In a recent chat with GQ, Union Los Angeles owner Chris Gibbs discussed what it means to be exclusive in streetwear. According to Gibbs, this struggle involves the desire to not become mainstream, maintain the special feeling around one's shop, and not limiting the profits of the business.
Gibbs, like others in streetwear, originally felt that brands and the people behind them had to portray a cool-guy snobbery attitude to everyone else. Anyone who was an insider was able to ignore people who weren't down with the scene, and the people in the know would get the clothes they deserved.
Talking about streetwear's formative years at Union NYC and Supreme, Gibbs said, "Originally we were a place where if you didn't know what was up, we weren't going to tell you. We weren't going to help you, and we weren't making ourselves available." He continued, "Maybe we considered ourselves kind of as gatekeepers to this new thing, and if you didn't know about it, you could go fuck yourself."
Things would change for Gibbs—even though his store didn't have a website two years ago, he's tried to make it more accessible to the people who love the upcoming brands and next-level clothes that he stocks. "I realized we didn't have to have that attitude. People wanted what we were offering, and it was so unique that we didn't have to stop them from getting it," Gibbs said. "We needed to stop being about 'being exclusive,' because at the end of the day, it wasn't serving us properly. We couldn't survive as a business being the world's best-kept secret."
Instead, the exclusivity of Union is about the brands the shop carries. If you go there, you know you're going to shop a collection that is unlike another boutique in the world. And this is Gibbs' goal. "I believe our exclusivity comes from our edit," Gibbs said. "This is going to sound super conceited, but I gotta keep it real: I think our edit is better than any other place on Earth. The designers, they see that we make a different edit than anyone else, and we represent their brand in a way that's still unique."
Exclusivity will never escape the essence of streetwear. Without the basic laws of supply and demand, it just becomes boring clothes that are sold in mall stores. It may look like streetwear, but it doesn't feel the same. Luckily, Gibbs understands what keeps the culture churning, and is at the forefront of re-defining what "exclusive" means in a time when everyone has nearly unlimited access to the information and imagery that was once only seen by a few downtown cool kids.