Founded in 2002 by current co-owners and brothers Jacob, Desta and Paul Parris, Vinnies Styles is a streetwear institution in Downtown Brooklyn, which is attracting even more traffic now that brand new Barclays Center sports and entertainment arena has opened there. The brothers named the shop after their late grandfather, Mr. Vinnie, who ran a successful tailoring shop in a different part of Brooklyn for many years. In 2011, Vinnies relocated from its original 900-sq.-foot (84-sq.-meter) location and moved up the street to its current 2,500-sq.-foot (232-sq.-meter) one. The new location also features a large outdoor space for “cool Brooklyn barbeques.” Here, Jacob Parris discusses the challenges of being a retailer today and explains why he now has to register twice at trade shows. Interview by Christopher Blomquist
 Brothers and owners of Vinnies Styles: Paul, Desta and Jacob Parris
Brothers and owners of Vinnies Styles: Paul, Desta and Jacob Parris

What is the history of the store?
In 2002, right after 9/11, we opened Vinnies Styles in Downtown Brooklyn. It was pretty quiet. Not much was going on. Everybody was pretty afraid to make any moves. It was a sad state. We got a lot of opposition from our family to make the jump—they said it wasn’t the time and that we were too young. But ended up doing it anyway and over the years it gradually picked up and became the location that it is now.

What are your bestselling items and brands?
Definitely G-Star. G-Star has some cool technical styles to it and G-Star is a big seller for the store. Y-3 is a good seller for the shop along with Paulies, which is our brand that we put out. That’s huge and has a big global appeal. Those are some of the big hitters. And then other streetwear brands such as 10.Deep. These guys still do well and that market is still alive.

And you carry menswear only?
It is strictly men’s but we do at times do something special for the ladies via a custom varsity jacket or a custom sweatshirt. The response is good when we do that for the ladies but it is generally a men’s store: Vinnies Styles for the Selective Male.

How is business in general now?
Of course everybody is going to say the same thing: Business could be better. But we’ve been in business now for ten years. Looking back at the past couple of years, business for us has been pretty good, actually. We’ve been having great sell-through with a lot of brands that we have at our store. Again, it could be better, but you know I think the overall state of retail business right now is just quiet. It’s not the same as it was when things were booming. But for the most part if you understand your focus I think you should be able to do well.
Vinnies Styles
Vinnies Styles

Who is the typical Vinnies Styles customer?
That customer varies. Before we had a typical customer who was that street kid who was looking for what they saw in the video. Now it’s the street kid, it’s the working guy and it’s the father. I started when I was 21 so when I was 21 or 22 I was that street kid looking for what I saw pretty much on TV. Now that I am in my thirties I am looking for a different look but it’s still in Vinnies. So our customer from that 18-year-old kid to that 40-plus-year-old man looking for a cool hat and scarf set.

What is the biggest challenge you face as a retailer today?
Keeping your identity and trying to set yourself apart from other retailers. That to me is the biggest challenge. I guess that’s everybody’s challenge on a day-to-day basis as far as retail but at one point there were not as many stores as there are now. The stores that open now pretty much want to emulate what you are doing and it kind of waters down the market. But I would think the biggest challenge is really just trying to stay creative and giving something fresh to the customer.

You also create the streetwear line Born Fly. Tell me about that.
That started around 2003-04. We started Born Fly at the shop and it was a basic T-shirt brand that simply said “Born Fly” with a character. It took to the streets first, it took to Japan second and then we started to get it on the likes of Fabolous and T.Kane. Certain rap artists started to wear the brand T-shirt that we had at the store and it caught wind to a couple of guys who pretty much wanted to invest in the brand. So the brand started from the store and it grew into a full collection that we put out that we are now showing at trade shows. It just got a good response. At the store it was always selling out and it was something that we would always carry season in and season out. So it was time for us to start a full collection and to bring it out into the masses and start opening some doors with the brand. And that’s what we did and the response has been good so far.
Vinnies Styles in Brooklyn
Vinnies Styles in Brooklyn

Speaking of trade shows, will you be showing the line or shopping for the store during the Las Vegas shows next week?
Both. I do wear two wristbands: I wear the “Exhibitor” band and the “Buyer” band. It’s interesting.

What are you looking forward to seeing the most there?
As always, I am looking for something to give me that feel, that excitement. I’m looking for something that is different. Everybody will say the same thing. Everybody’s looking for something different. I’m just looking for something fresh, something new–yet wearable. Because a lot of folks are making things that are beautiful pieces for shows but they are just not wearable on an everyday basis.

What do you think the next big fashion trend will be?
Right now everybody is so stuck on individualism. Everybody right now wants to be their own canvas, their own art exhibit. So it’s hard to say. I would hate to know that I know the next big trend. I always like to be surprised by the next big trend.

What’s your advice to other retailers? What is a hard and fast rule they need to follow?
I have two rules. One is to spend time in your store. Like personally spend time in your store. Do days in your store. Don’t open up a shop and then leave and have a whole cast and crew to run it for you. And rule two is listen to the consumer. Listen to that guy or girl. They will tell you exactly what they want and it will make your buying easier.

Store's contact:
Vinnies Styles
239 Flatbush Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11217
+1 718 636 9787