Is Seaport Completing Boston's Wardrobe?

Text on the sidewalk at the She-Village in Seaport, Boston, Massachusetts. (Ruby Vishnick)
Let’s start with the basics

Fashion has always been a large part of my life, and is something I’m very passionate about. Growing up
I travelled to different countries and was exposed to multitude of cultures. A memory that comes to
mind is travelling to Marrakech at a young age, thus further exploring fashion through the lens of
a Muslim city, and a very exciting city architecturally. I remember being in awe walking
through the Souk markets in the heart of Marrakech. Surrounded by vibrant colours and intricate
designs. Leather bags and slippers hanging from the ceiling to the floor. There were garments and
textures I’d never seen before, and I loved it. Visiting various Scandinavian countries made me see a
whole new side to fashion with sleek hygge aesthetics. Differing fashion and tastes are always something
I noticed throughout my travels, and, in my eyes, Boston does not have a distinct style.

What is a distinct style?

Not all cities have a distinct style. But cities of creatives and artists with unique qualities always have
something that defines them aesthetically. Let’s use Los Angeles as an example. Being by the water,
gives LA an element of beachy and relaxed style. With the sunny weather, we may associate the city
with floral dresses and denim shorts, from a brand such as Reformation. Reformation was born out of
California and was first popularised by ‘it’ girls in LA. The brand is one of the first mainstream
ethical clothing brands, and has led to many more ethical clothing brands being established in Los
Angeles initially and now across the United States.

In my humble opinion Boston is not a fashion city. It is not a fashion hub. And for the 20th largest
city (in population) in the United States this is interesting. At first though it is easy to justify Boston’s
arguable lack of fashion culture by analysing the industries that are housed here. It’s a city of medicine,
history and education; three of the four Fortune 500 companies with headquarters in Boston are
insurance companies (Liberty Mutual, State Street, and American Tower) while the 4th is General
Electric. Additionally, the Greater Boston Area has four of the fifty richest schools (Harvard,
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston College, and Boston University) with science and law
being the most common fields of study at these institutions. Not artists, designers and musicians. This city
is not a hub of artistic industries that traditionally call for those who are aesthetically inclined. This is
a generalisation but if we are to compare a large industry in New York, such as publishing, where
everyone comes to work in designer brand clothes, while those in the medical industry in Boston come
to work in scrubs, it’s safe to assume who would win in an outfit competition.

If more creative industries were established in Boston, I believe the fashion culture would grow. The
trendy students of Berklee, Emerson, and all of the other colleges would consider starting their career
in Boston, rather than jetting off to LA or New York straight after graduation.

Marni Zipper is a senior Marketing Communications major at Emerson College and the head of digital
content and marketing at the South End based store Olives and Grace. Marni and I talked about fashion
culture in Boston from the perspective of students, as well as from the view of her as a content creator
for a small, independent, store in the city.
There are so many colleges in Boston and the surrounding areas that these students add to the fashion
culture and general arts scene of the city. But in Marni’s eyes, “a lot of those people end up leaving
and going to places like New York or LA because there’s nothing here. No one is willing to stay and
build up an industry here.” She told me that the fashion culture that does exist in Boston is primarily
due to these creative students. She said, “I think Boston's fashion culture without the students wouldn’t
really exist.”
Hear more from Marni in these videos -

 


Emerson Fashion Society (EPS) is an on campus organisation that focuses on its semesterly publication
Index. They differ from other editorials on campus due to its focus being solely on fashion. Organisations
in colleges are a key component to the fashion culture in Boston, as a lot of the city’s style comes from
college students. Kaitlin Panay is a sophomore Business of Creative Enterprises major and is the
managing editor of EPS. When talking about more creative industries being housed in Boston she said
"There’s no diversity, for me it feels suburban. If there were more creative industries it wouldn't feel that way just because of the type of energy that that brings. I miss New York because of that energy, and I feel like that energy comes from the people that work in these creative industries that Boston lacks. If that’s something that expands I would definitely think of it as a more realistic place for me to live and work. I feel like it’s already starting but it's not enough for me yet."
(Left) Architecture in Seaport, Boston, Massachusetts. (Right) Seating outside the Outdoor Voices store in Seaport. (Ruby Vishnick)
Is Seaport Boston’s new trendy accessory?

Since I started college in 2015 the Seaport neighbourhood has been under construction. Development of
the area began in the late 90s but descended during the recession in 2008. WS Development, a
Boston-based real estate company was a big part of this growth, buying 20 city blocks in the district in
2015. According to the company’s website, “we [WS Development] challenge ourselves and the status
quo, striving to exceed expectations for our guests, our tenants, and our partners. Our business is founded
on relationships; our reputation is our greatest currency.”

On their website, WS Development lists some of their key retailers in the Seaport area, including lululemon, MiniLuxe, by Chloe, and more recently Outdoor Voices. All of these are franchises, and luxury ones at that, show that a lot of the development in the Seaport neighbourhood is moving towards being a shopping and experience hub. It’s not just corporate buildings; it’s a new area for the rest of the city to explore through shopping, eating, and activities.

https://www.metropolismag.com/cities/landscape/boston-seaport-development/
The franchises are guaranteed to bring money. So it is understandable that WS Development would want to play it safe with its first stores. Outdoor Voices stands out from the list as a little risky, being that this is the brand’s first retail location in Boston and has a very modern and exciting ethos as a brand.

Along with Outdoor Voices, there are other smaller brands popping up in the Seaport area. An example of this is a store called For Now, a company that also works with WS Development. It is a store that rotates the brands and products it displays in its retail incubator. It wants to give the platform to brands that are unable to do it alone.

To me, For Now is exactly what Boston needs. The city needs to celebrate small brands and support up-and-coming designers. This philosophy is what contributes to fashion culture, not just opening up another lululemon store. It’s about adding something new and innovative to the conversation.
(Left) Outside the For Now store in Seaport, Boston, Massachusetts. (Middle and right) Displays in the For Now store. (Ruby Vishnick)

Small brands are small businesses, often up and coming artists. Giving creatives a place to display their work and start a conversation about the inspiration behind it and why it’s important to be shared is exactly what fashion and artistic culture in a city is all about. Garments with deep and significant reasoning behind their creation.

The Current is a pop up village in the heart of Seaport. The Current’s first installation is She-Village, a
collection of female-founded brands. This ‘village’ has been received very positively. The independent
brands are giving Bostonians exactly what they want from a new and chic fashion experience. And in a
liberal city there is often more praise than negativity in regards to a female led establishment. The minds
behind She-Village have done a great job in sourcing the brands to fit the desired aesthetic.


The Current's She-Village in Seaport, Boston, Massachusetts. (Ruby Vishnick)

Cynthia Moreau is the co-founder of Bref. Bref is a Montreal-based store that currently has a pop-up at
the She-Village in the Seaport. Cynthia described her creative business as this;

“Bref is an ever changing place where we propose emerging art and design under monthly exhibitions.
We found that Montreal didn’t propose a place where emerging creators can sell, and emerging creators
usually don’t have the ability to represent who they are and use the right words and to set up the point of
sales system. They don’t have time and they don’t know how. We wanted to propose a big support and a
place. We are responsible for everything. We choose you, you bring your stock and we organise
everything around you to create the buzz for a short period of time and to sell. So this is the beginning of
Bref. and today this vision is still going, and we want to continue to develop.”
The Bref storefront in the She-Village. (Ruby Vishnick)
While Bref does not specialise in garments, although it does sometimes sell a few pieces, Bref is
definitely a store for modern creatives. Supporting small makers and interesting pieces that you would
not come across in a department store or a small shop. Stores like this are exactly what Boston needs to
develop the fashion and arts culture. And to see the She-Village seek out stores such as Bref is very
positive. While this is a step in the right direction for the consumer, how does the seller feel? Cynthia said,
“To be totally honest I think that the area is not ready for that kind of pop-up. I think it’s not an area that
you chill on a Saturday afternoon with a coffee. Because it’s a new area and people work in this area, it’s
functional but it’s not aspirational. Each day in front of my shop there is construction, that’s not sexy.
Bref, we are not a destination in Boston - in Montreal yes but in Boston nobody knows who we are. So
sometimes people find us and it’s cool but there are 1 million tourists that pass us but no one is telling
the locals about the pop-ups. At the moment people don’t have the habit to think about the She-Village.”
With that being said, Cynthia adds that Seaport’s general wealth provides contrast to the rest of the city,
saying that “Seaport is a business area, people have a lot of money. They live in their big apartments,
they have a Louis Vuitton, but the rest of Boston is different.”

Bethany Hamlin is a student at Emerson College and founder of streetwear brand HVY. This specific
vision for Seaport by it's developers was noted by Bethany as "so curated that it almost doesn't work."
How do the basics and accessories come together?
It is apparent that the Seaport development has a key retail focus. In a recent survey I conducted,
Seaport was ranked the third ‘coolest’ area in the city following Cambridge and Back Bay. The survey
was conducted via Google Forms and was shared on various social media platforms. It predominantly
reached Boston based students of an age range of 18-24. If the development continues in the same
direction it’s going in now, it will only continue to rise in the ranks.
Data from Google Form survey. 
The three 'coolest areas' in Boston, Massachusetts.
Why are new brands coming?
Brands are coming for a new retail opportunity, to do business, and to make money. This generalisation can apply to most retail and hospitality services, but there are also brands that focus closely on where they place their stores. This is evident in the brands at She-Village as well as For Now.

Outdoor Voices chose to put their first retail location in Boston, and one of their first ten stores, in the Seaport District. And this was no coincidence. Scout Vernon works on the real estate team for Outdoor Voices. He and his team source the retail locations for the design team to build.

“I like to describe Outdoor Voices as we make athletic apparel for sweating in, what separates us from everyone else, is that we bring the pressure out of performance. We celebrate movement, doing things, and it doesn’t have to be the fastest runner or being the best at basketball, as long a you’re out there, doing things with your friends that’s what we’re about. Having an outdoor active lifestyle, I think that’s what people attach to our brand. Obviously I think they like our product as well but the brand is different. From Under Armour which is intense and seriously. We’re light and delightful. I think that’s what really separates us.”

Scout and his team sought out the Seaport as the ideal Boston location for an Outdoor Voices store.

Why Boston?

“We do a lot of our sales online. And because we are shipping out of all of the online product to customers, we are able to look at where the things are being sent. All the addresses. We’re able to see where all of our customers are based, or at least a good percentage of them.”

The store is relatively new, only opening July 2018, but its brand identity is something that the Boston locals are really taking to. Despite it being a chain, and a rapidly growing brand, Outdoor Voices has a unique message. The praise of simply moving your body, not matter at what rate and no matter what size you are, is not the voice of your average athletic apparel company.

Outdoor Voices takes the time to host community events and establish social media platforms specific to the city it is in. They document their community events via their social media and it is evident that the attendance to their community events is increasing quickly.

A cool brand like Outdoor Voices, with a modern and inclusive message, is a great addition to the fashion culture in Boston. Promoting diversity as well as fun in working out. The brand is full of colour and is definitely geared to a younger audience. For me, it’s definitely another pull factor to head of to the Seaport and do some shopping.

Why does this matter?


The development of Seaport is changing Boston’s fashion culture. Even if all it’s doing is adding a
new shopping area, it’s still a great thing for the city. However, to me, it’s doing so much more.
The Current is creating a pop-up space for small makers and independent brands adding a richness
to the new developing area and the greater Boston fashion culture. If small additions like this
continue to make way, it might encourage artistic industries to house their offices in Boston,
which would provide jobs for creatives and ultimately lead to students from artistic schools
such as Emerson, Berklee, and Mass Art to stay in Boston after graduation.

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