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Nordstrom’s New ‘Lab’ Is Betting on Fresh, Indie Designers

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The retailer welcomes Eckhaus Latta, A.W.A.K.E, and more with its new incubator project.

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Photo: Nordstrom

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Retailers — especially department stores — are on the constant search for what’s cool. Thanks to Opening Ceremony alum Olivia Kim, few are doing it better than the century-old and Seattle-based Nordstrom. One quick visit to the site today, and you might be surprised by the freshness of what you see: editorial-like shopping stories and campaigns shot by Petra Collins and featuring some of today’s most up-and-coming, recognizable, social media-scouted faces.

Along with the site’s new look, Nordstrom’s offerings far surpass the typical department store, too. Especially after today, which marks the launch of “the Lab” — an incubator project designed to showcase and support new designers, conceived and curated by Kim, vice president of creative projects at Nordstrom.

This initiative comes just two years after Kim launched SPACE, an in-store designer boutique showcasing a mix of emerging brands like Molly Goddard, Ellery, and Colovos, as well as names that were considered emerging at launch and now are among the buzziest in the industry, like Vetements. It’s no overstatement that championing young talent is at the core of Kim’s mission at Nordstrom.

The designers featured in the Lab all find themselves in a subset of newness, according to Nordstrom, either just starting their first collections or in the early stages of navigating mainstream potential. “I had a handful of designers I found so compelling but I didn’t exactly know where they fit in our stores,” Kim shares. “I wasn’t sure they fit into SPACE yet, but I couldn't let them go.” So instead, she made room.

A.W.A.K.E
Eckhaus Latta

For the inaugural season, the Lab will feature five designers: Eckhaus Latta, Vejas, Eric Schlösberg, Dilara Findikoglu, and A.W.A.K.E. “Each of them are in different stages of their business, some more mature than others, some have more distribution than others, and some are making their second or third collection — ever,” says Kim. Some have been on Kim’s radar for quite some time now, like Vejas. Some, like Dilara Findikoglu, Kim recently found on Instagram.

Thanks to the internet and social media, we’re able to see things as they happen, as they launch, as the ideas are conceived, right in the palm of our hands. So while some of these brands, like Eckhaus Latta, might seem like older news, the business side of these brands truly are just developing.

“The world is such a small place now, and everyone has access to the latest and greatest because of the internet,” echoes Kim. “The pace of fashion is moving so quickly, fashion is so accessible and designers are now considered established after just a few years because they have support from a couple stores.”

To help, Nordstrom and the Lab plan to go far beyond just carrying the brands in store and online. The small team is committed to be extremely hands-on throughout the season, walking the designers through the bigger picture of, as Kim says, the things you never want to think about. Think shipping and invoice systems, working for on-time deliveries, and how to actually work with big department stores. Every season, the team will select a fresh crop of designers to occupy the Lab.

Vejas
Eric Schlösberg

“We wanted to find a way to show the truly new brands just starting out, and to recognize the great, raw talent out there,” Kim says of the totally unique and truly incredible opportunity. “To say we see you, and we want to support you.”

The brands chosen for launch differ largely in aesthetic, too, which was an intentional choice by Kim and her team. The goal was to find young labels that had completely different audiences, messages, and points of view.

“A.W.A.K.E. is such an interesting brand. Her clothes are so beautiful and feminine,” Kim shares. “I love how Eckhaus Latta combines fashion and art to create unique looks that can really be worn on any age or gender.” She describes Eric Schlösberg’s collection as raw and authentic; when it comes to Dilara Findikoglu, who makes pieces reminiscent of ‘80s glam rock, it’s her message as a strong, powerful woman designer that sets the line apart.

“It’s important to make beautiful clothes, but for me, it has to be more than that,” Kim says. “It's the full package — who is the designer, what is their story, what do they stand for, why are they doing what they are doing, who is it for. There’s an authenticity with each of the designers in the ‘why’ they're doing what they're doing.”

The Lab is now available to shop online at Nordstrom.com/SPACELab, as well as select Nordstrom locations.