Fashion tourists approaching Haven from afar – perhaps having just stepped out of Dries Van Noten’s store up the road – will assume they’ve stumbled upon a newly sprung avant garde concept shop. On closer inspection, they’ll discover that the bright, modernist space is in fact a surf shop, albeit one with a decidedly fashion-y edge. Filip Van Moerkercke, one of Haven’s four co-founders, sheds light on the shop’s unique identity.
My fellow co-founders John Roan, Julie Grangé, Wouter Struyf and I are all passionate surfers. We wanted to use the rich surf culture as the fundament for the store, yet distancing ourselves from typical core surf stores that focus more on the sport aspect than the surf culture. This approach has allowed us to present a much more versatile assortment – offering not only surfboards and equipment but also independent apparel and lifestyle labels with roots in surfing or outdoor, art, music and food and so on. Our background in talent management and PR put us in a good position to find great designers. As for the vibe, we wanted to create a store with a welcoming atmosphere, offering men and women unique items, many of which they won’t find anywhere else in the Benelux area.
You’ll no doubt attract as many fashion followers as surf heads. How have you achieved the balance between fashion and surf?
We’ve avoided the “usual suspects”, seeking out small independent labels that are much more fashionable than those you’d typically find in surf shops. I’d say the collections we’ve chosen are closer to APC or Norse Projects than, say, Billabong. We’ve also added labels such as 7D, which aren’t surf related at all but simply produce incredible collections. I guess the fact that we’re based in Antwerp also contributes to the prevailing “fashion” feel of the store.
You cater for men, women and kids. Tell us about the current brand mix.
It’s a mixture between surf lifestyle brands from around the world such as Wait (Paris), Finisterre (UK), Oh Dawn (Copenhagen), Vissla (LA), The Critical Slide Society (Australia), Nche (Australia) and labels such as 7D, Portuguese Flannel, Poler and Patagonia.
What qualities do you look for when hunting for new brands and actual pieces?
It might sound like a cliché but we just buy what we love. Quality is paramount and we like to introduce new brands to our market.
Where do you go to discover new labels, and which ones will be added to the assortments next season?
Just by travelling, really. Great excuse to travel! We will most likely add La Paz from Portugal and Parisian brand La Panoplie.
Though Haven has not been open long, has any brand or particular type of item sold well so far?
I guess our own in-house brand, Haven, is selling best. We offer unisex pieces such as sweatshirts and tees, both for adults and kids.
How would you describe the Haven customer?
It’s hard to say… the customer base is very diverse. A lot of them are surfers, obviously, but I’d say they’re mostly people looking for lifestyle items of high quality.
Sadly, there have been quite a few retail casualties in Antwerp lately. What’s needed to shake up the scene and entice consumers back into stores of the indie variety?
It’s difficult to say, but maybe people need to take some risks, introduce brands that aren’t available in too many other shops in the same city. So many concepts are replaceable. As for our own approach, we try to inspire our customers with a smart selection of accessories as well as putting on exhibitions with different artists, book signings and lots of beer and wine!