For nearly three years, Houston-based men’s specialty boutique The Class Room has been a go-to destination for cool brands and merchandise that straddle the categories “streetwear” and “menswear.” Its assortment includes labels such as A.P.C. and Freshjive to Naked & Famous to Zanerobe. Here, Jon “Cabby” Cabarello, who co-owns the shop with four business partners, discusses its history, aesthetic and the challenges of being an independent retailer. Interview by Christopher Blomquist

What is the history and background of The Class Room?
We opened in November 2011. Our style director Alan Javillonar and I knew each other from back in the day because he was dating my cousin (now they're married).  We were both into sneakers and clothes and so when we'd see each other we would sometimes talk about clothes.  Those conversations often led to how each of us would want to own a boutique one day.  In February/March of 2011 an opportunity came up to make that dream a reality. I contacted Al to see if he'd be interested in working with me and three of my best friends as business partners in the venture.  He said yes, and by November of that year we were open.

"Our number one seller is the custom "H" (Houston) baseball caps made for us by Ebbets Field Flannels"
"Our number one seller is the custom "H" (Houston) baseball caps made for us by Ebbets Field Flannels"
What are your current bestsellers brand-wise and item-wise?
Our number one seller is the custom "H" (Houston) baseball caps made for us by Ebbets Field Flannels.  Jogger pants do really well for us right now.  We're also starting to establish ourselves as a "go-to" store for raw denim in Houston.  Houston as a whole caught on to the raw denim trend relatively late, so we're educating guys on what raw selvedge is, how it's different from other denim they might see in big box retailers, how to care of it, etc.

Who is your “typical” customer?
We don't quite have a typical customer, to be honest.  The aesthetic of our clothes sits in between "higher end streetwear" and "casual menswear." Therefore, we have guys into streetwear and street culture that come into our store, we have the young corporate professionals that come in, we have high school and college students that come in, etc.  We really have a diverse customer base.

What is the fashion/retail scene like in Houston and how does your store stand out from the others there?
The retail scene is actually very interesting in Houston right now. Recently (the past three to five years) you're seeing a lot more independent businesses pop up. I think there's a lot of positive change going on in Houston in that sense.
To stand out, it really comes down to being genuine and authentic in all aspects of our business. When it comes to product, we really believe in the brands and styles we carry.  All the merchandise are things we the owners actually like and would wear. We're not going to carry something simply because it's trending. Also, when it comes to customer service, we're polite and honest. We're not just trying to sell you something. If something doesn't look right or doesn't fit the customer's style, we'll tell them. We want to build a long-term relationship with our customers based on honesty and trust.
Authenticity must also show in our social media like our blog and Instagram. We view The Class Room as a lifestyle brand, not just a clothing store. When authenticity shows through to the customer, they will connect to the brand, and you will have a dedicated, loyal customer.

"We've been described as being a very "well-curated" shop."
"We've been described as being a very "well-curated" shop."

How often do you get new merchandise?
Like most fashion retailers, we get the large seasonal drops around March-May and then September-November.  And then each month we'll have a few small deliveries to replenish quantities on what we consider "core" styles and accessories.

How/where do you find new brands and items?
We've been described as being a very "well-curated" shop.  Alan our style director determines what brands we should carry and mostly what items to bring in (I help him a little with that aspect).  There are very specific brands we want to carry.

When did you start selling online and what percentage of sales is done via e-commerce today?
We started selling online two or three months after we opened the brick & mortar, but e-commerce only accounts for less than a quarter of total revenue.  Recently, we've seen that number increase, and our goal is to grow online sales to account for at least half of total revenue, if not more.

How do you stay in touch with your customers?
Social media, mainly Instagram and Facebook.  We have an e-mail list too, but Instagram and Facebook is faster and more efficient.

What would you say are the most important trends in streetwear and menswear at the moment? And what do you see being important in the coming seasons?
In the last two years, the line between "menswear" and "streetwear" has blurred and that trend will only continue.  In the coming seasons you'll see styles being influenced by ’90s hip-hop, grunge and street culture.

The Class Room is establishing as a "go-to" store for raw denim in Houston
The Class Room is establishing as a "go-to" store for raw denim in Houston

Please discuss the store’s décor and merchandising. How would you describe its aesthetic?
We have a minimalistic, mid-century modern aesthetic with vintage accents that help warm the space.

You offer your own line of logo tees. Are there any plans to expand the in-house collection?
No immediate plans to expand to a full range, but we'll continue to do branded merchandise.

What has been the biggest challenge for the store thus far? And how are you overcoming it?
A lot of the times, current fashion and style trends won't get popular in Houston until one or two years after they "pop." Balancing what's current in the fashion world versus what our Houston market is ready to buy is somewhat of an art we're learning and continually trying to refine.

What is your favorite memory of running the store thus far?
During NBA All-Star weekend in 2013 we partnered with PF Flyers to host an in-store pop-up shop.  Ouigi and Gabe from The Brooklyn Circus, Street Etiquette, Alyasha Owerka-Moore and our friends from PF came to Houston for the event.
And then we had Mos Def come into the store and host an in-store party.  It was an incredible weekend.

What is a “golden rule” of retailing that every store owner should follow?
Authenticity is everything. From the products you carry, to the messages you create for your marketing and advertising, everything must be authentic and true to your brand. Being genuine and authentic to your brand and your customers, as opposed to chasing trends, is what will bring long-term success.

The Class Room
2534 Amherst Street
Houston, TX 77005
+1 713 874 0004