Interview: Todd Barket of Unionmade
Our talk with the SF-based menswear shop's co-founder, and brand director Spencer Lemon, on the importance of timeless classics like Converse
A major player in the world of menswear retail, San Francisco's Unionmade has been outfitting the Bay Area's growing population of sharp dressers since 2009. By specializing in a classic, casual West Coast aesthetic, the ever-growing boutique has blossomed along with the quality-over-quantity-driven Americana movement that's consumed men's fashion in recent years. However closely tied they two may be, co-founder Todd Barket will be the first to admit following fads isn't high on their priority list, Unionmade is about finding up-and-coming brands and reintroducing timeless classics that'll work with the past, present and future wardrobes of their dedicated customers.
To help in this never-ending effort to bring the best emerging and established brands to their online and in-store audience, Barket has brought on Spencer Lemon as Brand Director in recent years. To learn more about both the rise of Unionmade and just what makes their brand align so well with classics like Converse, we recently caught up with Barket and Lemon.
Unionmade is a real force in menswear, what do you think has been so key in developing such a following or presence?
Todd Barket: I think half of it is having all the great stuff that fits together. I think the other thing that we've done was make all these third party brands kind of fit together and look like they're coming from one point of view, so the store feels intimate, not like a department store. It feels like we actually are curating still. I don't know about that word because I think it's overused, but I do think that we really approach all these brands that we're carrying so there's not so much overlap, and really have a point of view for the season...whether it's like we believe in blazers, or we believe in color, or we believe in the fabrication.
So it's kind of like editing in a weird way. It's like going to all these different places, finding all these different things and then sitting down before you're going off to merchandise it and really understand how it's all gonna work together when it comes in. So I think that's kind of the key to success. And yeah, after a while I think people trust you and I think people trust us in what we're picking and kind of you know, even if there's something weird in the assortment, there's a reason it's there.
You work with both very well known and up-and-coming brands, what is this selection process like?
TB: You know, it's just kind of using that process of just touching and feeling and using your instincts on what you think is great. I come from a merchandising space and I love clothes. After all these years I still like clothing, which is really crazy. I still get excited looking at clothes. Colors and pattern excite me. So I think for us it's if we would all wear it, would we want to hold onto it for a few years. Do we think it's something we'd break out in a few years again and wear it? Does it look better when it's washed?
And again, our look is really casual, so I think it all has to fit into a casual thing. We're not going to be selling suits anytime soon, but maybe we would have a suit where we could actually wear it as a blazer with a pair of jeans and break it up a little bit. You know, we're American at the end of the day, and we're super casual.
How has being based in San Francisco influenced Unionmade's aesthetic?
TB: I think the sensibility is casual. We're riding bicycles, we're walking everywhere. I feel like in New York people give you the once-over when you're going down the subway stairs—you get the scan. It's really funny. In New York you have to care. In LA you only kinda have to care. It's different here.
I think San Francisco in the last five years has really evolved. It's a different sensibility, but it definitely has its own style. People here that work at Apple aren't wearing a tucked-in shirt to work. They're not even wearing a dress-shirt. I think that keeps us kind of grounded and checked. I think the nice part is you can kind of take elements of what works in your wardrobe and work it out.
Imagine it's 75 and sunny in San Francisco, what's your ideal outfit?
Spencer Lemon: Well I would probably say a Levi’s Vintage Clothing 1947, 501 jeans… rolled up. We could do sort of a no-sock thing, which is always nice. And then a nice Gitman basic—any Gitman basic is great. And then some sort of unstructured blazer or a casual jacket. I mean you can't really go wrong with any of those things in my opinion.
TB: Yeah, shorts always scare me because I feel like with the fog rolling in, you're like, "Why do I have shorts on?" So khakis and a shirt is really nice. You'd do really great with a UNIS chino—they're amazing. I think any button down oxford for me, because I'm like a uniform dresser. I wear an deconstructed, unlined blazer every day. And then I'd put on some Jack Purcells. We're stocking some colored ones right now and they are pretty cool.
Unionmade's eye tends to favor the classics, is this what drew you to Converse and the Jack Purcell specifically?
TB: Well, when we opened the store the thought process was to sell things that get better with age or you want to hold onto for a long time. That was always the thing. And with Converse, I think to myself, if we ever had to carry one sneaker in the store, like what's the most iconic American sneaker that one could wear? And obviously it's either a Converse All Star or a Jack Purcell.
You know, I've always worn Converse, it's just one of those shoes that's always been around, so we like the idea of celebrating the timelessness of it. And it's one of those sneakers where it looks good on every last person who wears it. It goes with everything.
SL: For one reason or another, our guy has never seemed to be that interested in more high-end sneakers. We've never had them because they end up buying the Aldens instead, and when they do wear sneakers it's more casual and easy to wear like Converse—a Jack Purcell. And I think you don't feel too worried about beating it up and actually for a lot of people they look better [that way]. The classic. It's cool, and it'll always be cool.
Visit Unionmade online to check their finely tuned collection of Converse sneakers. Images by Jason Henry for Unionmade