In the world of boutiques, Jake in Chicago is a superstar — just consult GQ’s list of the 100 best stores in America. Started by Lance Lawson and Jim Wetzel a little over five years ago, Jake has been a leader in predicting trends and finding the best up-and-coming designers. Jake was the first store to carry Tim Hamilton and has helped plenty of other labels find their way into the mainstream. If you’re in the Chicago area and looking for a great store, few would argue that the first place to stop in Jake. So we were obviously very happy to sit down with Lance Lawson and talk about the store, the boutique business, and what the future holds for Jake.
Prepidemic Magazine: Could you tell us a little bit about Jake?
Lance Lawson: We opened our first store a little over five years ago and we grew to three stores and the website. We have cut back now and are just operating two stores and the website now. We started the company because there wasn’t a store in Chicago that was selling the labels that were being sold in New York and L.A. Everything was becoming kind of homogenous in Chicago. We had friends who were going to New York to go shopping as opposed to staying home and getting stuff here. When we opened we tried to think that we would be shopping for a national audience instead of just local. That proved to be pretty successful.
PM: You’ve had a lot of success in finding emerging designers that have gone on to do really well. How do you go about selecting a designer for a season and how do you go about selecting particular clothing from their lines?
LL: My partner Jim does a lot of research. We look through tons of fashion magazines both nationally and internationally. We’ll go to a lot of fashion shows and presentations in New York as a way to scout out new talent. We’ll try to work with a designer when we’re buying so that we pick out stuff from the collection that really represents them. One of the problems we had before was that we were buying collection as collections rather than pieces from collections. That’s definitely a change we’ve made now that we’re picking pieces that we really like and we think are going to move.
PM: What does it take for something to really catch your eye? Jake has a really diverse selection, so when you’re at a show or presentation, what are you looking for?
LL: It’s hard to say, but we’re certainly looking for new things that are something wearable. When things get too esoteric or directional, that’s not really our customer. Our customer is excited and willing to try new things but they don’t want something that looks like a costume, if you will. We’re also always looking for things that are novel because there is so much repetition in the industry that it’s great to see something that is individual.
PM: When you hear a designer talking about a collection, so often they have a theme or idea it’s centered around. Do you guys take this approach to buying?
LL: We don’t try to do this, but it just ends up happening that way. For instance, this fall everything is really dark because maybe it was just the mood we were in when we were buying or that it was more commercial. It seems that it comes together more cohesively after going around predicting what trends are, but it tends to be a more organic process than one we really think about.
PM: Are there any new labels that you guys are excited about this season?
PM: What does the future hold for Jake?
LL: At this point, we’ve had so much expansion and tasted all of that. We’re really thinking that slow and steady wins the race right now. After really a horrendous year we’re in no hurry to keep expanding and growing. We’re really trying to strengthen our current stuff.
PM: Post-recession, if everything starts blooming again, is there something to be learned from all of these struggles?
LL: We’re definitely going to be more conservative in the quantity we’re going to buy. So when things started to fall apart and the spending cycle slowed, it really hurt us. We’re doing a lot more midseason orders if something is really going over well with customers, as opposed to only making a huge order at the beginning of the season. The conspicuous consumption of the 80s when people were walking out of stores with 3-4 thousand dollars worth of stuff is really over. I don’t think that’s going to come back for a while. I think that even people who have lots of money and are safe are really thinking if what they’re buying is at a good value or not.
Locations: 939 Rush St. and 565 Lincoln Ave. Also check them out online.