TORONTO — Hailed as one of the original cultivators of luxury street style, Herman Market’s Raif Adelberg knows a thing or two about doing fashion as a boiled-in-the-bones rule breaker.
“My mom always said, ‘Just do you in what you make,’” said Adelberg, whose desire to buck convention and relentlessly mess with new ideas first emerged at age 11 in grade school, when the-then budding aficionado of surf, skate and pop culture began chopping off his pant legs and creating T-shirts in his grandmother’s basement in order to speak truth to who he was.
That itch to try ideas out stayed with him, steering every dogged step as Adelberg launched his first Vancouver-based retail concept, Twentyfour, in 1997; then 2002’s acclaimed emporium Richard Kidd, and later associations with Stüssy skatewear, Buscemi footwear, Herschel Supply Co., and the military-inspired Canadian label Wings + Horns.
Adelberg — who counts Keith Richards, Rihanna, Justin Bieber and Kendall Jenner among his followers — is putting his ideas to the test again this year as he turns to Shopify with the aim of evolving his genderless Herman label to help determine what luxury streetwear should deliver in today’s fast, fluid age of e-commerce.
Launched for spring 2016, Herman’s androgynous design was born out of a simple play on words.
“The clothes I’ve designed over the years have always had a masculine feel. So one day I thought why not create just one collection, label it ‘Her’ and ‘Man’ and make it work for both genders,” Adelberg told WWD.
The bespoke brand sprang to life, blending the music scene on the Sunset Strip with Adelberg’s signature surf and skate style. Luxurious details like hand-spun, hand-knit cashmere, as well as other quality fabrics and trims, further helped set Herman’s designs apart from its competitors.
To date the brand’s growth has been “measured and thoughtful,” according to Herman’s representatives. Yet ever true to his taste for experimentation, Adelberg recently decided to exit the traditional marketing model used to launch the brand and move to a more vertically integrated strategy. As a result, Adelberg severed ties with his international sales agency, closed the brand’s Italian showroom and pulled all production back to Vancouver.
Then, instead of wholesaling his label to one of the many multibrand e-commerce sites, Adelberg decided to take a different route. After studying the market, he moved Herman Market to the Ottawa-based e-commerce platform Shopify, gauging it as a better option given today’s far-reaching changes in traditional wholesale, as well as the mounting need among consumers for instant gratification online.
“We pay lots of money for showroom fees, so the margins were better going direct to the consumer,” said Adelberg. “We’ve not taken the wholesale element out entirely. But I don’t produce for a buyer and then place an order now. Buyers can get a code and immediately purchase items online.”
More important still, Adelberg was no longer “into doing thousands of garments. You design, make the sample, ship, collect. There’s so many components. I’ve tried that in the past. It’s not exciting to me now,” he said.
What does thrill Adelberg, however, is working smaller and more quickly to get luxury goods into the hands of consumers.
“Designers and companies often get mad at fast-fashion retailers like H&M and Zara. But there’s no reason why we can’t make a better-quality product and pivot more quickly with it,” said Adelberg. “We just need to create smaller collections with faster delivery, do it on a luxury level and keep consumers engaged in the process online.
“Let me put it you this way,” he laughed. “I got a call on Tuesday evening for an item a celebrity client needed in Las Vegas on Thursday. When the call came I could actually do this thing. The item was on the FedEx truck by 4 p.m., in Las Vegas by Thursday and on stage that evening. That’s the change we’re facing in this new playing field. It’s all about the race to get things out to consumers without losing your authenticity.”
Now designed and produced under the same roof, each Herman piece is photographed upon completion and within hours is made available online with social media promotion. Items are then shipped directly to shoppers in eight countries, as well as 30 international suppliers.
“Today, we’re truly global. We’re in Asia, Italy, London, Qatar, Russia and North America,” said Adelberg. “We never put anything out without quality and what we don’t sell, we repurpose. But with this new model there’s no down time between making and selling. It’s easier, more fluid and doesn’t take much manpower.
“We’re not an online department store. But now we can do things to create our ‘market’-like world, augment as we grow and keep control of our story,” he said.