E-commerce might be the way of the future, but 2016 proved that real-life shopping is still a force to be reckoned with—it just looks a little different now. This year, downtown New York felt like a game of pop-up shop musical chairs, with brands from Glossier to Google opening temporary brick-and-mortar locations. Once considered a low-key way to sell products and meet new customers, pop-ups have grown into something much bigger; in fact, PopUp Republic values the pop-up industry at $50 billion. That includes indie fashion and beauty pop-ups as well as merch extravaganzas like the Kylie Shop. Which all suggests that consumers actually do want to buy clothes (and makeup and tablets) in person—they just don’t want to do it at a department store or big-box chain.
That’s sort of the genius of a pop-up: It’s the opposite of Macy’s or Best Buy. It’s short-term, it’s unexpected, and it often carries items you won’t find anywhere else. A pop-up also isn’t just about selling wares; it’s about creating a memorable, exclusive, and photogenic experience, which lends a “cool” factor to a brand and builds a loyal clientele. It also makes for good Instagrams—most pop-ups are like mood boards come to life. We have to give credit to 2016’s merch pop-ups: Kanye West, Justin Bieber, Frank Ocean, Drake, and Kylie Jenner’s globally recognized, limited-time-only shops elevated the concept and will likely keep the trend going for the next few years. That said, you don’t have to be an award-winning musician to have a successful pop-up; most of them are done on a much smaller scale.
Take Glossier, a digitally native label that owes much of its success to Instagram. It’s been hosting pop-ups for the past few years, and they were so successful that the brand recently transformed its showroom into a sort of permanent pop-up. That means girls who aren’t willing to order makeup online can try and buy the company’s concealers and highlighters in person, seven days a week. “It’s like the Internet, in real life,” the brand’s website states. Inside, the space actually does mirror Glossier’s rose-tinted website and Instagram feed, with pale pink walls, giant bulb lights, and blown-up photos of models with perfect skin on the walls. It’s as if the company realized that all those girls liking their Instagram photos and ordering cherry-flavored lip balm would be just as excited to step into that dewy, artfully curated world IRL.
Other pop-ups succeed because they have items and experiences you can’t get online, like the Vintage Twin, which bounces between empty storefronts in New York’s Nolita, Soho, and East Village. Denim experts at its Jeanius bar will ask what you’re looking for, dig through an enormous pile of vintage Levi’s and Wranglers, and unearth the perfect size and fit. (A few Vogue.com editors have tried it and confirm it is magic.) It harks back to the days of local boutiques and hiring a personal shopper to help you out. While there are plenty of e-commerce sites for vintage jeans, anyone who’s in the market for 501s knows how tricky it is finding the perfect pair.
Google’s pop-up in Soho isn’t small or personal at all, but it’s about an experience more than anything else. You can try the new Google Home in a replica kitchen or test-drive the Daydream View virtual reality goggles, but you can’t actually take them with you. For now, everything in the space has to be purchased online—Google probably just wants you to spend more time there than at the Apple Store.
Then there’s AYR, a cult-level, online-only brand that just opened its Pop Shop at 199 Lafayette Street (formerly the Outdoor Voices space; OV moved around the corner to 251 Centre Street). AYR specializes in luxe basics like jeans, wool coats, and knits and has a booming e-commerce business, but founders Maggie Winter and Jacqueline Cameron felt it was important to connect with shoppers in person. “We think in order to really understand and serve your customer, you cannot presume to know what she wants,” Winter says. “Having an immediate connection is the absolute best. It’s direct to consumer, even though it’s offline. We can move quickly and respond immediately to our customers’ needs and desires. For instance, we offer tons of sizes in our jeans, including shorter inseams, and in person, we hear requests for more 26-inch and 28-inch choices. So [the pop-up] helps us learn not just what we are doing well, but where there’s demand for things we’re not doing yet.”
The store itself is serene and comfy, with birch-wood walls, soft lighting, and lots of seating. “We wanted our space to feel approachable and accessible,” Winter adds. “We hang out on the velvet couch and play dress-up alongside our customers. Luxury apparel is often quite mystifying and exclusive, [but] we want you to walk into our shop and feel like it’s your closet.” Being able to touch and feel the clothes was also important: “We invest in gorgeous textiles, like crocodile-embossed midnight-blue velvet or double-face Italian wool, and that comes across in person,” Winter says. “No matter how savvy you are digitally, that reaction is impossible to replicate through a screen.”
On a basic operations level, a pop-up also requires less commitment than a permanent store or even a new website. That’s fundamental to all of these spaces, no matter how big or small. “Pop-ups make a lot of sense. They allow emerging brands to experiment with retail and create an immersive experience without signing up for a ton of overhead,” Winter explains. Why sign a lease when something short-term can generate so much buzz? David Rees and Ron Anderson of beloved jewelry label Ten Thousand Things felt the same way when they popped up on Ludlow Street earlier this fall. “We’ve made spaces for 21 years, so it was a nice opportunity to design a new one with less pressure,” Rees told Vogue.com. “It’s inherently temporary, so you can just have fun.”
Source: Vogue.com Photo: Courtesy of AYR; Courtesy of Glossier / @glossier; Getty Images