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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
Lara Fieldbinder has been operating Dear Fieldbinder in Cobble Hill for the past eight years. In that time, she's established the shop as one of the neighborhood's go-to places for work and weekend outfits for local creative types. Earlier this year, though, she announced a few big changes: mainly, that the store would be getting a new name, Article&, and that the Smith Street location may be closing in July.
We met up with Lara to discuss what prompted the change (Fieldbinder, as she would know best, is pretty hard to pronounce), as well as how her business will change now that it will be predominantly based online. Hint: that could potentially include seasonal pop-up shops, as well as the rebirth of the brand's in-house line.
How have you seen your business change over the past few years?
In some ways there's been a lot going on for us, but I feel like we may have gotten sidetracked with fashion and the whole blogger thing, and maybe lost sight of our core customer. That's one reason why we wanted to change our name. It's not the only reason, but we thought it would be effective: we change our name, people see that we're different, and that we're going back to our roots.
We'll be eight years old this summer, and that's a long time for a store to be open. People know we're here, so we just wanted to get back to what we really care about, and that's the creative working professional. We're also that demographic and we can really relate.
How have you seen the neighborhood change and grow since you've been here?
I've lived around here for about 11 years. When we first moved in, it was all creative working types, and I feel like they may have gotten priced out a little bit. That's one reason we might move at the end of the summer. We want to go where she is. It's still definitely a creative neighborhood, but it's more family-oriented. Which is amazing—I actually have a child myself—. It's a great place to live, but I feel like it's not a place where people come to shop like they used to. We've gotten some new tourism, but it's not enough to pay your bills. It's changed quite a lot.
What do you think Article& will be able to accomplish that Dear Fieldbinder can't?
One of the major reasons we changed the name is to allow the business to grow online. Not that Article& doesn't have its own issues, but Dear Fieldbinder was really hard to remember and spell. Even customers that we've had since the beginning, they don't remember our name. But they didn't really need to. It was a memorable neighborhood store. And it was kind of nice that it came back to my name.
What's going to be your strategy now for reaching people beyond this neighborhood? How will you broaden your customer base with the new site?
We feel like we can reach so many more people in New York. The irony is we all live about five miles apart but it's so hard to get to each other. What we want to do is give people a reason to shop with us. I'm not saying that we're going to be able to make something that's brand new and totally unique, but we do want to make something that's original. And that goes for how the products are displayed, how they're chosen, and also our blog content.
We've established a reputation for customer service, and I want to find a way to parlay that online in a really fresh, comprehensive way. From how the merchandise is displayed, what we purchase, and by remaining true to a voice that people understand. I think continuity across all platforms is really important.
How much manpower does it take to run an e-commerce site when you're a small shop? Do you anticipate having to grow your team a little to support Article&?
We're always talking about scaling things. Shipping, the blog—how do we scale it so that it can grow? It definitely takes manpower if you're going to be able to do it in a way that's thoughtful of your customer. Online is so quick that you have to be able to update it daily. It's possible to do it, but it's pretty intense. Right now we're a team of about 3 1/2. One person is part-time, I'm kind of doing a little bit of everything, and my husband's full-time on it. And then Veronica packs up the orders.
But that's what we're able to do now. Right now it's just cute, but if we want to grow the company we're going to have to be doing not just more of the same, but always trying new things to keep people interested.
Do you plan on carrying the same brands on Article& as Dear Fieldbinder?
You know, it's funny because I've been thinking about that a lot. My tendency is to not buy into the major labels, and sometimes I wonder if that's OK for an online company. You might not get the same organic search traffic that another sight might have, because one of the ways that you can be found online is through the brands you carry. But that's not really my thing, and it's not really what I do well.
What I do well is find lesser-known labels and show how exciting they are, which can also be very challenging because then you have fit issues. For instance, on our website we don't pin or tuck anything. What you see is what you get. But with a new brand, there can be issues. It takes a long time to figure out fit.
I think we're going to continue on with a lot of our labels, and maybe drop some of the more overly trendy lines. And we might even get back into some of our old-school labels that coincidentally are also making a comeback as well. Paul & Joe Sister is trying to make a comeback, and it's kind of on-point with what we're doing.
You mentioned recently that you're definitely staying here on Smith Street until July. Do you know what you'd like to do after that?
There could be a miracle that we would stay here but I just don't know. I don't really think so. We're primarily interested in an online store. We're thinking about Greenpoint, and the idea of doing seasonal pop-ups sounds exciting. It sort of suits our customer to do pop-up shops. She's busy, that's why she shops online. She likes to shop, but she doesn't really have time to go during the day, but she might make time for a pop-up shop.
Would you ever be interested in following a "shoptique" or shoppable showroom format that's become popular with online retailers lately? Or would you want to make sure your customers could walk out with their merchandise?
I don't think that's very cost-effective. I could see how that would work for someone if all you're looking at is samples, and all of their product is somewhere else. So for sites like that, it would be more convenient to ship from an outside location. But we like to have everything under one roof; it's more cohesive for us to do it that way.
If we did do a pop-up shop, though, it might be hard to haul all of our goods. So maybe we might do a pop-up but only sell certain things. But who doesn't want immediacy? I think we would make it so that you could buy what you want at that time.
What's your dream vision of where Article& could be in five years?
We really want to grow the inventory, that's one of my focuses right now. We want options for our customer, because that's what she wants. We also want to revist doing our store line, I think we'd be really ready for it now. And I think that's where things are going right now. If you can make things that are unique and that you can't get anywhere else, that's another draw. We'd also like to make candles—that's one reason why we chose Article&. We can add onto it. We can say, Article& Candles, Article& Dresses...
Also, there are several designers over the years that I've become close with and haven't really had the luxury or time to approach them to start a project. So I'd love to do that too. I guess it's just about having more projects and being a bigger company. Having a big, big studio with lots of windows. And a computer for everyone! That would be awesome.
That all sounds really exciting. Now it's time for the lightening round. First up: beach or mountains?
1960s, 1970s, or 1980s?
Mad Men or Game of Thrones?
8am or 8pm?
Jay-Z or Kanye West?
Go-to neighborhood lunch spot?
Met Foods, sadly (laughs). I could have my ideal, too. That would be Hanco's, a vietnamese restaurant [on Bergen Street].
Post-work watering hole?
My house, with a glass of wine.
· Dear Fieldbinder Gets a Name Change and New Website: Article& [Racked NY]
· All Better Know a Store Owner Posts [Racked NY]