The Era Of New Retail: Caleb Flowers Of HATHENBRUCK(TM)
The Era Of New Retail: An Interview With Caleb Flowers Of HATHENBRUCK(TM)
Interview by Zayyar Win Thein
Zayyar: Hey Caleb, thanks for taking the time to share your insights and experiences with our audience. Let’s start with some basics so we can get to know you better, where are you from originally and can you give us an intro into what you do?
Caleb: I’m originally from Louisville, Kentucky but have been residing in Utah for the past 12 years. I started a company called HATHENBRUCK(TM), it’s a creative endeavour where I try and design things and services for myself and other people.
Zayyar: I read that you worked in a skateshop growing up, what was that experience like and how did that influence your tastes today?
Caleb: Yeah I was really into the skateshop scene. Talking about skate videos and cool brands with people. The format of skate shop talk helped shaped a lot of the relationships I still have today.
Zayyar: I’m sure you must get this a lot but Salt Lake City doesn’t spring to mind when it comes to streetwear and skate culture. How was it growing up in that environment being quite different from larger cities? Was there even more of an emphasis on community because of the isolation to those cities?
Caleb: Salt Lake is really cool. It’s like this melting pot for outdoor people and kids from the east coast that want to in the mountains. The kids that grow up here just feel like there missing something on the coast’s and just want to leave. I love that rotation, it’s super relatable to experiences I had during my adolescents.
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Zayyar: Around that time what were some of the brands and culture shifts you were noticing?
Caleb: For me, Nike SB was the right of passage. In 2002 wearing SB’s to skate in meant a little bit of vulnerability and probably a lot of saying “their super comfortable”. The people that were early on it early (shoutout Home Skateshop) definitely made an impact on me.
Zayyar: So Hathenbruck opened in 2012, can you give us some insight into why you wanted to do it and the backstory into how the idea came about?
Caleb: I always had small brands growing up. Stencilling griptape and decks. Random stuff, making skate videos. I would design shoes on MS paint. Just fun stuff. At the time it’s all I really knew so it just made sense.
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Zayyar: Did you ever think you would own a store? Or go into business yourself?
Caleb: I kind of did, I really pushed for it. I think being moderately naive is so important. I’m wondering if I’m assessing risk too much as I get older. The most memorable things happen when you roll the dice and just start stuff.
Zayyar: For someone who had a lot of challenges to getting to where you are today, what’s some advice you can share that can help someone in perhaps in a similar situation?
Caleb: I think I spent a lot of time waiting around to connect with the right people or link with someone that I thought was going to make it happen for me or to get the right accounts etc. but I learned if that's how you get something once you get the opportunity you waited so long for, you have no leverage and the vibes not real. There's a lot of that in the industry. I just kind of started just going in my own direction. I stopped waiting to get invited to everyone else party and instead started my own party, creating with friends etc. things got interesting. The invites and opportunities that you were once pursuing will all of a sudden show up. The irony is that you will no longer care about going because your connection with your creation, community, own party etc. will feel much more real and that will be where you will want to invest your time. The best is when your party links with your friends party from another city. Just people building. It’s the best.
Zayyar: I think one of the first things that attracted me to Hathenbruck was the visual branding and aesthetic. It’s interesting to see a different design narrative applied to what you’re doing in terms of local community and the skate scene. How did you come up with the design direction?
Caleb: On the film and photo side I owe all the credit to my friends Seamus Foster and Colt Morgan. On the graphic design side I owe all the credit to JP and Davis from Actual Source. Both groups are local and super talented. I’m very lucky to have talented friends who give me the time of day to voice my vision.
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Zayyar: Just to add to that it’s interesting to see nowadays the commonality of various interests and tastes coming together. For example a sneakerhead who likes Scandanavian furniture or a skater who enjoys brutalism. Do you think moving forward we’re going to see a wider range of this applied to business?
Caleb: Yeah, everything is multidisciplinary these days. Designer comma musician comma producer comma and so on… food and beverage and home is the new range. I also like the idea of building systems and platforms for learning in an unconventional fashion. Like a “Design for Dummies” book but the 2020 version.
Zayyar: As for the store itself, how does it operate and how big is your team?
Caleb: Currently I don’t have any employees. I put a lot of hours in but I like it. When I get sick of being creative I sew labels in or post on social media, or email people. It works out well. I can only produce so much that it keeps me small but also gives time to reflect and ask myself, do people need this product right now? It might change someday but I still really enjoy what I do and I learned a lot by making mistakes. I’ve had a few friends that have made a lot of money but have fallen out of love with their hobby because their brand got too big or they couldn’t say no to a purchase order. Majority of these people always end up reminiscing about when they were in the garage with their friends doing 5 tracks a day for 3 summers or they remember programming their platform that they sold in the tiny corner coffee shop. It’s ironic. It was the best of times, it was the worst times. I believe things like this are invaluable but also hard to recognise when they are happening. I’m always trying to produce the circumstances that create these moment’s because I feel they are the most real and super exciting.
Zayyar: Earlier when you opened there was a mixture of brands such as Rick Owens, Acne Studios etc. what lead you to now focus more on the Hathenbruck brand itself and other projects such as mixtapes and Big Data?
Caleb: I started paying close attention to all the online and brick and mortar retailers who had similar accounts as me. I would watch and start counting the days it took them to go through inventory and how soon their markdowns started. Soon it all became very clear that large retail accounts were ordering stuff with padded volume discounts and almost liquidating stock immediately when they received it before a lot of smaller accounts would even receive the same merchandise in the agreed shipping window. After that, it was hard to follow the logic on continuing to order from certain designers. At the same time, a lot of larger houses started selling out, so the timing seemed right. Not all fashion houses were like this or designed it to be this way, it’s just the nature of the business. I feel like there’s another direction happening right now, smaller accounts, smaller showrooms, new ideas. We still have relationships with so many good people. I just started putting my energy in different places.
Zayyar: What are some of the challenges you face day to day with the store?
Caleb: Trying to stay small enough so that I can continue to go in a direction that I think is interesting to my customers. If you get too big or your design is too perfect, I don’t think it feels real. I think people need to see the flaws in things so that the products feels relatable, if it’s not relatable, it won’t inspire people. Everyone is so good at making things perfect these days. I like to stop short on purpose because I think it’s more interesting and creates a dialogue and irresolution which in hope gives the customer an emotional attachment. Unfortunately, this emotion is usually frustration if you have OCD.
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Zayyar: Also, what are some of the advantages you have due to not being in a major city such as New York or Los Angeles?
Caleb: I would say the biggest advantage is you are able to stay small but also try new things before showing them to the world. Like a regional focus group almost.
Zayyar: What are some upcoming projects coming out and what goals are you wanting to achieve moving further into 2019 and beyond?
Caleb: Man, so much. I have film I wrote, that I’m trying to produce and get into Sundance for 2021. I got a book coming out this month about vending machines called Pure Scaffolding... Ummm what else I’m into it all. Make a bunch of bad stuff that’s good. Ideas as therapy really.