The pandemic may be ravaging many fashion and retail companies, but in the sneaker world, those much-hyped drops are still selling as if all is right in the world — and it’s helping to keep Alife afloat.
“They want the hype,” said Treis Hill, co-owner and GM of the New York-based streetwear brand and sneaker retailer of the customers that are still purchasing. He pointed to a string of buzzy drops from Adidas over the past few months (especially certain Yeezy styles) that have kept up interest even as customers both in New York and afar have been sheltering at home.
“When this first happened, I thought, no one is going to be buying,” said Hill. “But people are buying right now.”
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It also helps that the brand is able to ship out product from its Manhattan shop, having pulled back on an earlier plan to move inventory to a logistics facility in New Jersey. The fortuitous timing has helped them to maintain access to product and remain nimble during stay-at-home orders. These days, Hill takes turns with other staffers in shipping orders out of the Lower East Side flagship. “It’s like I just started again,” said Hill with a laugh.
In fact, since taking on a new investor and doing a relaunch in 2018 (which included an unexpected Crocs collab), Hill and partner Rob Cristofaro have taken a number of restructuring steps to arrive at that state of fluidity that is coming in handy now. Though they reignited their wholesale business in Europe last year, they have kept it relatively small.
Hill and Cristofaro are also constantly weighing the pros and cons of its New York retail space (the brand, a pioneer in the streetwear space, turned 20 last year). “Do we renew our lease? Do we move locations? Do we just do pop-ups?” asked Hill. “The Lower East Side has changed a lot. It’s not the burgeoning neighborhood that it used to be. It’s all up in the air right now.”
For now, the brand negotiated 50% payment of rent at its retail space and offices, and they are holding back on filling a few empty designer positions — though Hill said that they are still moving forward with new collections. “We’re looking at how we implement more of a quick-strike program where we can get product in within 30 days or 45 days,” he said. “It’s just living shorter instead of the eight- or nine-month lead, the classic dog-and-pony show on racks.” Alife currently has collaborations in the works with Adidas, Timberland and Saucony, plus a new capsule with Lee denim, which was slated for March but has been put on hold for a more appropriate drop date.
Hill also said that Alife is looking for ways to keep its beloved Alife Sessions series going, despite the obvious restrictions in live events. Back in 2006, the brand hosted an underground performance by John Mayer and DJ Just Blaze in its tiny backyard space. It went on to include performances by Drake (twice), ASAP Rocky (the performance ultimately got him his record deal), Dev Hynes and Schoolboy Q. Now, the brand is exploring what the series could look like in a virtual world. “We just had a call today with MTV,” said Hill. “We had a project already brewing, but we want to see what’s happening virtually with these music sessions. (The live sessions) were always intoxicating. We are talking about different ways to bring that back.”
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⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ In 2010, Drizzy came through the ALIFE courtyard on the eve of his album release to celebrate the "most important day of his life. Backed by A-Trak, Drake performed in front of a capacity crowd, introducing the audience to select tracks from his album, Thank Me Later. Three years later the Toronto M.C. returned to the courtyard; this time with multiple platinum records and countless awards and accolades under his belt. He opened by once again by reminiscing about the time spent at the Lower Eastside establishment, and thanking everyone for their support. Guests jockeyed for position within the courtyard, while neighbors watched from windows and fire escapes, as Drake proceeded to rock the crowd from the stage to the rooftop…literally. G.O.O.D. Music's Travi$ Scott joined in, performing "Upper Echelon" from his Owl Pharaoh EP, while Raekwon supported Drake on "WuTang Forever," and the blessed the crowd with "C.R.E.A.M." The walls of the courtyard, which usually showcase a unique theme for each event, displayed an archive of Sessions past, featuring a custom piece done by graffiti legend Cope2 (more on this soon). ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Video recap by @seanphazes