Tumblr and I came across the designer’s thesis collection from Pratt. We did some further research and then reached out to the brand directly. Aza had such a unique voice and clear view of her brand and I think that’s why we ended up taking a chance on it. It was so fun and unlike anything we had seen before but also done in a really wearble way. We continue to carry the brand in store.
In terms of finding new brands, we do a lot of research through different channels. I’m always looking for brands, even when I’m not looking, so we use different resources from personal resources such as my own Instagram or Tumblr once again to fantastic professional resources like and including Modalyst. Word of mouth is also a designer’s best friend because if a brand comes recommended it’s more likely that we will take note.
When do you start scouting for brands? Is it all year round? How early to you start your market search?
The amount of time I, and all of us at In Support Of, spend scouting is sort of ridiculous. In terms of starting market search, having a showroom and a store, forces us to make sure we are aware of what’s in the market from the huge designer brands to the young independent brands. We have to look at all avenues of selling so we can know what our best options for in the store are and also what our own showroom designers are up against in the marketplace. For that reason I’d say my market research is nonstop.
You began as a showroom and more recently decide to open a retail location. I imagine one of the reasons was to sell the brands you rep? But was there another component you thought was missing for the brands?
Yes, Tanya and I started In Support Of as an extension of our showroom: we wanted a retail location to sell the brands we represent because we felt that the market wasn’t taking a chance on younger brands and then further we wanted to contextualize our own brands amongst others that we felt rounded out a vision we were trying to build.
For the brands in our showroom, the feedback from retailers is so important. The customers are your brand’s biggest resource. And if you don’t have direct sales that means your retailers’ feedback is your number one tool to making your collection as strong as it could possibly be. This knowledge has been invaluable for our showroom designers that we sell at our store.
Can you provide specific advice on dos and don’ts when meeting with buyers? Do you see a lot of common mistakes that prevent you from wanting to distribute their products?
Have all of your materials ready. Have samples prepared, a clear and concise line sheet, and a well-shot look book or brand book – this makes it easier for me to look at your brand efficiently. If you do have a following for your brand – make sure to scream out to the world that you’re at that retailer. If they see you making sales on their behalf they’ll be eternally grateful and 9 times out of 10 – in my opinion – continue to have your brand represented.
Another mistake is when a brand will approach me without knowing their pricing and the type of stores they should sit in. Before starting a collection a designer should have an idea of who their target customer is, where this customer shops, and realistically what they can afford. They should know what other brands their customer buys into and what they like to do with their time (in and out of their work lives. Once these questions are answered they’ll be able to approach retailers with focus.
How do you differentiate yourself from the other retailers? Is there a particular marketing strategy that has worked well for you?
I think we differ from other retailers in that we’re able to offer a concise vision of who we are and are able to pinpoint our customers. There are fantastic stores out there that do the same and at the end of the day each store has a valid point of view. For us we value wearability in combination with interesting stories. We want our customer to know what the designer was thinking or how they design when they purchase a piece from us.
Consumers are demanding and expect new product offerings all the time How do you compete with that? As a follow up, do you feel pressure to offer something in addition to just the product, for example an “experience”?
We try to freshen our offering up as often as possible. However it’s impossible to keep up with the Zaras, Top Shops and J.Crews (even though our prices sometimes cross-over). In order to compete with this customer service is the best thing we have to offer alongside exclusivity. Generally if someone buys an item at In Support Of, it’ll be one of 10-15 in the world. We see our customers and us as part of a community of individuals striving to be unique. In addition to the fact that we’re selling clothing and accessories, we’re also selling membership to the community we are building at In Support Of.