Interview Series: David R. Robinson of Saint Alfred
Welcome to MODA Interview Series, where we feature influencers and leaders in the fashion industry in the Chicago area and beyond to discuss their design inspirations, their creative backgrounds and what it means to be a self-starter in the fashion world today.
Whether you’re looking for your next favorite pair of sneakers or a killer statement tee, Saint Alfred has made a name for itself as the go-to destination for enviable, streamlined streetwear. David R. Robinson, store manager, buyer and photographer at Saint Alfred, shares with us the highlights of his creative career and the challenges of helping to running a small business.
How would you to describe Saint Alfred’s overall design aesthetic? Who is your ideal shopper? What are some cornerstones of the Saint Alfred design mentality and vision?
If I had to use one word to describe Saint Alfred's aesthetic I would say clean. Whether it's the layout and design of the shop, our website, our graphics or our collaboration we do our best to have a somewhat timeless aesthetic. Something that will not only be fun but also intriguing as well as standing the test of time. We don't have a ideal shopper, we just ask that people are open and receptive. Our customer base is so varied, whether it's kids all the way to older adults, we get them all. We don't attempt to cater to any one type of customer because we would have went out of business years ago trying to please everyone. So we do our best to stay our course and we've been fortunate that people have grown with us.
Over the eleven years we've been in business we've been fortunate to introduce many brands not only to Chicago but also the region. Over that time we've grown from a local boutique to one that's known globally and we don't take any of our customers for granted. With that said we have to balance creating product that will resonate locally in Chicago but also not alienate customers elsewhere on the globe. It's a tricky balance but we fortunately have a great team and have had more hits than misses.
What got you into fashion and retail in general? Were you always on that track or did you have more of an "aha" moment after which you segued into more creative industries.
I've always been interested in garments and fashion. I was raised to have pride in my appearance, that for better or worse people will judge you by that first. As I've gotten older and through my various travels my knowledge of designers and brands has only broadened. This has allowed me to focus more on what I personally like and want to wear. I wasn't always on track to be involved in the field I'm currently in.
I went to school for Psychology and Pharmacology but I've always been a creative person. From visual art to writing to now photography. I feel we're all born creative people however as we grow older some of us loose that creative voice or it gets drowned out by other things. I've been fortunate enough to still hear my inner child and still have my creative voice. So at the core of myself I've had two sides to my person, the creative side and the intellectual side. The intellectual side drove me to go down the path of psychology and pharmacology which was interesting to me. People interest me and the reason we do certain things interest me. Human behavior interests me. So around the time I was in school I lost a few people close to me and that put my life into perspective. It was then I chose to put psych on pause and decided to pursue photography because that's what ultimately makes me happy. Fortunately my background in psych helps me with my photography. From me doing freelance work I started working at the shop and I realized my sincere appreciation of garments and fabrics. I've always been into sneakers so this job was a perfect intersection of some of my varied interests.
What's next for Saint Alfred? Is there anything you’re looking forward to in particular?
While I can't tell you specifically what's next for Saint Alfred I can say we're cooking up a few things we're excited to show our customers. There are a few things I'm looking forward to but they are once again things I can't disclose at this time. In a era where everything is leaked or seen months in advance we like to keep the surprise until it's the proper time. That way we can see the genuine reaction from our customers. One thing I am looking forward to that I can speak about is the upcoming buying season. It's a time when I usually have to travel along with two of my other coworkers I run the shop and do the buying with. I love traveling and this job has allowed me to travel to various places around the globe meeting new people and seeing product in person. It's given me a great deal of perspective which I'm grateful for.
What has been one of the biggest milestones in your career so far?
I can't think of just one, there's been more than a few which have been amazing and a little surreal. One thing that sticks out is over the course of my career I've been able to meet and in some cases befriend various people in this industry that I look up to. I've read magazines with them in it and now on some levels we're peers. Through that I've been able to learn a great deal from them and they've helped my own personal growth as a person and a creative. Every year has been filled with highlights of one sort or another. I will say having the chance to meet and talk with Tom Sachs, Carlo Rivetti of Stone Island and Prodigy of Mobb Deep are definitely some of the highlights of this year.
What is the hardest part about helping to run a small business?
I would say the most difficult aspect of helping run this business is the fact I have no set schedule and work a great deal. Unlike most traditional jobs I don't have a set 9-5 or a set office. Just because I leave the shop doesn't mean I can clock out and not deal with it. Since some people recognize my face and that I work at Saint Alfred I get asked about product or shop related things when I've been at grabbing groceries or out on my personal time. I'm pretty much on call at all times unless I'm asleep, that could mean emails coming through at all times of the night or discussing with my coworkers about a collaboration or developing the marketing for a upcoming in-house release or whatever. Fortunately I enjoy what I do so while the work is indeed work it's also fun.
What is the most rewarding part about helping to run a small business?
The most rewarding part about helping to run the business is seeing the reactions to customers when they learn about a new brand or get a shoe or item that they're really excited about. I enjoy well thought out and well designed product that lasts and I enjoy talking to other people that are also excited about it. With all the differences we allow to separate ourselves it's interesting and encouraging that something such as clothing or sneakers can bring together people of various ethnicities, genders and incomes under one common love or connection.