In the hub of vibrant colors, culture and extravagance that is Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, one storefront stands out: Bows and Arrows, a minimalistic, sleek shop carrying cutting-edge clothing wedged in between a vintage clothing shop and a shop carrying foreign imported goods. The store serves as a beacon of fashion and streetwear culture, attracting customers throughout the East Bay.
Bows and Arrows has been in Berkeley for about 14 years, flying relatively under the radar.
“The Bay Area doesn’t have the greatest fashion scene,” said manager Kyle Martin. “It tells you that it’s really under par because there’s no fashion week here.”
Though streetwear culture isn’t dominant in the Bay Area, it shows more prominence in other parts of California. However, these locations definitely have their differences.
As Martin said, “LA is more expensive. They worry about the cost of something more instead of the style. It’s really hard to be into fashion… when you’re thrown a bunch of high-end clothes all the time. All people worry about is the Balenciaga, like the Triple S or the Sock Runner. They don’t really care about fashion.”
Bows and Arrows tends to stock streetwear pieces from brands such as Pleasures, Comme des Garçons Play and BrandBlack, but, as an independent retailer, deciding where to invest can prove to be a challenge.
“We have to find interest in it (potential merchandise), and it has to fit the idea and appeal of the store, also our customer clientele and what they’re looking at on a day-to-day basis,” Martin said. “It’s not exactly the most hype stuff, because that comes and goes really, really quick. You kind of need to put classic things around unusual things at the same time to draw people in.”
Additionally, the brands themselves play a strong role in deciding where they place their products.
“They want to sit next to things that will make their brand justified at the price. Off-White wants to be in Barney’s. They want to be around other things. Raf wants to be around Alexander McQueen and Alexander Wang. They don’t want to be around a Stray Rats. They don’t want to be around no Pleasures. It’s all about placement,” he said, “what you see around it, the company you keep.”
Along with major brands, the store also frequently receives messages from smaller, independent clothing companies, in hopes of stocking their supply.
“We want to go for things that we want. If we notice you, that’s better than you contacting us to notice you. Instead of reaching out to us, expand your reach to just people, in general, and, then, if we hear about you, we’ll hear about you,” Martin said. “Branding is a hard thing to do, for people, especially in this day and age. People don’t understand exactly what the kids want, or what people want to see.”
While much thought clearly goes into the merchandise Bows and Arrows offers, it can still be very difficult to expand and gain exposure as a smaller shop in the competitive world of streetwear.
“We’ve gotten posted on Hypebeast and different little magazines that don’t have the same publication as a Juxtapose, or a Mass Appeal, or something like that, but we’ve been posted on other things,” said Martin. “Our reach, because we’re in the East, like Berkeley, isn’t as strong as San Francisco.”
Despite this, Bows and Arrows has more than 22,000 followers on their Instagram.
“Social media is a hard one… because with a store, it can get corny really, really quick. Just even the words you choose, the descriptions you give, how you choose to present yourself,” said Martin.
“We can put some shoes out, and nobody can care at all. It’d be whatever, they walk past it,” he add. “But if we post it on our Instagram page, people are just like, ‘Oh, yeah.’ It’s like ‘Oh, OK, I see it. It’s there. I’m gonna go purchase that.’”