Menswear has many facets, from fabrics to construction, style to audience. An often ignored, but crucial component to all menswear retail environments is story-telling. In order to sell a product, not only do you have to present something that’s visually appealing to the consumer, but you also have to provide them with a scenario where they would wear that item. East + West, a menswear store in St. Louis, Missouri, understands the importance of connecting the consumer with their products. Today, we spoke with store owner Brian Simpson about his high-quality, authentic offerings and his desire to create community.
Tell us a little about East and West, how you got started, and your role there?
I own East and West with my wife Lauren. We opened it in 2012, so almost 3 years ago. Really, at the heart of it, it’s a men’s lifestyle shop. We try to bring in brands and products that we believe in, and ones that we think tell a story and give value for what you’re paying. We definitely like to emphasize products that are made in the USA, but not all of our products are.
What made you decide to feature items for men in your store?
It’s something that’s always been an interest, hobby and passion of mine. A lot of things I was interested in I couldn’t get access to in St. Louis, so I ended up eventually going to New York or Chicago or San Francisco to shop. There is such a renaissance happening in menswear, and I felt like on a small scale, St. Louis could be a part of that. With the internet, blogging and social media, there’s no reason for St. Louis to be behind the rest of the country when it comes to offering great, unique fashion for men.
You focus on brands that aren’t readily available at other stores in our area. What is your process to locate a brand that’s a good fit for your customers?
Honestly, I start with things that I’ve worn or would like to wear myself. Like anything that interests you and that you get involved with, I began to read and research. Through that process, one product would lead to another. I’d find the jeans that fit me the best, and that would lead to a sweater that was great which led me to find my favorite sweatshirts and the shoes that worked well for me. I just kept finding all these little designers across the country that worked really well for me. It seemed they all had these great urban underground followings. In a lot of ways it reminds me of the Punk music scene, years ago. You’d find a great band from New York or somewhere, and they’d come to St. Louis and maybe only 100 kids would know about them and come to the show, but everyone of those kids was a passionate supporter.
I really focus on finding items and brands that are using amazing fabrics and construction and there’s a lot of great stuff out there. You may be paying $150 for a sweatshirt, but there’s a reason why, and you can totally tell the difference between an item we carry and something you might find at a more mainstream, low-cost store.
Tell us about your customers.
I describe our average customer as the creative professional. They range from 25 to 50 and usually work in some sort of creative industry. Not always the case, but usually. We do get some female shoppers for their male counterparts.
Could you walk us through why you decided to carry the Snake Bite?
We really try to focus on giving our customers a cross-culture experience. I definitely think that guys who are interested in presenting themselves in a certain way in terms of how they put together an outfit, a lot of those same guys are also into the craft industry, in terms of beer and food and music and things like that. There’s a lot of overlap. Instead of regurgitating a lot of information that’s already out there, we try to bring new, less conventional things to people that we think might be of interest to them in another sector of their lives. We see a pattern that a lot of our customers love craft beers, so naturally a key chain that focused on craft beer and had a nice aesthetic and is made in St. Louis, it was just all woven together to be a good product for us to carry.It makes sense for us, because in addition to carrying clothes, we also throw parties where we focus on local restaurants, bars and mixologists, so the craft beer market is very much integrated into our business.
Tell us a little bit more about the events you host and why you decided to incorporate that as part of your business?
At the heart of what we want to do is build relationships with people across the city, even if it’s on a small community level. I think one of the best ways to facilitate that is providing events for people to get together and meet people they maybe wouldn't have met before. We also showcase some of the things we’re most stoked about around town, so we usually feature local restaurants and djs and things like that. We just want to facilitate people getting together and building community, building relationships and networking culturally and out of that, get people working together to impact our city.
What inspires you to keep doing what you are doing on a daily basis?
If I was in this to sell clothes, I wouldn't have survived, nor would I have continued to be interested in it. I love to create and I love to work with people and build relationships and push myself. My wife and I are committed to being here long-term and East and West is one of the ways we thought we could improve the Greater St. Louis area while doing something that was of interest to us and that we are skilled at doing. That’s what keeps me going, continuing to see what evolves the business. I just love meeting new people and it’s inspiring to see all the awesome things going on around town and to be a part of that. What Dan and Kevin are doing with Snake Bite is a great example of that, to see them start the business and see what a great reception it has had around town and the buzz that it’s created, it’s inspiring. I think it’s really neat to see how people are continuing to make St. Louis a place worth not only coming to, but sticking around.
How would you define success as it relates to your business and what do you think has contributed to that success?
We definitely have immediate and long-term goals for the business. However, at the end of the day, if we can make an impact in the city from what we do, I would deem that as a success. If we can make a positive impact in building relationships and creating community, it doesn't matter how long we’d be in business for, whether it’s 5 years or 50 years, that would be a success for me.
In terms of what we want to do, tangibly, we’d love to have a location in the city, that’s one of our next goals. I’d say we’d love to establish a strong St. Louis presence, and then we’re always open to doing something else, but first and foremost we’re focused on the greater St. Louis area. We’re also continuing to expand our online presence as well.
You offer many brands that are Made In America- why is that important to you?
Really our inspiration between offering products made here in America is that we just like to know the people we’re working with. We like to know the story behind the brand and the product and understand what we’re getting. It’s really rooted in how I did my own shopping. I was okay with spending $200 on a pair of jeans as long as I knew the quality I was getting and the people behind it. One of the neat things is that now a lot of the brands I work with I’ve built relationships with. I know the owners or the designers and I know the reasons behind why they do certain things and it’s turned from business relationships to friendships. It’s really cool to work with people where not only do I believe in the product I’m selling, but am also happy to be supporting their livelihood. I think that’s really impactful about having that connection with that brand or that product that you’re working with. Snake Bite is a great story. I’ve known Dan for 15 years, and now I get to sell his product and provide income for him and vice versa for me.
I think it’s absolutely easier to sell a product when you have a connection to it. Most people either have not seen or are not familiar with most of the things we carry because they are smaller brands and they don’t have a lot of exposure. At the end of the day, if I don’t have that connection to a brand, or don’t have that story understanding why it’s worth what it is, then people won’t buy it or invest in it, so that’s why I think it’s critical.
Learn more about East + West here: