Mai Vu and Dimitri Koumbis, cofounders of digital native brand Bishop Collective, today unveiled the firm’s first brick-and-mortar store, a 700-square-foot unit at 143 Ludlow Street on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
Bishop Collective sells ethically sourced women’s wear, accessories and home decor from like-minded designers, as well as proprietary products such as candles under the Bishop Collective label. Featured brands include Dusen Dusen, which is inspired by Italian industrial design and Scandinavian textiles; H. Fredriksson, oversize loosely draped garments; Megan Huntz, limited-edition runs of vintage dead stock fabrics; Micaela Greg, California-made knitwear constructed from high-quality Italian yarns, and Whit, clean, modern-shaped items. Prices range from $36 to $500.
Vu and Koumbis support American-made labels and follow a slow fashion model. “We work with a lot of designers who do capsule collections where one piece will hold over for many seasons,” Vu said. “We have to educate consumers about how to appreciate design again, instead of coming in every week and wanting to see something new, which pushes this idea of consumption.”
The store allows Vu and Koumbis to explain why Bishop Collective’s prices are slightly higher. “It’s because things are made beautifully,” Koumbis said. “The quality is really good and the silhouettes are great. Slow fashion means that things are done well and done with quality.”
Vu said overseas customers, especially Europeans, are more familiar with the concept of slow fashion. “When an American consumer comes in, it’s an educational experience,” she said. “It’s very important that we inform them. We’re both academics, and we’re both still teaching. The beauty of our concept is that we get a lot of feedback from our classrooms.”
The two met in 2011 while both were teaching at the Art Institute of New York City. Motivated by classroom discussions about stronger ethical standards and more transparency within the supply chain, they teamed up in 2013 to launch Bishop Collective.
Koombis and Vu are instructors in the fashion design and fashion merchandising departments of Parsons School of Design and Rutgers University, and Kent State University, respectively. Between them, they teach courses such as trend forecasting, visual merchandising, retailing, product development, and professional practices and portfolio.
The partners’ fashion backgrounds go beyond academia. Prior to teaching, Koumbis worked in visual merchandising at Urban Outfitters, then transitioned to retail store design. Vu worked at club Monaco during college and was an archivist at Ralph Lauren, where she had a rarified view of the designer’s inspirations.
Bishop Collective’s store follows the web site’s lead in offering a modest amount of product. “We want to keep things on the web site as small and manageable as possible,” Koumbis said. “When I’m shopping online, I get distracted. Most web sites are for research, but for us, it’s just another touch point. It’s another way to get involved.”
A three-month pop-up on Mulberry Street in NoLIta during the 2017 holiday period “helped us figure out how much space we needed. We did a lot of research,” Vu said. “We looked at space for a couple of years. We wanted a quintessential New York retail spot. When we came across this, it was exactly what we were looking for.”
The new store has large windows, an exposed brick wall and skylight. “Paired with contemporary minimal detailing, it creates a nice atmosphere,” Vu said.
“The store will allow us to react more immediately to strong-selling styles,” said Koumbis, adding that he and Vu, who are self-financing their latest venture, plan to open additional units. “We want to be very strategic,” Koumbis said. “We’re going to branch out to where our customers are coming from. Los Angeles will be next. We want Bishop Collective to be a destination and not oversaturate the market.”