An Interview with Huiben Shop

While there are countless online boutiques serving the latest items from designer brands, it’s harder to find a carefully curated selection of past season items. For most hardcore collectors and enthusiasts, the only solution has been to scour eBay, international auction sites and online marketplaces on forums and Grailed. At the end of 2016, a new online boutique shop emerged called Huiben. The shop had a very focused lineup of designer goods, including some very covetable items ranging from Acronym to vintage Helmut Lang. Also refreshing was the fact that the shop felt so independent and carried both women’s and men’s products. The site is launching plenty of great new items at 2PM PST on Thursday, Jan 12, 2017.

I had a chance to speak with the founders of Huiben and get the inside scoop

How did the concept for Huiben come about and what was the process of building out the site like?

Richard: The options that were available for selling clothing were frustrating at times, so Huiben came about as a place where I can create the selling experience that is right for me–in essence, it became a tool for me to carry out what I like to do on my own terms.

Eddie: Exactly. I think the act of putting together a specific place for us was simply the next logical step after what we’d been doing prior, which is just selling through other platforms. We had the volume and we cover a pretty broad range of styles and designers so we decided to put together an independent online shop.

Hafeez: As for the name, Richard and I had been brainstorming name ideas for a while before Richard’s girlfriend, Madeline, suggested ‘Huiben.’ It has a couple different meanings, one of which is to ‘return to one’s roots’, which is fitting given our vast array of designer clothing from past seasons.

Richard: Yeah clothing that, within the quick paced cycles of seasonal fashion, would be deemed outdated. One of the ideas that I want to explore with this project is a slowing down of fashion, through reuse, rediscovery, and revitalization of older fashion that can still have value in the present day landscape.

Hafeez: Like Eddie said earlier, we happen to cover each other’s bases well. In terms of social media presence and also in terms of personal style. We are all into different things, for example; Eddie buys a lot of Yohji which I don’t touch, Richard buys Soloist but I prefer Number (N)ine etcetera. We operate symbiotically as three different but like-minded people.

Richard: On a technical level – the scale of our operation, the website user experience, the visual presentation and photography – all of these aspects reflect how I’d like the users to experience the clothing. They complement the garments and create a gallery almost, where users could shop without being overwhelmed by the volume of products, as well as browse and examine the archive through consistent documentation and detailed photography. For example, the grid consists of three columns with spacious framing to enable a more considered browsing experience.

It’s refreshing to see a site like this that has such an interesting selection of designer goods for both guys and girls. How did you decide on what products to sell through the shop?

Eddie: I don’t try too hard to adhere to any buying standards. I’ll trust my intuition and taste about any particular piece that I come across. What I think separates us (well maybe me personally) is a pretty unique perspective when it comes to finding things. I think the ‘search’ for rare and unexpected things is really exciting–there’s simply so much stuff out there to sift through and digest–every item listing has its own anthropological attachments that peek through the photographs and descriptions. Spending the time to really comb through such a sea of things and people can result in finding things that, maybe, others have never seen before–things that people have never known about. I want the collection I present on Huiben to be a reflection of that type of search and represent that degree of rarity.

Richard: I’ll also just go by what catches my eye. If there’s any rule, it’s that I won’t buy anything I wouldn’t wear myself. You’ll notice I have a lot of repeated listings and that’s because a lot of the time after I sell something I’ll have customers asking me to contact them when I have that item available for sale again. I guess through that relationship I’ve really honed in on searching for specific items so I can be the one who ‘finds’ the piece for the audience.

Hafeez: My view is a mixture of what Eddie’s and Richard’s attitudes are. A lot of the time, I can’t really sell what I would actually wear since it’s a bit outlandish and in really small sizes. So, sometimes my buys reflect more of what I’ve seen from my peers. The clothes I choose are a manifestation of the connection between me and the people I associate with, not as an appropriation of their style but rather, an attempt to find things I really appreciate that maybe people aren’t so aware of. It’s generative, wherein I can help them further their appreciation of certain designers or certain garments. For womenswear specifically, I’ve just always been a fan of dresses, accessories, women’s trousers and things like that – I’m really interested in the freedom a designer is given when thinking about the female figure. There’s so much more to think about, like the weird social attitudes towards femininity and the array of options when it comes to cuts or shapes due to the female figure. Maybe it’s because I’m a dude and all that stuff is foreign to me. Other than that, a lot of women’s stuff fits me a lot better than men’s does so I buy it to wear more than just to appreciate really.

What are your goals with Huiben and where would you like to see the shop go next?

Richard: Eventually, I want this site to become a catalog of everything I’ve liked. Everything that has caught my eye I’d like to handle, experiment with, and document on Huiben. Soon I’d like to write more personal subjective prose on particular pieces. Not exactly a review, but a way to jot down my experiences with a particular item. Beyond that, I’d like to expand the site into a creative outlet, considering our past experience in fashion publications and photography.

Eddie: Richard said earlier that Huiben is a place where he can do what he likes on his own terms. Using the store as a starting point, we want to grow and extend that idea to the people close to us, offering a place for friends to publish anything they’d create. I know a handful of people with really valuable perspectives on fashion and nowhere to voice their insight. That’s what drives me to grow this platform. Even further on down the line, I hope the rigorous research and investigation of the clothes we sell can help foster discussion around designers, pieces, and broader ideas in fashion. I would love to reintroduce a sense of community beyond price checks, sizing questions, drop information, and all the other trite technicalities that center fashion around consumption.

Hafeez: Yeah exactly, I want it to be more than just a shop. I want it to be an interactive creative outlet. All of us like making stuff. Eddie does those really great edits and Richard takes lovely photos. I want the same things Eddie and Richard want for this site to become, so I don’t have much to add.

What are some of the three of yours favorite designers or personal grails?

Richard: Lewis Leathers, for one thing it’s custom made, you feel like this jacket’s made for you (the cut is literally molded to your body). The details provide an overlay of heritage from the brand, but then the jacket is specifically and idiosyncratically molded to your own physical form. The ethos of the brand too; how there’s still only one physical shop in England since it’s inception in 1892, how you’d email the shop back and forth to make your order, how they cater to all type of people, makes it feel more personal.

Hafeez: Helmut Lang, because he really makes you pay attention. Everything is so considered and your appreciation of the garment extends well beyond just the first impression. You can get sucked into every decision made, I sometimes have even caught myself wondering why he chose certain tag colours for certain garments as ridiculous as that sounds. Nothing is overlooked, nothing was a sloppy solution. In terms of personal grails, right now I would love to find one of those Undercover women’s Borremans wool coats from Autumn/Winter 15.

Eddie: Instead of seeing things in the perspective of ‘finding a grail,’ I’d rather search for something that might fill the role of the perfect “something.” One day I’ll find my perfect coat, a piece that feels like a shield against the weather and against people’s gazing eyes, mediating both the physical and social space surrounding me to suit how I feel. Such an abstract criteria like that is difficult to fulfill but if there’s anything I’m good at, it’s digging.

I’m sure that before launching the site you guys had plenty of experience as shoppers first. What do you think is missing from the online shopping experience?

Eddie: I think a lot of stores don’t take the time to really tell the story of the piece they’re trying to sell. If it’s something special, I want to hear about what makes it stand out, and I want the full picture of what it is before I buy it. That’s why, when I take pictures, I try to document everything of interest to me in a garment.

Richard: With most online experiences, fast fashion or otherwise, there’s so much focus on producing and selling a large volume of clothing at an “accessible” price. Besides the fact that the shopping experience itself becomes incredibly overwhelming, my main concern is that this output is totally unsustainable. Workers are underpaid and underrepresented, quality of production goes down, enabling cheap clothing to be considered disposable and massively contributing to waste. Moreover, original designs of clothing can become diluted and underappreciated (who would pay $500 for a bomber I can get for $50?). We try to counteract this by bringing attention to revitalizing older fashion, letting your purchases become more considered and less accumulative. Of course any form of consumerism is wasteful, but we try to guide our audience away from a more wasteful consumption to fewer, more thoughtful secondhand purchases.

Hafeez: I find there’s no real personality when it comes to shopping in stores, even moreso online. We like the idea of buying from ‘someone,’ and having that interaction about clothes with another person who is just as interested and invested in the garments as you are. There also isn’t enough in-depth analysis or personal commentary about clothing, I’m always interested in seeing what people feel about a certain item and why – we try to provide that at Huiben.

Richard: Yeah and moreover, a lot of other consignment platforms lack control in their inventory. The pitfall of a marketplace is that the regulation/curation is too difficult. You end up losing your consistency.

Hafeez: Like Richard said, the garments we have deserve to be properly appreciated. My frustration with a lot of online marketplaces or consignment stores is that clothes with true value get that value diluted when placed in the same domain as kind of worthless, trendy, over-hyped stuff.