Browns Debuts Traveling Concept Store in East London

Holli Rodgers
Holli Rodgers
Francisco Gomez de Villaboa

Browns is taking its show on the road with a new and fluid retail concept meant to pique the curiosity of 21st-century customers and nudge them to do more than shop, WWD has learned.

Browns East is the first store the London retailer has opened in two decades and marks a new chapter. It remains unclear how long the store will last at the new Shoreditch venue, but uncertainty is all part of the plan.

The 4,000-square-foot unit on the corner of Club Row and Redchurch Street is the first iteration of the Browns Nomad project that will see the retailer move from venue to venue, or city to city, around the world. There will be a soft opening on Thursday, with a big event planned for Oct. 31.

With Browns Nomad, it’s not only the location that will change: Fixtures can be moved and altered, while the store also plans to offer a rolling program of talks and in-store events and workshops across multiple creative industries.

BeBox will offer meditation experiences with light and sound technology, while local artists have been chosen to show and sell their work in the space. Fatties Bakery, which specializes in ultra-rich brownies and baked goods, will make its brick-and-mortar debut at the store’s marble-clad bar.

“It’s the 21st-century version of a pop-up, and the beauty of this concept is that it’s ever-changing,”
said Browns chief executive officer Holli Rogers. “It looks nothing like South Molton Street [the retailer’s central London flagship]. It’s a different experience, and it very much talks to the local community.”

Rogers said going forward, the Nomad stores will be reactive to what’s going on in the industry, to the needs of Browns and to future locations. The next iterations, the CEO said, could be anywhere in the world and for any period of time.

She has been working alongside Susanne Tide-Frater, chief consultant of augmented retail at Farfetch, which owns Browns, and Sandrine Deveaux, managing director of Store of the Future at Farfetch.

Rogers argued that Nomad wants to push the physical and digital limits of 47-year-old Browns and stay ahead of today’s customer, who is moving at a faster pace than most retailers. “You see consumers walk into South Molton Street with their phones, and they don’t show you anything. They’re in the dressing room checking to see if they can find it in another size.”

She said Browns East wants to connect more with the consumer and will be layering in technologies that are more responsive to today’s shopping experience.

Browns East will open with technologies including RFID so that shop assistants can have an overview of what’s in-store and in the warehouse. It will also have a mobile point-of-sale system, so customers can buy as they shop and don’t have to walk to the cash register. In a month’s time, Browns also plans to launch an app that customers can use to pay for purchases, among other things.

The store will offer two distinct experiences, club and community. VIP clients will be able to share wish lists and prebook appointments with personal shoppers and take advantage of a private upstairs club space and a separate entrance. “We are going to create wish lists for them and additional, curated and refined recommendations. And we’ll carry on connecting outside of the store and communicate via messaging,” said Deveaux.

“The technology is there in the background to augment that customer experience. We want to be informed so that we can serve the customer better. What matters is what the customer is thinking. You want to define technology by customer experience.”

She added that Browns’ sales associates have been working alongside the product engineering team to ensure that the technology makes sense on the shop floor.

Today, when a customer walks into Browns, “we have no idea about who they are,” added Deveaux. “The vision we had around the Nomad project was how we could validate what that customer is doing online and how to embed technology into the experience. When you capture all of that data, you can combine the online and offline experience in a way to augment that retail environment.”

At Browns East, there will be a focus on a one-to-one relationship between the shopper and the seller, she said. “Human interaction is critical to the experience.”

The walk-in community experience is less structured, although Tide-Frater said speed and convenience are of the essence. “What we’ve worked on is making the products accessible as quickly as possible, but the store experience goes beyond having stuff faster. It has to do with reinjecting a soul. That’s what Browns originally did. We’re going backwards to go forwards and bringing it all together.”

In terms of product, Rogers said the location of every Browns Nomad will influence what is on display in the store. “For this specific location in the East End, we approached it with more of a male consumer in mind, and we also liked the idea of how men and women are sharing clothes these days, a gender blend, so we took a strong stance on that, too.”

The store will launch with 45 brands, including Ksubi x Travis Scott, for which Browns has the European exclusive; Sacai; Balenciaga; Gucci; Navro; Alyx; and Moncler x Craig Green.

The store’s interiors have been treated as a series of installations, with sculptural fixtures and a mix of old and new materials. Floorboards salvaged from the BBC — and once walked upon by Winston Churchill — have been used on the ground floor, while some fixtures and furniture have been made from recycled plastics.

The store will launch with artwork by Polly Morgan, Juno Calypso and Lauren Baker, and all pieces will be available for purchase at a range of price points, the retailer said.

When Browns East opens on Thursday, another Browns will close, the brand’s 1,100-square-foot unit on Sloane Street, said Rogers. “We really wanted to focus on the East and where that is going,” she said.

Next year, the South Molton Street flagship, a collection of shop fronts in Mayfair, will undergo a refurbishment. There is also a separate project cooking in Brazil, Browns Matarazzo in São Paulo, on the site of a former hospital. “That store, too, will interact with environment and community, but it’s a different proposition from Browns East,” said Tide-Frater.