It’s hard to imagine a time before online shopping, social media or influencers, but in 2002, when twin brothers Brian and Vincent Wu opened their first Incu boutique in The Galeries, Sydney, “fashion was still a very closed door”, as Brian tells Broadsheet. The brothers didn’t let that get in the way; they had a singular vision to open a concept store like the ones they were seeing overseas.

“Working in IT in Australia, we used to visit our grandparents in Hong Kong and we would see all these cool stores with interesting brands, and we thought, why not do this in Australia?” says Brian. “At the time, the Australian retail landscape was either luxury or mass market – we didn’t see any in-between. We were always intimidated by the boutiques in Australia and wanted to create something curated but laid-back.”

Seeing a gap in the market – and despite having no fashion experience – they both quit their day jobs and put all their efforts into Incu (“incubating” new talent). Fast-forward to 2022, and its menswear and womenswear multi-concept stores employ more than 250 people and carry cult brands big and small, local and international, from Dries Van Noten, Jacquemus, JW Anderson, Marni and Acne Studios to Eckhaus Latta, Anna Quan and Deiji Studios. They’ve grown to 13 stores around Australia, were the first to bring Topshop down under, stocked Acne before Acne standalone stores landed in Australia, and have collaborated with some of the buzziest brands on the scene, including Ganni, APC and Rag & Bone.

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“In the beginning we went for brands that had a story to tell. Back then it was about educating the customer, telling them the story behind the brand and why they should value the brand. This was before social media, influencers and internet shopping. So, if a new brand wasn’t featured in magazines, it was hard to reach the consumer,” says Vincent, who looks after Incu’s creative elements, while Brian takes the lead on the business side of things.

Like any business, Incu’s success hasn’t been without its ebbs and flows. Six years ago, their success started to slow. “We had a roster of great brands and got too comfortable and stopped pushing ourselves, so we had to recharge, refocus and take some risks,” says Brian.

As they mark their 20th anniversary, the brothers note that nowadays customers are more clued-up and forward-thinking.

“They know what is trending straightaway. So we have to be ahead of the curve,” says Vincent.

“A great example is the brand Coperni,” adds Brian. “We’ve been stocking the brand for a while, but after Coperni’s recent spring/summer ’23 fashion show in Paris, which broke the internet with a spray-on dress, we immediately saw an increase in sales.”

Most recently, they launched the tennis-inspired Jacquemus x Nike collection in Australia, a grand slam for the multi-brand retailer.

“It’s a balancing act. We don’t want to be too experimental but at the same time we need to excite the customer, and it all comes down to intuition,” says Vincent.

Although online retail is now a huge part of Incu, the in-store experience still reigns supreme. “The biggest thing we’ve done in the last year was expanding the size of our stores. We realise the importance of bigger spaces to showcase our brands,” says Brian. “We still want to push and challenge our customers and stock brands that you may not have heard of yet. Maybe we can do that because we’ve been around a long time, but maybe we can do that because we can sit a brand next to a well-known label and mix things up.”

It’s hard not to compare Incu to similar concepts around the world such as Milan’s 10 Corso Como and London-born Dover Street Market, but it’s not a copy-and-paste model. “We wanted to curate an Australian shopping experience. Our stores are a bit more down to earth. Even the fit-outs highlight the Australian lifestyle with lots of warm materials and natural light,” says Brian.

Building a community has always been important to Incu. “We’re nothing without a community, so we’re going to be focusing on how we can facilitate relationships with brands and customers. We want to create spaces for like-minded people to connect,” says Vincent.

“You can have all the best brands but without giving the customer a memorable experience, you’re replaceable,” says Brian.

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