Our second showroom visit is to Touba London and their Showroom, called The Showroom Next Door. Run by Fode Sylla, Yuko Fujita and Trevor Griffith, We’ve long been fans of Touba’s knack for finding interesting brands. They’re great at showcasing these brands in a way that makes them, if you excuse the floral tint to the writing here, part of a world. We spoke to Fode and Yuko to find out more about Touba. See the interview below the jump.
Photography: Ivan Oglivie/Selectism.com
We met Fode and Yuko at their space during London’s womenswear fashion week. As you can imagine, the scene at any fashion week is a little desperate. There’s the people who came to work, the people who came to see people work and the people who came to be seen. There’s a freezing looking person in a chiffon jumpsuit waiting to be photographed. No one’s taken a picture yet, but she’s posing nonetheless. And through all this is The Showroom Next Door’s space inside a wing of Somerset House.
Touba was founded back in 2005. “We were trying to promote some of the brands we were selling in the UK. We started with ten or so labels and was fortunate to have a space at Dover Street Market” says Fode. “We knew that we wanted to find other products and felt it was important to start with menswear.” The name for their showroom was more of a simple description than an overarching brand ideology.
When they first started the Showroom Next Door part of Touba in 2009, they partnered with the Inoue Brothers, who also own Environment Salon on London’s Duke Street. “The place we found was right next door to the salon, so we called it the showroom next door.” The first Showroom Next Door was well supported by press and buyers, so they kept the name, rather than having to explain their name change a season later. They since hosted several Showroom Next Door events in Paris, London and once in New York. They’ve come a long way since they first met, back in 2004.
Trevor Griffith was the initiator of Fode and Yuko’s meeting. “He’s a key component” says Fode when asked about Trevor. At the time they were both working at Brown’s, Yuko was a student at the London College of Fashion and Fode was in the UK for the summer because he was also a teacher. The aim was to combine their combined knowledge of the fashion industry, with Yuko having already worked for the likes of Barneys New York and Hermes, Fode having several years of experience in buying, merchandising and the shop floor and Trevor’s fashion knowledge and good connections. It was Trevor who knew the Inoue Brothers and organised the first Showroom Next Door event.
Touba was started as a way to bring lesser-known Japanese brands to the UK. “Initially, we wanted to import Japanese products” says Yuko. “But it was quite difficult because of the currency, the costs and the duty fees to bring them back.” So, while they did achieve initial success with their Japanese products, they decided to focus on European and British brands. This led to them working with several designers you’ve seen gracing this site. “We’ve been very fortunate to work with some key menswear designers during our time” says Fode. “The likes of Casely Hayford, Andrew Bunney, H by Harris, Mr Hare. All of those brands coming together and it was from that point onwards that we figured we could have a strong mix of brands. We were very happy to work with those brands when they were emerging. As they were building their businesses we were also building our business, so we got to grow together.” At this point we interject and wonder if this is the most rewarding part of their work, they both agree and Yuko adds that “It’s a test of our eyes. If something we pick up works, it’s very rewarding.”
So what do they look for when choosing a new brand to join their ranks? “A solid concept behind it. That’s very important,” says Yuko. “For instance, Lou Dalton (a new addition to the Touba roster) has very strong British pop culture references, punk elements and British tailoring. You can see that clearly, which is important for me when I select brands.” Fode agrees, adding longevity onto the end of Yuko’s comment.
While the Internet can make the world seem like a global village, the fact is that different cities offer vastly different opportunities for showrooms. The Showroom Next Door has decided against partaking in the London Collections: Men showcase for now. “It’s just started, we just want to see how it goes. If it’s worth it we’ll join, but at the moment it’s too early,” says Yuko.
Fode expands on this, explaining that their experience in New York, which they’ve since said was too soon, ensured they’d walk before running. “It taught us to carefully move along when the time is right. We don’t have the means to do London right before Paris. And, from our experience, [London] is a good starting point for buyers who often finalize their orders in Paris.” Yuko adds that “Even London Showrooms go to Paris.” which cements its reputation as the business center of menswear during the buying season. This also explains why they put so much effort into their Paris apartment spaces which they use as showrooms.
While we’ve always had a soft spot for the cooly professional showrooms, all hard grey concrete and white walls, Showroom Next Door are great at creating spaces that you’d want to live in. The spaces themselves are stocked with the kind of clothes you wish were in your wardrobe, the kind of food you eat when you’re impressing a new partner and the kind of home furnishings you plan on getting once your old IKEA couch finally breaks down. Essentially, it’s a living version of a tumblr site. “It’s all Yuko,” says Fode. “She’s great merchandising different product together. The challenge has always been to find the right location with our budget. So we started working with apartments and upgraded apartments as we went along.”
While we’re keen to get Nabokov about Touba’s spaces, they’re keen to focus on the brands. “It wouldn’t be a showroom if the brands selected didn’t do a fantastic job,” says Fode. “You can have the best location but it wouldn’t matter.” They also focus on a close working relationship with the brands they have. “In that sense we’re not typical agents just selling product. We want to nurture brands and we want to progress alongside them” says Yuko. “I don’t want to be called a sales agent. We try to be communicators.”
Jason Dike is a london based writer who’s contributed to the likes of Esquire UK and Men’s Health amongst other publications. He has a highly entertaining (his own words), but sporadically updated (our words) website at jasondike.co.uk and you can follow him on twitter at @jasondike.