June 4, 2015

In Conversation with Diego Villanueva of Apartment25

Ahead of the Autumn Winter 2015 menswear calendar, Ceci Joannou jumped on a call with Diego Villanueva, owner and buyer of Apartment 25 - Mexico City’s contemporary menswear destination - to learn about the challenges and opportunities this segment presents, and gain first-hand perspective of Mexico indie retail landscape.  —  

Ceci Joannou: Hi Diego! I’ve been following developments at Apartment 25 for some time, but let’s start at the beginning: have you always worked in fashion? What led to your decision to launch Apartment 25?

Diego Villanueva: My background is in architecture actually, but I always had a vision to create a retail destination where architecture, design, art and music could come together and complement a strong contemporary menswear offer. A couple of years back, the opportunity presented itself to open a dedicated menswear retail concept in my hometown of Guadalajara.

From a business perspective, this answered a definite gap in the market; even today, there aren’t many independent retailers focused on contemporary menswear here in Mexico. I guess I saw an opportunity and I took the risk – and so far it’s been paying off! Last year, we decided to open a flagship in Mexico City and the response has been phenomenal.

Mexico is an important market in the South American fashion landscape – second only to Brazil – yet it feels as though the opportunity of Mexico hasn’t yet been quite fully appreciated at international level? Which is surprising to an extent, since Brazil imposes such onerous duties and taxes..

It’s true. Mexico has been growing steadily in the last two decades, and there’s been an influx of international brands and retailers – of all shapes and sizes: from American Eagle, to Saks Fifth Avenue, and so on. There’s no doubt an opportunity for international businesses.

Still, while we’re not as hampered by taxes and duties – not to the extent of Brazil at least – we obviously do pay import taxes on anything import from abroad. As a retailer, I do consider price points very carefully when I buy; I try select items whose final price point is not too elevated, that are accessible.

Does geographic location also influence the way you buy?

Absolutely. Geographic location is crucial. Whether it’s climate, weather, the geo-political and economic situation of the region – it all influences if and how we decided to buy into a specific collection. As a business, our core mission is to cater to the local clientèle first and foremost, because that is what is going to sustain the business in the long-term. Having said that, the majority of our e-commerce business comes from outside Mexico.

That’s very interesting. Why do you think that is?

Well, our clientèle is obviously very educated when it comes to fashion, so it makes sense that our assortment should also resonate with customers abroad. But also, I would say that e-commerce in Mexico is just not “there” yet – though it is growing, certainly. But I think it will take time for consumers to become comfortable with buying online, particularly when it comes to higher-ticket items, in the same way they are in the UK or the US.

Apartment 25 seeks to offer a fairly international perspective on contemporary menswear – you stock labels such as Penfield, Lazy Oaf, Soulland

Absolutely, Apartment 25 is about a fashion-forward, contemporary take on menswear. Our clientèle is definitely looking for something different when they come to us. They may not buy their entire wardrobe from Apartment 25, but when they come to us, they are on the lookout for that special item that is going to stand out in their wardrobe.

But again, we have to be careful in our buy; there are some brands that I like for myself, but I’m not sure my customer is prepared to go there, to pay for it. For example, when it comes to basics – that simple t-shirt, or that simple long-sleeve, button-down shirt – it’s a harder sell; our customer simply isn’t going to buy that $250-$300 white shirt when they have H&M across the road.

From a buying perspective, what fashion weeks and tradeshows are a must for you?

London Collections Men, Paris Fashion Week and New York fashion week are probably the key buying appointments in my calendar. I would say London is really the place where I can really get a sense of what’s next in terms of trends. Kit Neale, Christopher Shannon, Lou Dalton, Sibling, Astrid Andersen, Soulland; there’s no shortage of talent.

You get a sense that there is a sense of creative fearlessness here in London, that I think is uniquely British.

Yes, and I love that. In London, you have these relatively small brands but what they lack in size they certainly make up in risk-taking! It’s great. In terms of other fashion weeks, it seems as though New York will be unveiling a dedicated menswear fashion week later this year, which would be great. I haven’t been to Pitti; I know it has a great energy but I’m not sure it’s right for us.

Final question – and this is one that designers ask me all the time! What advice would you give to a designer when it comes to reaching out to buyers?

Personally I hate long emails; so I would say, be short and concise! Put yourself in the shoes of the buyer who is receiving 5-10 such emails, every day: less is definitely more. Also, I would advise to make the most of visual. Maybe it’s because I’m an architect by training, but I put a lot of stock in images and graphics. It’s about  standing out: if a buyer is intrigued, they will reply and ask for further information.


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About the Author. Ceci Joannou is the Founder and Editor of Brand + Commercial.