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NEW YORK — Creatures of the Wind is about to take flight, thanks to a major investment from The Dock Group.
After speaking with potential moneymen for a year or so, founders Shane Gabier and Christopher Peters have signed a deal with the Los Angeles-based firm, which is headed by Matthew Walker, The Row’s former president and chief operating officer.
Walker declined to reveal the stake he is acquiring in COTW, or the level of the investment, but said The Dock’s strategy is to invest $300,000 to more than $1 million in brands.
The capital infusion is welcome news for the two designers, who have spent the past few years using the basement of their Chicago house as a design studio and taking a very hands-on approach to distribution. The company has less than $1 million in sales.
“Initially, we tried to ship from Chicago but we use New York factories. We started shipping directly from Midtown, literally carrying boxes from factory to factory, which is tiring if you are doing a really big order,” Peters said. “It was pretty unique.”
Walker, who has taken on the role of COTW’s president and chief executive officer, will be spending more time in New York. During a phone interview Wednesday from his Los Angeles office, he said his “multiplatform company helps young designers navigate the early stages of growth.” Crippen, the sportswear label started by J. Brand cofounder Susie Crippen, is another brand in his portfolio.
Thanks to the Dock Group’s support, COTW will have 14 or 15 employees instead of three and a production and sourcing infrastructure that did not exist before. “They’ve been doing pretty much all of the front-office and back-office themselves,” Walker said. “I have a very good feeling that once they are relieved of some of the day-to-day operations, they will be more focused and energized, and the company will move a lot smoother.”
Negotiations are under way for a SoHo design studio that will also serve as a New York office for The Dock Group. Now that Gabier and Peters have a Lower East Side apartment, they will divide their time between downtown Manhattan and Chicago’s “semi up-and-coming” Humboldt Park neighborhood, Gabier said. Partners in life and work, the pair met at their alma mater, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where Gabier still teaches. After graduation, Gabier worked in Antwerp, Belgium, for designers Dirk Schönberger and Jurgi Persoons before returning to SAIC. Two of his former students, Tamara Malas and Michael Walls, are joining the company full time.
Habier and Peters borrowed a line from the old Johnny Mathis song “Wild Is the Wind” to name their company, and initially their efforts were project-based. “This is just something that Chris and I have felt compelled to do,” Gabier said. “Being brought into the Vogue/CFDA Fashion Fund certainly helped. And Ikram [Goldman] has been supersupportive.”
Goldman hooked up Gabier and Peters with the stylist Tabitha Simmons, with whom they have collaborated for five seasons for footwear. The COTW founders have also been traveling to Japan for a yet-to-be-launched collaboration with Sanyo. Walker declined to elaborate, saying, “There are a lot of possible expansions given their distinctive voice. They have already have a fair number of collaborations, and there could be more.”
The duo is also in the running for the 2013-14 International Woolmark Prize. Developing “proper knits,” a category they have experience in, is another pursuit they are excited about, Peters said. Having teamed up with Aline Cautis in the past, Gabier and Peters are brainstorming on new fabrics with the New York-based artist Sarah Sieradzki.
Their label is sold via 20 retailers, including Net-a-Porter, Dover Street Market, Saks Fifth Avenue, Fivestory and Ikram. First things first, Walker aims to build distribution with influential specialty stores for the brand to be positioned properly in all markets. “Even though the company has been around, it is just getting off the ground. It has the potential to be an incredibly influential designer label in the U.S. and abroad,” Walker said.
Going forward, a portion of the collection will be made in Japan and the rest will be produced in the U.S. Once retail distribution is broadened, Walker will zero in on advertising, launching concept shops, freestanding stores and e-commerce. All in all, The Dock Group’s input, especially the organizational structure, should make the daily grind less so, Gabier said. “A lot of the pressure has been lifted. We’re still obviously really busy, but now we’re a little more relaxed.”
Bound for a week on Nantucket, the designers were looking forward to catching up with relatives, playing dominoes, riding bikes, swimming, eating good dinners and sleeping a lot. “There’s really not a lot of temptation out there to do more than that,” Gabier said. “We really like to travel and move around a lot. Travel is really important to us personally, but I don’t think it has any direct relation to the end product. Wherever we are, it’s more about the dialogue between us.”