I'm always inspired by creative independent retailers, and with the huge growth of online retail over the past few years, it seems even more important than ever to celebrate those hardworking, determined folks who are doing bricks and mortar retail REALLY well. Two people who certainly fall into this category are dynamic Sydney duo Brian and Vincent Wu, who founded much respected fashion retail chain Incu back in 2002. With unlikely backgrounds in Business (they both have MBAs - very impressed!), twin brothers Brian and Vincent found the corporate world wasn't quite their speed... and so over lunchbreaks in the city they hatched a plan to go into retail together. They opened their first store in October 2002 with, as Vincent says below, 'practically no retail experience'. But a great idea, sound strategy and hard work really paid off - Incu quickly gathered a loyal following, and the Wu brothers haven't looked back.
Over the past twelve years, Incu has gone from strength to strength - Brian and Vincent now employ 58 staff across their head office and seven amazing retail stores (3 in Sydney, 4 in Melbourne), and they also design and produce their very own in house fashion label, Weathered, which launched in 2007. In store, Incu stocks a super awesome edit of local and international brands, including APC, Rag & Bone, Etoile Isabel Marant, Saturdays Surf NYC, Antipodium, Karen Walker, Benah and Lucy Folk and many more - and both company directors travel twice annually to keep in touch with their designers, and ensure the Incu range is always on the money!
Aside from just selling stuff, the Incu boys have also always been very keen on creating a real culture around what they do, and to this end, they regularly collaborate with local artists on in store displays and installations, they have an excellent, content rich blog, and they also produce a seriously impressive little print publication called Incu EDITION, which first came to life three years ago. 'For us, Incu EDITION is a way of telling a bigger story about the Incu brand, and gives us a chance to investigate things that we love outside of fashion – like food, travel, art and film, as well as more personal subjects like family and career' explains Vincent. This awesome little magazine is free, and combines editorial on local creatives as well as designers within the Incu family, alongside styled photoshoots of what's currently instore. 'It is a great way for us to support many of the amazing people we come in contact with' says Vincent of this brilliantly executed project.
It's so clear from reading Brian and Vincents responses below that despite it's steady growth in recent years, Incu is still very much a family business, and is run in a highly personal way. Brian and Vincent are humble, hardworking guys with great respect for their talented team, and this really does come across in store.
Incu have an extensive online store, though some labels are only available in store... good reason to get out and do some good old fashioned window shopping this weekend!
Brian - Vincent and I both studied Business with a major in marketing and management, and then completed an MBA while working in the IT industry. We wanted to become high level strategic consultants for some big company, but after beginning our careers in the corporate world, we quickly came to realise that it wasn’t for us.
Vincent - We actually worked in two office blocks very close to each other and would meet up for lunch in the park that separated our buildings. During these breaks we’d talk about wild ideas that might provide respite from corporate life; it just so happened that one day one of them stuck, and in October of 2002 we opened Incu, with practically no retail experience. It was very much a case of faking it until we made it.
Brian - No we didn’t plan any of this. Our initial goal was simply to create amazing stores that people loved to visit, and of course to establish a solid business. We’ve been lucky enough to hire some incredibly talented people who have helped us grow Incu to what it is today. A lot of the great ideas we have at Incu don’t necessarily originate from Vini or I!
Vincent - Another factor that compelled us to start Incu, was the idea of building a boutique shopping environment that would be inclusive rather than exclusive. Brian and I both loved fashion, but often felt uncomfortable shopping in stores because of poor service and retail experiences that left us feeling unwelcome. We wanted to create an environment that we’d like to shop in, one that had great product but also offered warm, personable and informed service – this is something we still hold at the core of our business today.
Brian - The great thing about being brothers, and especially twins, is that we’ve worked through all of our differences from an early age. The arguing and fighting has already happened so running a business is not that dissimilar to us spending time together outside of the office. Vini and I also often have an unspoken understanding about how we deal with situations, this cuts out a lot of the back-and-forth that might occur in other partnerships and usually makes decision making much easier!
Vincent - Our roles are very complementary. I am involved in a lot of the creative aspects of the business like buying, fit-out design and merchandising while Brian is in charge of the business side of things, he’s the numbers guy, and makes sure Incu operates smoothly. The real fun happens when our roles overlap and we get to work on a project collectively – nine times out of ten, two heads are better than one.
Brian - Our Head Office is tucked away in a leafy street in Sydney’s Surry Hills. The space is split into two departments; our retail business is where you’ll find our buyers, retail assistants and online manager and our wholesale department who look after the Incu Showroom and distribution labels like Weathered and Saturdays Surf NYC. Many of our staff, like our general manager, marketing manager and accounts team work collectively over both of these departments.
Vincent: Yeah, we’re still a relatively small company so the reality is that everyone performs many roles in the business but this allows us all to feel more involved with everything that is going on and also keeps us focused on the bigger picture.
Brian - Weathered started quite naturally and began with a collection of shirting. When we were travelling to buy for Incu we often experienced a sense of distance from the everyday work that keeps you busy in the office; during this time Vini and I would find ourselves discussing products that we felt were missing in the marketplace and by the end of the conversations we had convinced each other that we could just do it ourselves.
Vincent - The premise of the Weathered brand is that it’s centered around providing our customers with essential items to have in their wardrobe. The collections are never overly trend driven, but instead offer pieces that you can wear everyday. All of the garments are understated, with a focus on natural materials that feel comfortable and soft against the skin. Weathered is the shirt you put on without thinking in the morning, or the pair of pants that you’d never travel without. It works as a canvas in combination with statement pieces from your wardrobe or as a paired back, head to toe everyday look.
Vincent: Strangely, Incu EDITION actually started with our love of food. We seem to make many of the most important decisions in our business over lunch or dinner, and we believe that in breaking bread you can also build long lasting relationships. It was with this in mind that we decided we wanted to show our customers that while fashion is important to us, we know that there is so much more to life. We wanted to put the Incu lifestyle down in print, to create something tangible for our customers to take into their homes and digest. So we began writing about food, and six issues later have covered everything from adventure to family and profiled talented friends of Incu working in art, music, film, architecture and design.
Brian - A typical day would usually mean waking up around 6.00am, not because I want to but because my kids will usually wake me up. Then it’s a quick breakfast followed by drop off at school. I start my working day with a coffee up the road from our office and then it's answering emails and chatting to our retail manager and buyers about how the stores are performing. Usually I try to visit one of our Sydney stores and talk to the staff about any feedback from the previous day. It’s important to be able to stay close to what is going on at the store level, although I wish I could do this more often.
Lunch starts early (around 11.30am) and then I’m onto different projects that I’m working on whether it's looking at new store locations, negotiating lease renewals or other opportunities that we see in the marketplace. I don’t really have a set daily task but there’s always something to do to ensure we get better as a company. Work finishes around 5.30 - 6.00pm and then it's back home for dinner and family time. Usually I get to bed by 10.30 - 11.00pm, so in between putting the kids to sleep and bedtime, I’m back to finishing off email replies.
Vincent - No one day is the same, which is both exciting and challenging. Depending on the time of season I am either seeing the latest collections from local brands or working on our next Weathered range. Twice a season we travel overseas to visit our international brands at showrooms in New York and Paris. When I’m home, family also takes up a large portion of my day, and is something I look forward to coming home to every night.
1. Fast Company – A great source of innovative business ideas.
2. Hypebeast – A quick, current snapshot of what’s happening product wise in fashion.
3. The Business of Fashion – Intelligent journalism focused on the business side of the industry.
4. Nowness – A refreshing daily dose of art, culture, music and film.
5. Instagram – Vincent’s favourite thing in the world and also such an important way to engage with our customers and be inspired by them in return.
Brian - We have a great relationship with our architects, Akin Creative, they have a unique way of translating our vision into bricks and mortar, and are consistently producing exceptional work for an array of different clients. One artist that I think is creating brilliant work is Hollie Martin, we worked with Hollie on a project for our Sydney City window a few years ago and it has been incredible to watch her go from strength to strength.
Vincent - Another artist we’ve known for many years is Gemma Smith, it’s a really great feeling to see people you’ve grown up with become successful with their craft. We’ve also recently worked with design duo Craig Redman and Karl Maier (Australian designers based in New York and London respectively) on a project for the re-launch of our Sydney stores. We were big fans of what they did with the art collective Rinzen and had always wanted to work on something with them. Fashion-wise, we are loving local jewellery designers Sarah & Sebastian and Lucy Folk!
Brian - We are really proud of all the stores that we have, each time we open a new one it’s a little like giving birth to a really expensive child. One particular highlight for us was celebrating our 10th anniversary with our staff in Sydney and Melbourne, it’s humbling to know that we’ve created a business that has endured, but also that we’ve built an incredible family of staff who are as loyal as they are hard-working.
Vincent - We’ve always talked about creating a large format retail space that brings together a curation of all of our favourite things – clothing, homewares, art, food and lifestyle products… using someone else’s money of course!
Brian and Vincent - Family holidays!
Brian - I’ve got to say Surry Hills, it’s where our office has been based for a long time and we’re very spoiled for choice when it comes to lunch! It’s got a really unique mix of shops, bakeries and cafes, galleries and a friendly disposition that is rare to find in the city!
Vincent - We are big Gelato Messina fans, and are always across what’s on special on any given day. Aesop has always been a huge inspiration to us, both in Sydney and around the world. We also love to visit our friends at furniture mecca Koskela in Rosebery.
Brian - We recently took one of our favourite U.K designers, Oliver Spencer, for dinner at Nomad in Surry Hills. The food is fresh and delicious, a real showcase of local produce cooked with the Mediterranean in mind. It’s a sharing situation, which works well because it’s hard to choose just one dish! The lamb, caramelised carrots and cheese filled churros were all highlights from the meal.
Brian - I’m usually watching my kids play tennis every Saturday morning.
Vincent - ...and I’m usually having brunch with my family somewhere local.
Brian - We think Sydney’s best kept secret is technically not in Sydney at all. Instead, it’s the amount of incredible places your can drive to within two hours of our CBD that feel a world away from the bustle of 9-5 life. The Blue Mountains, The Royal National Park and the Hawkesbury River to name a few – each of these places hold a myriad of secrets of their own!
Vincent - And, no interview would be complete without also mentioning Sydney’s other best kept secret – the Yum Cha at Sunny Harbor Seafood Restaurant in Hurstville is second to none!