At the start of last year, twin brothers and business partners Brian and Vincent Wu of clothing brand Incu graced the cover of our second print issue of Broadsheet Sydney. It was during a time when many though retail was dead (that time is still now), but business was going strong for them and still is as they approach their milestone 10th year in retail.
A decade after throwing in the towel on their corporate jobs in IT and marketing, the Wus have this week opened their seventh Incu store in Australia, a menswear store in QV Melbourne, with the others dispersed between Melbourne and their hometown of Sydney.
“It’s weird,” offers Brian. “It’s been 10 years now but I feel like we’re finally starting to find out feet.” We sitting at meeting table at their Surry Hills headquarters, surrounded by racks full of checked shirts and piles of colourful socks. “We’re starting to really understand retail and the challenges of retail right now with online and the economy and the fact that no one is spending as much as they used to. It has really forced us to think about how retail works.”
Though Incu has always been rather boutique focused in terms of the brands they stock, they’ve been keen to make sure the product is accessible (think casual cool, trousers, denim and shirts for men, jewellery, sweaters, blouses and cute dresses for women). So if a customer walks in who just wants buy nice clothes, a fine, curated selection of brands – from ACNE to A.P.C. – are there for the casual but discerning dresser. But if you look back to the brands that they once stocked and what they stock now, a lot has changed. “Partly because we’ve grown up and the customer base has grown with us too,” says Brian.
“I look at some of the brands that we did five years ago, and I’m like ‘How did we buy them?’” adds Vincent. When they first started, they were selling mostly local labels such Buddhist Punk, Prudence Star and Victoria Intimacy – many of which are no longer around. But it’s much for of an international mix now, with labels like Marc Jacobs, Comme des Garcons, Play and Rag & Bone alongside local players Vanishing Elephant, Something Else, Karen Walker and their own range, Weathered, which launched last year.
Now, it’s almost an even split of foreign brands and Aussie ones. “We’re not just going to pick up an Australian label because it’s Australian,” says Brian. “We have to make sure that they’re considered alongside international brands and make sure that they have the same benchmark.”
We discuss how the internet has made so many brands recognisable in an international context, as they recall buying trips where they’d bring back new brands that were huge in America but almost unknown down under. “Now every time we pick up a new brand people already know it, because you can found out about any brand without really leaving your house,” Brian continues.
And now, due both to the online environment and the bigger players setting up shop in Australia (think Topshop, Zara and soon Uniqlo), the Wu brothers are taking a new tack and making their own rules. “It gives us the chance to become really original and innovative in the way we do things,” Vincent says.
The Wus have noted that it’s about making customers feel loyal to the company and trying to create a community around it, which is what they have been doing more recently through collaborations with the Sydney Opera House, Gallery AS, Adidas, a rooftop cinema event at the Paramount Building and, most recently, creating an Incu gelato flavour with Gelato Messina – cacao gelato mixed with swirls of mandarin sorbet, matching their Incu orange – which will be available in Incu stores over the next week.
These things are not necessarily clothing-related, but that’s almost the point. They’re thinking more laterally about what customers are interested in outside of what they are wearing. “We’ve always tried to target people that have a general interest in fashion but have a life out of fashion,” says Brian. “If we meet people who just love fashion and all they love is fashion, it’s hard to relate.”
So what they’ve really focused on over the last year and a half is to create a better store experience, to make sure that people coming in still get a ‘retail experience’. It’s something that the online stores can never replicate. It’s about walking into a store and feeling like the store understands you, understands your lifestyle and what you’re into, which can be seen in things like the music they play and the other items they sell in store, such as magazines, accessories, travel bags and cameras.
“We’re starting to get the confidence to understand the customer’s needs rather than just following the rules of fashion and that’s really made a big difference,” says Brian.
“Because the old business model is thrown out the window now,” Vincent continues. “You look at all those big stores that have gone with a traditional business model for retail and it’s just not working. It’s trying to reinvent how we operate.”
Incu are releasing their 10th Birthday Issue Incu Mag today in stores (Thursday October 18). Email firstname.lastname@example.org to request a complimentary copy or pick one up at any Incu store.
And their Incu x Messina flavour will be available in-store this week and next at the following times.
Brian and Vincent’s top 10 birthday pieces in store:
1. Saturdays Surf NYC Ennis Boardshorts
2. Incu Presents Quoddy Blucher
3. Apolis + Incu Melbourne Market Bag
4. Truck Nest book
5. APC Military Shirt
6. Richer Poorer socks (selection)
7. Weathered Mehrtens Shirt Jacket
8. Vanishing Elephant Asa Skirt
9. Benah Alex iPad Travel Wallet
10. Rag and Bone Sevilla Sweater