When you think of house labels, it's likely that the first association is not synonymous with excellence. House wine, house bands, and house cats are all typically considered inferior to third party, independently-created fare (and also dogs). Today we're taking a look at a handful of brands started by traditional retail stores that buck this trend and offer, for the most part, more affordable takes on both contemporary pieces and modern styles.
For businesses, the economic drivers behind starting a private label or store brand are clear: an in-house brand will have higher profit margins than third party goods, it creates customer loyalty, and in some cases can increase bargaining power when negotiating with external suppliers. In some cases retailers will go to great lengths to disguise internal offerings as third party, with the assumption being that a customer is more likely to turn his or her nose up at a house brand than a designer one. This is a strategy employed to great lengths by Amazon, but those aren't the types of labels discussed in this piece.
From a customer's side, shoppers view in-house labels as a way to save money compared to the cost of national or internationally known brands when two products are similar, and customers may also see a psychological benefit from a reduction in the number of choices they are forced to make when deciding between items; if there's only one type of mustard, or jean jacket, to be purchased, carrying only an in-house brand can alleviate decision fatigue.
History & Basic Info: Need Supply opened its doors in Richmond, VA in 1996; NEED was launched in May of 2016. Need Supply has grown from a regional destination to an international favorite, with a Shibuya, Tokyo location opened in 2015. For the NEED line, according to Creative Director Gabriel Ricioppo, via Gear Patrol, "We focused on items we felt were core pieces [...] The line will grow in its complexity but we plan to always stock great basics and denim. Those are foundational pieces for most people."
Products Offered, by Gender: For men, NEED has expanded their initial denim and chino offerings to include knit hats, an assortment of branded and unbranded tees and sweatshirts, as well as a selection of jackets and button down shirts. Colors are black or neutral, and there is nary a pattern to be found. For women, in addition to a variety of denim pants and jackets, NEED includes dresses, blouses and tops in a palette of mostly blacks and blues, with the occasional muted, off-red for good measure.
Price Points (Men's): Pants range from $135-$185, tees start at $35, and jackets are $150 and upwards
Writer's $0.02: Need Supply has long carried many of menswear's core brands, like Alden, Gitman Vintage, Common Projects and Our Legacy, and their own NEED line sits nicely alongside these staples. NEED is not dissimilar to APC in its take on well-made foundational pieces, but there also is not a ton of risk being taken in color, cut or pattern. Many of the pieces from past seasons can be found on sale, which provides perhaps the most compelling reason to consider them over their third party shelf mates.
History & Basic Info: Mohawk General Store, now with four locations throughout southern California, was founded in 2008 on LA's Mohawk Street; SMOCK was created in 2014. SMOCK garments are produced in Japan, with inspiration coming from, according to store founders Bo & Kevin Carney, "The smock, traditionally a protective garment worn by artists and craftsmen, has come to symbolize the creative and industrious [and SMOCK is] a collection of elevated everyday menswear and womenswear, based on the timeless utilitarian pieces they've kept for years in their personal archive."
Products Offered, by Gender: For men, SMOCK boasts a diverse selection of button down shirts, Japanese-inspired pants, tops and robes, hats, denim, pants, tees and footwear. For women, SMOCK offers long and short sleeve shirts in a variety of cuts, flowing coats and jackets, and trousers and dresses in multiple fabric options.
Price Points (Men's): Hats begin around $70, pants and casual shirts start at $200, t shirts from $100, and footwear in the $200-$300 range.
Writer's $0.02: Mohawk was one of the early US-based retailers on the leading edge of cool-guy Japanese brands like Hender Scheme and Nonnative, so it's not surprising to see an in-house line that takes its cues from Japan; SMOCK is designed in Los Angeles but, as mentioned above, manufactured in Japan. SMOCK is the most wide-ranging of the four labels covered in this article, so there's something there for everyone, but while some of the collection is inspiring it would benefit from a focus less on volume and more on elevating each individual piece above its competitors.
History & Basic Info: HAVEN, which opened in 2006 and today boasts stores in Vancouver and Toronto, is arguably Canada's premier destination for menswear; Fall 2017 marks the premiere of an in-house line by the same name. In 2014 HAVEN released its first private collection under the Cypress brand, and subsequent releases through2016 focused primarily on outwear - it's unclear if the Cypress brand will continue or if it has been replaced by the HAVEN label as there is no more listing for the Cypress brand on HAVEN's site.
Products Offered, by Gender: HAVEN is a mens' only outpost; in addition to branded hats, t shirts and sweatshirts, HAVEN's first collection offers up a small selection of denim and flannel shirts, jeans, cargo pants, and jackets, and rounds out with collaborative eyewear and bags.
Price Points (Men's): T shirts from $50, hats at $65, flannels at $180, denim at $300 and outwear starting at $275.
Writer's $0.02: While HAVEN carries brands known for pushing design boundaries, like TAHAKIRO MIYASHITA The Soloist, YSTRDY'S TOMORROW AND blackmeans, their HAVEN line is rather down the middle and leans a bit too heavily, for this writer's taste, on branded pieces. We mentioned above that we don't know if the Cypress line has been supplanted by the HAVEN label or if some of the Cypress designs will find new life in HAVEN, but more technical outwerwear or an in-house riff on pieces popularized by the likes of Kapital or Visvim styles would be a more interesting direction than this current season.
History & Basic Info: Founded by brothers Eric and Andrew Dayton in 2011, Askov Finlayson is located in the same Minneapolis, MN warehouse as the brothers' other ventures, The Bachelor Farmer and Marvel Bar; Askov Finlayson started their in-house label in 2013. As the brothers Dayton put it, their pieces are, "Inspired by Minnesota’s traditions of exploration and year-round enjoyment of the outdoors, as well as the thriving design and artistic community in Minneapolis. It’s the combination of perseverance and creativity that we consider to be among the finest characteristics of America’s North."
Products Offered, by Gender: Askov Finlayson is a men's store, but their tees, beanies and sweatshirts are of a unisex design. Most of their collection is centered around exploratory or outdoor-thematic items like swim trunks, pants that can go from the trail to the kitchen, sweaters and casual shorts.
Price Points (Men's): Pants from $198, shorts from $168, hats at $29, sweatshirts starting at $85, and sweaters at $248.
Writer's $0.02: Many of Askov Finlayson's designs, including their popular NORTH hats, are products of the brand's Keep The North Cold initiative, a partnership supporting student education in the fight against climate change. Lacking from their offerings are outwear (save for a lone fleece), or any type of shirting that isn't a tee. That being said, their pants offerings are some of the most interesting on the market, in particular their two-toned Explorer Pant and sage Overdyed Vermillion Pant. The draw to Askov Finlayon pieces is their Made in America construction and the promise of lasting many winters, and we're hopeful they expand their offerings in future seasons.
Did we miss someone? If you've got any other in-house labels that you're particularly fond of, hit us up on Twitter to make sure we don't forget them in a future roundup.