Welcome to Better Know a Store Owner, a weekly Racked feature focusing on the people who run our favorite boutiques around the city.Photos by William Chan
After Shana Tabor quit her 9-to-5 job in the jewelry business, she decided to open the first In God We Trust on Wythe Avenue in Williamsburg. She stumbled upon the location by chance, and secured it only after slipping a note to the landlord under the door. Now, the brand has three locations: one on Bedford Avenue, one on Lafayette Street, and a studio and shop in Greenpoint. In the interview below, Shana explains what it was like starting her brand from scratch, why she'll always manufacture in the states, and the jewelry she recently created with lots of synthetic hair.
What made you pick Williamsburg for the first In God We Trust?
Actually, most of the company happened by chance. Williamsburg was really easy because I lived here and had lived in the area for a long time. I was making jewelry and working out of my studio, and I hung out at St. Helen Cafe all the time. One day, I was just sitting there and talking to someone about how I wanted to open a store, and they literally pointed across the street and said, "That storefront looks really great to me. I think it just became available." So I wrote a letter and stuck it under the door and the guy called me back.
Was opening a store something you always wanted to do?
None of this was a plan, and none of this was a goal at all. I actually went to school for jewelry design, and after I left school I worked in the jewelry industry for a while, and I decided that I hated it. Not jewelry, but it's the same thing as working in the fashion industry: It's not really that creative. It's an office 9 to 5. It just wasn't really how I saw my life going, so I quit my job and decided that it was okay for me to be totally broke, and I'd figure it out as I went along.
During that period where I was just starting the brand and starting the company, one of my best friends had a store in Williamsburg. She opened the store in 2001, and at that point it was totally pioneer. She was on Wythe and N. 3rd. Now, it's crazy over there—there's a ton of stores and restaurants—but then it was definitely considered a destination. She sold my stuff, and I worked there one day a week.
Watching her run her business, I would say things like, "You should be doing this, you should be doing that." Everyone has their opinions, but now when people give me their opinion, or I hear them commenting on other people's businesses, I'm like, "Until you have your own business and you're doing better than that one, shut the fuck up."
How did the Soho store come about?
Again, a lot of it was very situational. Opportunities presented themselves and I just couldn't say no, mostly because I lack self-control. A friend of mine had suggested Soho, and I started looking around the area and paying attention to real estate that was available and contacting people to gauge how expensive it was. The city's really weird—you move one block one way, and rents double. Or decrease. The space that he wanted me to take, I was like, "Eh, I don't really like that space, but that one's really cool." And again, I wrote a letter and slipped it under the door and my landlord there still totally makes fun of me for it to this day.
Wythe Avenue to Lafayette Street was a huge step. I started Wythe Avenue with $5,000 my brother lent me and Lafayette was a totally different situation. I had to take out a business loan to sign the lease and that was sort of the step into, "Okay, I'm not bullshitting around anymore. I have to make this work."
And the Lower East Side and Greenpoint Avenue stores?
It's funny, the Lower East Side store kind of happened as a reaction to the Ace Hotel. They had offered me a space in the New York location, and we were negotiating and it was great. But they had hired this property company and they started taking over the deal, and when I got shifted from the people at Ace to the property company, our negotiation totally changed and it was insane. And I thought, "I can rent a store anywhere in the city for a fraction of that." So we ended up taking over a sublease on the Lower East Side as an emotional reaction.
At that time, we were still using a studio that we had in the back of the Wythe Avenue store, which compared to [the Greenpoint studio] is completely laughable. I knew we needed more space because we couldn't even have interns—we just didn't have space for them to sit. It was a 9' x 6' room that was our jewelry studio, office, clothing design area, and our store back stock. There was shit piled and coming down everywhere, and my sewing studio was in my apartment.
I started looking for a new studio space, and I liked the idea of our studio being attached to the store. It's not like we're killing it in Greenpoint, but any money the store makes allows us to have this amazing creative space. I was hanging out with friends in their studio one day and complaining, and my friend said, "Actually there's this amazing space in Greenpoint right down the street, go look in it." It was empty and they just happened to be having an art opening that day, so I didn't even have to call anyone. I just got to walk in and look at the entire space without anyone knowing what my agenda was.
Did you slip a note under the door?
No, I got a phone number that time.
So now that you have your arrangement with the three stores, do you want to expand further, or if it happens it happens?
It's a big "we'll see." If I had my way and there were five more of me, I would say "Yes, totally." I sort of flip and flop, and ironically the Ace is opening in Los Angeles and they've asked us to take a spot there, which I really wanna do. Or I would love to have a space on Abbot Kinney but I don't know how I would make that work. But then, I have moments where I tell myself, "You know what, chill out, enjoy what you have, be better at your current job." Because we can grow by just being better at what we're already doing.
In addition to producing in the Greenpoint studio, you also manufacture in the Garment District, correct?
Yea, we've been manufacturing in the Garment District since we started making clothing, and it's interesting because that was more of a reaction to the size of our business and what we could afford and what we could do. There's no way we could have gone overseas. At first, either I was physically sewing everything myself, or we'd be making ten or twelve pieces of something. You have to use someone local to do stuff like that.
And then I started getting more into the Garment District, and I almost immediately understood how positive it was for us to be working there. My point wasn't like, Made in the USA or Made in the Garment District, but it quickly turned into something that was important to us.
Do you think there will ever be a situation where you want to or need to manufacture overseas? Or will you always stay local?
It's going to stay local. Not even so much local, but it will just stay in the states. There are some instances, like when I was working on a knitwear project with a friend of mine. Knitwear is so hard in the United States because it basically just does not exist anywhere. We were working with a woman in Los Angeles, and in the realm of things, that's consider local in our weird globalization.
Manufacturing overseas is a lot easier. You can go to China and say, "I want this fabric." You don't actually have to find it anywhere, and you can just say, "I want it to be this color, and you're going to make it for me. I need this button." A strife that we encounter when we're in our design process is that we can come up with any concept whatsoever, but then there's the reality of producing it. Maybe we can't source that fabric, or maybe we can get enough yardage to do our samples, but are we going to be able to book that fabric a year from now when it needs to be produced? It's a shitshow. It's definitely a lot more challenging.
What's your philosophy on pricing? Do you try to keep it at a certain point?
We're really, really fair with all of our pricing. We take our cost and then we double it and that's what our wholesale is. We factor in our pattern making, and elements that are completely necessary, but we're not like, "Oh, it cost this amount of money for us to make this garment, and there's a 20% 'brand fee' built into it" or whatever.
We understand how much people can pay for stuff, and I don't think that we're interested in putting clothes out there that are insanely expensive just because they can be. A lot of times, we'll have pieces that are really expensive, and we have to have the conversation that goes, "No way, this can't be six hundred dollars. This needs to be under $400." That comes out of our margin.
I'll look at other brands that do manufacture in China, but because of whatever brand it is, they'll have the same price point as us but their quality isn't as good. It's made overseas, and I'm just like, "How are you getting away with this?" I don't understand. It's so arbitrary.
Do you have a favorite item in the store right now?
We just finished a jewelry collection that I'm really stoked on. It's a braided hair collection.
What kind of hair is it?
It's zebra hair! I'm just kidding. We took synthetic weave hair and we braided all of it and formed it and cast it, so it's metal but it has an organic quality. It still really looks like hair but it's solid brass.
Is there anything that you don't make yourself that you'd like to do one day? Or is there any brand you don't carry in the shop that you'd like to?
This coming fall will be the first season that the stores will only carry our apparel. I've been pushing for it and fighting myself over it for probably the past two years. But I love other people's stuff. After conceptualizing and designing and looking at all of our samples, by the time they make it to the stores I'm like, "I don't want to look at this crap anymore." So yes, I would love to have other people's apparel in the store but I'm trying to stick to my guns.
And I'm interested in making lots of things. I would love to be making shoes, and I'd love to be doing our own bags. But making handbags in the United States is so expensive. And like I was saying before about which way to expand, it's like we could continue opening our own stores, or we could start having more time to delve into other elements that we're interested in.
Alright, time for the lightening round. 1960s, 1970s, or 1980s?
Oh, there are so many different looks in those. I'm going to go with the '70s. There's just so many elements of '70s fashion, and I'm a super sucker for high-waisted pants. I also sort of classify riding boots and leather goods into the '70s.
Tumblr, Pintrest, or Instagram?
I'm the worst person to ask about social media. If I had to pick out of those I'd say Instagram, Tumblr, and then Pintrest. I have never once been on Pintrest, I actually just barely know what it is. I like the concept of Tumblr, but I don't really have the time to spend on it. And Instagram is actually the only social media I personally participate in.
Jay-Z or Kanye West?
I thought you were going to say JC or Penney. I'm going to go with Jay-Z. I think I realized just very recently that I sort of love Jay-Z.
Beach or mountains?
Breaking Bad or True Blood?
Breaking Bad. I've never seen True Blood, but I'm a huge fan of Breaking Bad.