Modern society has been well accustomed with online shopping for decades. Back in the mid-90s some of today’s most major online platforms were just getting started, with the likes of Amazon and eBay setting up their digital shelves. Nike followed shortly after in 1999, with Foot Locker jumping online at the turn of the millennium. In the time since, non-physical storefronts have continued to sprout, with online shopping nowadays being the preferred hobby of many. These days there’s almost nothing you can’t buy online.
With so much of life happening online, there is a part of us that’s looking for that sweet escape. Even before a recent study reported that the younger generations prefer to buy shoes in-store, it wasn’t hard to notice the brick-and-mortar boom. Factoring in success founded during the lockdown e-comm demand, paired with our renewed freedom, it’s unsurprising that we’ve found ourselves in the midst of a retail renaissance. From shiny new flagship stores to boujee boutiques, the aim from all ends of the globe appears to be the same: to offer customers something unique, and to push the boundaries of in-store experiences as we know them. And there’s no denying we’re here to eat it up and enjoy retail therapy like never before. As the modern retail renaissance unfolds in front of us, let’s dive right in.
Retail is a case of survival of the fittest and in recent years there are some enterprises that have experienced accelerated growth as we entered the 2020s, translating what was once forced online shopping, to retail wonderlands, almost reinventing the traditional department store as it were. Fashion lovers are well acquainted with the extensive offering that is END., who serve up everything from apparel, to lifestyle items, homewares, skincare and more. Building on their ongoing success, END. launched a Newcastle flagship in December 2021, spanning a hefty 13,700 square feet, three storeys, and housed in one of the city’s Grade II heritage listed buildings. But END. didn’t stop there, not only boasting six stores to their name, they’d go on to open a women’s dedicated store, and most recently, take things international with a takeover of Italy’s fashion capital – Milan. Featuring multiple levels across menswear and womenswear, the curation is a physical embodiment of END.’s online presence.
‘Creating inspiring retail concepts is a key element of our strategy at END., and I’m so pleased with how well this project has come together in Milan,’ says END. CEO Parker Gunderson. ‘It’s a beautiful space located right in the heart of the city, and we feel proud and privileged to have a space like this to welcome our existing community as well as new customers getting to know END. for the first time.’
Elsewhere in Milan, Jordan Brand also touched down to unleash World of Flight – their very own flagship. With so much of Jordan Brand being unavailable to buy in-person, this new era for Jordan Brand welcomes the brick-and-mortar focus. Located in the city’s Via Torina shopping hub, the space offers customers the option to shop sneakers, apparel, accessories and more. This isn’t Jordan Brand’s inaugural retail destination – they do have stores in Dubai and Manila – although it is the first iteration of their ‘World of Flight’ concept. With its wing span encompassing a wide 360 square metres, they’re staying dedicated to bringing their digital offering direct to the hands of their loyal fans. Jordan Brand have since launched another World of Flight in Toyko this year.
Kith have been experiencing an upward trajectory all of their own too. In 2021, Kith opened their first flagship in Europe – following the opening of the Miyashita Park flagship in Tokyo in mid-2020. Kith have come along way since its inception in 2011, with founder Ronnie Fieg conceiving Kith Treats in 2015, a nod to his love of cereal and childhood dream of opening a cereal bar. As it stands, Kith operates eight flagship locations globally, as well as three shop-in-shops at Bergdorf Goodman, Hirshleifers and Selfridges. Fieg also introduced Kith’s first restaurant at their Paris flagship – Sadelle’s at Kith.
These days Kith continues to bring the ‘wow’ factor to retail experiences, this year alone opening two more flagship stores in Miami’s Design District and in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. And not only are product assortments in each venue expansive, the venues are too. Ensuring that each development remains progressive from a visual standpoint and beyond, Fieg enlists Snarkitecture to curate the design. ‘Evolving and expanding our spaces with tact is as challenging as it is motivating,’ Fieg says. ‘Each store must feel completely unique while retaining the red thread that runs through all of our flagships.’
While major flagship spaces sure are attention-grabbers, size isn’t everything. Although going by recent growth there won’t be any shortcomings in that department either. Fashion boutique UP THERE have been on the uptick since their founding in 2010. With their offering growing alongside their loyal customer base, it’s no surprise that in 2023 Brendan Mitchell and James Barrett decided to put their brand on in a big way. After 13 years at UP THERE’s OG McKillop Street spot in Australia’s fashion capital, Melbourne, UP THERE outgrew their former location, being the perfect time for a ‘full refresh’. While they’re ‘forever looking for ways to improve and progress’, to ensure that their ‘latest facelift provides the retail world with something it hasn’t seen before,’ they also feel that they’re still ‘catering for the same person from 13 years ago,’ UP THERE told Sneaker Freaker.
An impressive 345-square metre digs in the CBD’s Flinders Lane, the space was designed by Melbourne architects Kennedy Nolan, who worked towards creating a space that champions materials and colour not traditionally associated with retail shops. A grand departure from the McKillop Street store, the Flinders Lane spot is a complete level up (literally and figuratively), complete with ‘Bottega’ green’ floors, gradient colour-changing cabinets and an in-house cafe – all making for nothing short of world class status.
Key fashion brands have also been making moves on the physical retail investment front. New Balance collaborative success aside – Aimé Leon Dore – made time to shoot their shot with a London flagship in 2022. Big moves like this reflect a brand’s success – much like backing from a global conglomerate LVMH does – but most importantly a dedication to scaling up their physical presence. Bringing their Mulberry Street NYC flavour to London town, the store was crafted under the watchful eye of Sarita Posada, a Columbia-born Portland-raised New York-based designer specialising in furniture and hotel interiors. Spanning across two storeys, full of dark walnut panelling, Greek Cipollino marble and antique Persian rugs, the shop is loaded with vintage-tinged taste and Greek heritage of Teddy Santis.
In the same year, sneaker culture continued to make haste within lesser talked about regions too, taking us to New Delhi, India where sneaker culture is burgeoning. Superkicks already boast a number of stores in the country, however they set up their latest flagship in the Indian capital in July. Located in the Priya Market, they’ve delivered a cinematic shopping experience, doubling as one of the country’s biggest sneaker and streetwear stores.
2022 also saw some retail stores do it a little differently. In February, Australia’s premier women’s sneaker destination – Finesse – underwent rebranding, along with a new retail strategy seeing the store reduce its physical footprint, step up its in-store experience and ‘reset the pace’. Founder Murata Prajumas, told Sneaker Freaker, ‘We took the time to be introspective and assess our values, particularly around what matters most in a post-pan retail world. The new store is set within a small corner terrace shopfront in the heritage lined neighbourhood of Collingwood. The intimate space means we're better able to attend our customer’s needs, while shortened opening hours and a considered and curated range means a fresh selection every visit.’
Within the realm of women’s sneaker stores – Canada’s Makeway – North America’s first and only women’s sneaker store, opened in the thick of the pandemic, which founders Abby Albino and Shelby Weaver say gave them a chance to focus and develop the digital and social business first. ‘This timing allowed us to have a phased approach to opening which ultimately gave us the opportunity to scale the business slowly and intentionally.’ Both Makeway, Finesse and of course Copenhagen’s Naked are the leading examples of some of the world’s most popular women’s sneakers stores, a segment of retail that has been on the up in recent years. The movements reflect women’s rise in sneakers, taking control the narrative to carve out their own spaces. ‘It's important for women to have dedicated spaces both physical and online because the female shopping experience is more complex,’ Albino and Weaver told SF. ‘We know firsthand some of the challenges of being a female consumer and being able to fix those by creating a space both online and in person where women feel seen, heard, and taken care of is really important.’
Makeway have since relocated to a new space, shacking up with sister brands For the Goodies and Mack House.
atmos are also committed to driving their global women’s representation, with the launch of their dedicated women’s space in Philadelphia. Taking over the second floor of their established Philadelphia location, spanning 1400 square feet, the store not only has an extensive offering, but also stocks atmos’ private label, atmos Pink, a first for the US. Designed by the women’s team based in Japan and boasts classic pieces with a ‘Tokyo twist’ focused on comfort and versatility.
Mel Peralta, atmos’ Global VP of brand concepts, says about the store, ‘We believe in giving our female sneaker customers an experience unlike any sneaker boutique in the world… The beautiful Walnut Street boutique allows us to expand our elevated, tailor-made footwear shopping experience and focuses on the community of women who get dressed from the feet up.’
And there’s already more moves in place for 2023. Naked are set to ensure they remain the largest supplier of women’s sneakers in the world, with their City of Lights debut locked for later this year.
Don’t add to cart – get dressed, we’re going shopping.