The notion that retail is changing is old news; the change is already unfolding.
Reimagining Hobo Bags’ (Annapolis Junction, Md.) strategy, then, called for the innovative touch of design firm Howard Ash Inc. (New York). Inspired by evolving experience stores like New York’s Story, Howard Ash, Owner and Founder, Howard Ash Inc., set about implementing his vision of what he calls “transient retail” for the leather handbag brand.
“There’s a highly curated way that consumers filter their environments these days, through storied and personal lenses,” says Ash. “We all collect possessions that have greater meaning and originality than mass-produced objects. We wanted Hobo to represent this style of living.”
For Hobo, signing a long lease in a single spot wasn’t the way to go. “We created a strategy that embraces constant newness, freshness,” says Ash. “Our approach is to see retail as a transient experience. The constant movement of the physical space keeps it relevant in a world that has a short attention span.” This concept manifested as a temporary store called The Leather Lounge, located in SoHo, one of New York’s hippest neighborhoods.
According to Ash, the Hobo Bag brand is steeped in ’70s heritage and folklore.
“In my earliest memories, I was playing with scraps of leather under the craft bench in the ’70s leather shop where my mother learned her trade,” says Chief Visionary Officer Koren Ray, Hobo Bags. “The Leather Lounge was created to be true to the roots of Hobo and the artisans that continue to inspire the brand today.”
This led to the design team creating “a 360-degree design narrative for the brand with a rough luxe sensibility that celebrates ‘worn’ over ‘brand new,’ repurposing and upcycling with a mix of vintage discovered pieces,” Ash says. “The same design ethos was used in creating The Leather Lounge: a nostalgic tribute to the art and craft of leather.”
A departure from Hobo’s flagship in Annapolis, Md., The Leather Lounge in SoHo was open for just six weeks. Howard Ash Inc. sourced more than 100 elements to create the environment — most were discovered in vintage shops and repurposed, while some of the bigger pieces were custom made using retro materials. Along with its edited product selection, the space played host to an artisan series, showcasing the works of local artists, as well as a local coffee purveyor, hand-tooling and painting workshops and live music. The Hobo product didn’t lead the story, the in-store experience did.
“We created an installation of hides at the entry to communicate the brand’s provenance in leather,” Ash explains. The design team also tried to incorporate ’70s references, including macramé hanging panels in the suede shop. Reclaimed wood pallets served as fixtures during the day, and transformed into a stage for evening musical performances. A 15-foot workstation crafted from reclaimed wood and found tin tiles surrounded the coffee bar.
So what’s next for the brand? “When it comes to finding locations, we’re looking for a bigger idea than a storefront,” he says. “We want something more than leasing an empty space and putting a brand logo over the door. An emotive and less commercial space fits the indie spirit of the brand.
“In SoHo, this led us to Artists & Fleas, which had just opened a location that had a brand new event space. It was meant to be.” Next, the intention is to take The Leather Lounge on the road with a localized version that sets up temporary roots in other cities.
With well-known artist collaborations and unexpected locations in the pipeline, Hobo Bags represents far more than just a cookie-cutter pop-up: it’s the constant evolution of the consumer experience. In short, transient retail looks set to be the gold standard for strategy in 2018.