Composite: Bea Oyster.
ESSX NYC is not just a store; it's a renaissance of retail back in the heart of New York City, driven by fashion industry veterans who hope to bring the genuine experience of shopping back to the streets of the city that never sleeps.
“The concept of ESSX is to elevate and bring attention to the younger designer market,” co-founder Laura Baker explains to Teen Vogue. Baker, along with her partners, Abe Pines and Yoel Zagelbaum, conceived the idea for the store during the pandemic. The partnership birthed a unique 7,000-square-foot concept store that defied conventions, located on the vibrant and eclectic streets of the Lower East Side on the namesake street of Essex. The store houses pieces from the likes of Martine Rose, Comme des Garçons, and NYC-based Luar, brands that are often harder to find in traditional brick-and-mortar shopping experiences.
When it comes to young creatives and designers, Baker has always been interested in what their business would look like. She has a passion for nurturing emerging designers, and she seeks to bridge the gap between creativity and equitable business strategies. “You did something really great, but what's the business after that?” she asks, questioning young and upcoming designers. This is what led her to open her own showroom early on in her career. “I'm quite old,” she laughs, but with her age comes the experience that allows ESSX to now be the space it is. “A lot of people ask how we have the caliber and the roster of brands that we have, and it's really just being veterans in the industry. I think that trust level is the best calling card we could have,” she reveals.
“We have different experiential places throughout the store,” she shares. If you’re walking on Essex Street in the Lower East Side, you’re likely to pass by the store between Houston and Delancey Streets, and it might make your head turn. “We have an area called The Dome,” she explains, “it's on the street of Essex, you can see it through the window.”
The Dome has been an acting pop-up space within the store, housing various different collections since ESSX’s opening in July 2023. Baker and the staff envision this area as a key component of the overall experience, creating intrigue and curiosity before you even walk in. The versatility of the space makes it a favorite area of the store for everyone involved. Currently, in preparation for New York Fashion Week, The Dome houses Namacheko’s spring-summer 2024 collection.
ESSX also distinguishes itself with a private client suite, a curated haven stocked with a full refreshments bar for the most high-profile of clients: rappers, influencers, pop stars, and athletes. This VIP space offers a more personalized and luxurious shopping experience.
The magic of ESSX extends beyond just its physical spaces, rooted in the personal and homegrown vision. Baker was raised in New York, and these are her stomping grounds. She has built her network of industry professionals across the world, and she’s now using that network to bring retail back to the Lower East Side. She expresses a desire to challenge the perception that New York lacks retail significance and questions why the city has lost its prominence in the fashion calendar. “How does that happen?” she asks, almost confused at the city’s fate. “So we wanted the store to be for New York.”
When Baker speaks of ESSX NYC being "homegrown," it goes beyond a concept — it's a commitment to showcasing and celebrating the talent born and bred in New York. “This kid, Dom… he makes these [hand-strung] pearl necklaces,” Baker shares, referring to one of the accessory brands carried in the store, MERC Chapter. “I think they're absolutely beautiful,” she says. “They make it all themselves. They come in and deliver it.” The story of how Baker came to know Dominic Stewart, the founder of MERC Chapter whom she calls Dom, is a fantastic one that captures the ethos of the store: He simply walked in as a shopper, and she noticed the necklace he was wearing, questioned where it was from, and the rest was history.
The Lower East Side brings in a particularly diverse customer base of style-savvy youth that linger around the area. “[These kids] are wearing things, and I don't know if they made it if they bought it,” Baker says. And when they’re shopping, they tend to seek out all the information about a garment. “They need to know who made it, what factory it comes from, who was involved in it, what musicians are wearing it, what actors are wearing it, where it originated from,” she adds. Gen Z is shopping differently than the generations that came before them, which is why the store had to be a space that encouraged and nurtured the way this generation hopes to experience retail spaces.
The staff at ESSX is a big part of what sets it apart. Each member of the staff comes from a different background, spans a decade of age and experience, and is equipped with an unparalleled knowledge of the industry. This makes them an integral part of the shopping experience to help guide customers. “I would've never expected that they would've been such a big part of defining the store,” Baker admits.
“One of the girls that we brought in, her name's Lauren, and she's someone that actually used to work with me in my showroom over 10 years ago,” she shares. 28-year-old Lauren Ferreira is the style director at ESSX, and the wealth of experience that comes with her is something she hopes to pass down to the rest of the staff. “As a director, it’s been a privilege to uplift and support some of the younger staff,” Ferreira tells Teen Vogue. She spends a lot of her time dealing with high-profile clients in the private VIP suite. Assisting her is 21-year-old Hailey Kops, who is one of the newest team members. “As someone who is new to the fashion industry, ESSX has given me the opportunity to experience fashion at the retail level,” Kops adds.
“We're not co-workers, we're a family,” Brooke Charpio shares. She's the youngest of ESSX’s staff at just 20 years old. “I'm relatively new, but I feel like I've been working here for years,” Angel Pan, who shares Charpio’s role as a sales associate, parrots this notion. “Working at ESSX is so special because of the people that I work with,” 22-year-old Pan says.
For these young, up-and-coming industry professionals, the wealth of experience they're building at ESSX is invaluable. 22-year-old sales associate Hannah Maqsudi believes her confidence and style have grown immensely, and she's being exposed to dozens of new brands in the market. “I have fallen in love with so many brands stocked at ESSX like Namacheko, Ottolinger, Glass Cypress, (di)vision,” she tells to Teen Vogue.
ESSX’s project manager, 29-year-old Kenneth La Rosa, brings completely different experiences to the team, falling more on the music and culture side of things. He was formerly a consultant and then a touring manager but found his way into the fashion space amidst the pandemic. “I wanted a new home team. I kept feeling like a lone wolf figuring out where my tribe is,” he explains to Teen Vogue. And what better place to land than the fashion industry?
“Fashion is a bridge to music and culture,” he says. Special projects director Herman Pulphus echoes this notion, especially growing up in the Midwest. He learned fashion from the musicians he loved growing up, referencing rappers from his hometown of Cleveland. “I would watch people like [Kid] Cudi, and that was a big inspiration for me to get into fashion,” 30-year-old Pulphus recalls.
The collaboration between the crew at ESSX and their teamwork is what makes the store a well-oiled machine. “Each person brings a wealth of experiences, so I try to make it a priority to create a space where every team member's ideas and opinions are encouraged and valued,” shares 24-year-old Fifi Hodgkinson, ESSX’s store manager. She was a part of the opening team of the store and has played a pivotal role in building the rest of the staff. She's noticed in her time working in the space that Gen Z has a craving to be back in the store with immersive shopping experiences.
It helps that many of the floor staff themselves are Gen Z. 20-year-old Hugo Alderete is the inventory manager at the store, and he usually sees himself shopping the way the rest of his generation is, especially the ones that come into the store. “I want to know the story behind the clothing and what makes that piece unique from the others,” he tells Teen Vogue, “whether it's the tailoring, the design, the fabrics, or the inspiration.”
The future for ESSX holds promise, and as the store continues to redefine the retail landscape in New York City, there are also plans for expansion. “We will be opening our cafe [soon],” Baker shares excitedly. She wants shoppers to come in and spend a valuable amount of time there. She wants retail to have its moment again, and the expansion will open up the space to become even more collaborative and community-oriented. “People can hang out, have a drink, have coffee,” Baker says, emphasizing that there is no rush at all.
These interviews has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Originally Appeared on Teen Vogue
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