Foot Locker is giving local brands a foothold in the industry at its new Washington Heights store.
Earlier this month, the national retailer opened an uptown outpost that carries streetwear from the South Bronx-based Perico Limited, Triánguloswag, which has a storefront in Washington Heights, and Lyfestyle NYC, which produces attire above a showroom in Bushwick.
The 605 W. 181st St. Foot Locker location is one of a handful of outposts marketed as "power" stores, which are larger, more interactive and intended to be steeped in local culture.
The two-story, 9,000-square-foot store includes a full range of attire for men, women and children, lockers where items purchased online can be stored and a lounge area.
Foot Locker chose to try a power store in Washington Heights because the retailer noticed many of its consumers are concentrated in the area, according to Frank Bracken, vice president and general manager of Foot Locker, Kids Foot Locker and Lady Foot Locker in the U.S. These local shoppers, however, tended to shop online or travel to stores in other neighborhoods, suggesting the standard Foot Locker model previously offered in the area was not that appealing, Bracken said.
The local firms tailored items for the uptown store. Lyfestyle NYC stuck the seal from the Dominican Republic’s flag in the center of its patches. And Perico Limited redesigned shirts so they referenced the Heights.
Collaborating with community institutions stands to benefit all involved, according to Matt Powell, senior industry adviser for sports at the market research firm NPD Group.
"Personalization is very important today for the shopper. I want to feel like the store is just for me, and that means having a well curated assortment, it means understanding what the local taste, the local culture is," Powell said. "It really shows some insight on the part of Foot Locker."
Initially, Foot Locker’s mass market stature made Lyfestyle NYC a bit ambivalent about working with it, according to CEO Clinton Ballard, 33.
"Our price is a little bit higher than other smaller streetwear brands. So for that, we try to keep it exclusive," said Ballard, noting that 80 to 90 percent of the construction of Lyfestyle NYC’s clothing happens in the city, which increases its costs. "Once they explained to us their roll out of community stores, it was a no-brainer."
Ballard and two of his friends from Bishop Loughlin High School have spent the past nine years refining the Lyfestyle NYC model.
They started experimenting around 2010, screen printing T-shirts in the kitchen with color schemes and designs customized for friends. One suggested they flip the lettering in Lyfestyle so it appeared upside down to passersby, which Ballard said directed the message at the person wearing the clothes.
"We were really into fashion and streetwear, and we just felt like it was such a holistic experience, it was a lifestyle," said Ballard, who lives in Ridgewood.
The crux of the brand’s character was locked in within two years, Ballard said. But as screen printing became more common, the trio stopped using that method and transitioned around 2017 to patches with the word Lyfestyle on them.
Although most of their business is online, Ballard said Lyfestyle NYC maintains a showroom below its Bushwick factory, where T-shirts with one patch go for $80; and sweatshirts, $120.
Alfredo "BB Inc." Perez, the man behind Triánguloswag, says he hopes to parlay the partnership with Foot Locker into a larger conversation on caps. He aims to convince the company baseball caps designed to match streetwear are worth stocking, unlike the sports-centric hats the retailer indicated were not big sellers.
"I would like to be the guy that brought back hats to Foot Locker," said Perez, 38, who lives in Yonkers, and operates a shop in Washington Heights. "I’m the hat king. I got on display right now 115 different styles of hats."
The caps contain the line’s trademark triangle, which refers to Perez’s experiences in his native Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and New York. Perez said he frequently traveled between those locations while directing videos for musicians, such as Daddy Yankee and Don Omar. He then created a TV show called "Triangulo the Series."
Around 2015, when he first made the hats, he intended to give them to cast members and crews. But instead he heeded a suggestion to sell them on social media.
Soon, Perez said he was selling attire out of the trunk of his car.
About a year later he opened his shop, where hats start at around $30, shirts at about $20 and tracksuits at roughly $100.
While celebrating their foray at a national retailer, Perico Limited’s leaders said they remained focused on the South Bronx. While growing up in the area, Joseph Maldonado, 33, and Francis Montoya, 33, enjoyed finessing their looks and watched Montoya’s mother, a seamstress, fashion and fix clothes.
Montoya started a clothing line in 2013 and about a year-and-a-half later, Maldonado and Jose Ruiz, 33, got involved.
Perico, a Spanish word that can refer to everything from cocaine to a musical genre or egg dish, encapsulates the brand’s aesthetics, according to Ruiz. He and his partners said their operation leans heavily on their personal network, drawing on Ruiz’s graphic design background, Montoya and Maldonado’s photography skills and their friends for modeling as well as marketing and retailing opportunities.
"Depending on who you ask or where you are, it (Perico) takes on different meanings," Ruiz said. "This is our interpretation of it: it’s streetwear. … It’s from the streets; it’s inspired by the streets, and it’s giving back to the streets."
Perico Limited sold its products in mom-and-pop boutiques in Japan, Toronto, Philadelphia and Florida. But Montoya said redevelopment and gentrification thinned the ranks of these sorts of stores, so Perico Limited has since transitioned to selling products through its website and at events held with friends who DJ or run businesses.
The trio tries to meet every Tuesday in one of their apartments to workshop ideas. T-shirts typically go for $40; hats, around $30; and hoodies, for about $60 to $70.
The prominent display of Perico Limited and other local brands’ products pleased Ardian Guzman, who has stopped by the new Foot Locker three times since it opened.
"It’s great. It’s a steppingstone," said Guzman, 31, who lives in Washington Heights. "What they’re doing is trying to help the community."
With Andy Mai