You might have wandered past the former bStore shop on Kingly Street (previously on Savile Row) and wondered where a) bStore has gone and b) what the hell is Other, the new name. The answer is that bStore as a brand producing its own clothing is no more but bStore, the iconic store co-founded by Matthew Murphy and Kirk Beattie, that has been such a vital part of London's independent fashion retail scene over the past decade fortunately lives on. It has risen out of the ashes and become Other.
This might not concern anyone who isn't remotely interested in the semantics of retail and fashion label production but for those who are, there's a brutal lesson to be learnt. It's a brave thing to say "NO!" when you're at the height of success and when bStore the clothing label ceased to exist this summer, you had seen it everywhere. It had a ton of stockists. It was collaborating with Liberty, Gloverall, ASOS, Mr Porter etc. It was popping up all over the shop quite literally as you would walk into bStore and find that most of the stock was… well, bStore stock, moving away from the boutique's roots. I'll leave it to Matthew Murphy, one of the founders of bStore and now shopkeeper and proprieter of Other together with his business partner Kirk Beattie, here to tell his side of the story, that to me smacks of courage at a time when few of us would dare reject commercial profiteering.
bStore was really never meant to be the size that it ended up as. The idea was always this little line that we do within the store, maybe doing little collaborations. We never intended for it to become as big a wholesale brand as it did. We didn't have the structure to maintain the level it achieved. The problem is you start working with bigger factories and the minimums go up and so the shop becomes a tool to support that.
The collection became something we didn't want it to be. The guys from the sales team were getting demands from retailers. Our market was big - Asia wanted it to look a certain way, America wanted it to look another way. It was perceived to be a bigger brand than it actually was. The difficult thing was that we could forsee problems. When you're working with the big guys like Mr Porter and Lane Crawford, you only really get one chance so when you start mucking things up like delaying orders, then you lose them forever.
We had less time and budget to spend on young designers because the store was flooded by bStore stock. It got to a point where for me, I lost focus of what I was supposed to be doing. I was brand director, doing all these projects which were all successful and great but the passion that first drove me when I was working with young designers, working in the shop and doing something independent wasn't there. For us, we just thought "Let's get back to doing what we enjoy doing."
Murphy and Beattie therefore took the executive decision to take the shop with them and break away from its parent company Six London, which will continue on producing bStore shoes. The bStore clothing line has ceased production entirely and now we have Other, the independent store that Murphy and Beattie want to channel all their energies into. Murphy talks of 'Control' as a key word in this brave move. By scaling back their operation and returning to the roots of the shop as one that nurtures designers they believe in, they get the freedom to dictate how they run the business. They're not after a retail empire but they do want to be a strong singular destination shop, which bStore was. Other is a fresh start but they do have the head start of having nurtured labels like Peter Jensen, Christophe Lemaire and Stephan Schneider over the years. Now they get to go out and do more interesting buys.
We wanted to go out and find young creatives and talent and make the shop exciting again. The reason why we're still here eleven years down the line is because we've stayed independent. It's been a different view to what's going on. It's never been for financial reward. It's passion that drives us. The store was for me the heart of what we did. Without bStore the shop, what did the brand mean? The fact that we had people shopping with us for ten years who have avidly followed us on a journey and they thought it was great when they found a lot of new brands. In a way, that was what kept them onboard for ten years so we wanted to get back to that. There are so many people that we saw out there that we passed up but now we have the space to support them.
It may not be evident just yet as Other goes through the transitional period of phasing out the previous 'bStore' set-up but for S/S 13, I'm promised some interesting labels from Berlin with designers like Alice Knackfuss and the underrated but consistently-good Reality Studio. On the menswear side, I can look forward to stealing colourful knits from Trine Lindegaard, who Steve and I are both loving at the moment.
Other have been a fan of MM6 accessories
You may have thought that Murphy and Beattie would shy away from producing their own clothing line altogether after the problems that arose with bStore. However, they have forged ahead by creating Other's own clothing line, something that sticks to their original vision of a small in-store label that fills the gaps in the shop.
Other is a lot smaller collection. It's what we intended the bStore clothing line to be. It's staples. It was about taking back control. That's the key word. It won't be a wholesale brand and so we will keep it back just for the store and online. We made it all in the UK in small factories in the UK. The first collection is called Collection 1. We'll do one that we launch in March and one we launch in June, dropping it into store as we go along with no official launches. It fills in the gaps. We want 60% of the store to be brands and then the rest can be about plugging in with simple trousers or the right sweatshirts, testing out different fabrics and seeing what works. It will be more informal. The collections will just happen.
Other's offering for women is indeed a lot more androgynous and simpler than what bStore had become by the time of its demise. You're never going to get trend-driven fare from Murphy and Beattie in both their label or their shop buy and that's precisely what has kept their customer base so loyal and diverse. In the end, what makes Other (admittedly it's very hard to stop myself from saying bStore in my head) so great is that it's both universal and niche all at once. There's nothing in there that is too precious or stuck up the arse of high end fashion. Every piece has quality and design in mind. Useful but never boring. At the same time, Other manages to projects an outside of mainstream lifestyle, that's fortunately not ruled by fashion solely but one that invovles art, design, music, film and food - i.e. the things that make a lot of us more than just fash-obssessed hollow shells.
As for Other's take on bricks n' mortar versus online, it seems both are equally important to the duo. Murphy's eyes really twinkle though as he talks about loving Soho, being based in Kingly Street and being in a physical hub where you can go into one shop, physically chat to a shop assistant and then go next door for a coffee or a nice a bit of food. As a Londoner who has walked many miles, eaten many meals and drank copious amounts of coffee on shopping trips, I firmly agree that the experience is something that cannot be replicated online. That said, Murphy is keen on building an identity with the website, injecting their personality and point of view. Just as all the internet retail biggies are going all out with their editorial strategy, making big name hires, likewise, smaller operations like Other need to create an identity online. For Other, they see the benefit in producing content online that isn't there purely to shill product. It's about creating an environment that seduces the customer to click and it's a process that Murphy and Beattie are still exploring and will clearly play out on the website in the future.
The last thing we mused on was the curious thing about London's independent boutiques. A good independent seems to have a lifespan of about ten years or even less in some cases. So many seem to go under, erased in people's memories over time. I'm now conscious that my own footfall in London stores has decreased given that I travel so much now and seem to have less and less time just to look at my own city. I'll be doing my bit and getting out there a bit more. As it happens, I'll be working closely with a new start up that will serve to celebrate the individuality of London's retail scene exemplified by Other. They shouldn't be lone rangers though. Murphy is right. Without a hub around the store, all you are is a singular entity which is hard to build up footfall. Let's hope that London independent retail gets its own kick starter.