Photo by Ja’Mon Jackson
Photo by Ja’Mon Jackson

Urban Outfitters has had locations in Washington, D.C. since 1995. The lifestyle retailer opened its first local store on M Street in Georgetown in a space that formerly housed Sam Goody, the popular local music and entertainment store, and before that a Woolworth five-and-dime store. There are now three Urban Outfitters stores in the D.C. metropolitan area.

Katherine “Kat” Wilkins, store brand leader at the Gallery Place-Chinatown location, has worked at all three of them. A native of Northern Virginia, she began her journey with the URBN brand at the Tysons Corner Urban Outfitters and is now in her fifth year with the brand.

As recently as 2017, Urban Outfitters reported significant losses in revenue and lower rates of foot traffic at their brick and mortar stores. The company began launching initiatives to cut costs and creatively jog interest in their in-store experience. To offset the dips in profits, URBN corporate established campaigns focused on utilizing in-house talent to create new experiences that would draw people in. One such campaign, Yard Sale, is an optional community engagement program inviting local brands to do themed pop-ups in their stores free of charge, tying the retail giant closer to its surrounding communities.

As a native of the DMV, Kat has chosen to use her position to create an atmosphere that touches the city. With Gallery Place being a central hub of D.C. culture, Kat wants to make sure UO feels like a neighbor. “I think it’s important for the store to participate in events on a regular basis. It makes us a little more friendly, a little more local feeling,” she said.

The Yard Sale was the first pop-up of 2019 at the Gallery Place store. Kat brought together an all-star line-up of local organizations and small businesses focused on sustainability and recycling in celebration of Earth Day. UO does not charge a vendor’s fee for their community engagement events, which makes it a great opportunity for smaller companies to promote their business on a large platform. The Urban OU team created a branded event including signage containing the logos of each participant and a special build out of large faux ferns to truly integrate the brands into the store for the day.

Howard Lee was present as a representative of Zero Waste DC (@DCZeroWaste), an entity of the D.C. Department of Public Works in the office of Waste Diversion.  “Anytime we can come and talk to people about what they can properly do [to reduce waste], we feel like it’s a win for us.”

Zero Waste DC’s table featured free literature and a recycling exercise to promote awareness on how to properly sort trash and recycling. “Anything that helps to keep things out of landfills is important to us, so we want to be a part of it.” Howard noted companies that repurpose textiles (clothes) in any way are a huge help to the environment as they prevent conventionally unrecyclable materials from reaching landfills.

The Rough (@ShopTheRough), owned by Darius Stanton II, was another featured vendor. Stanton fully understands how his love for classic clothing and his commitment to changing the narrative of environmental sustainability go hand-in-hand.

Darius, who has a BS in Environmental Science and a master’s in Environmental Management, founded The Rough in 2015. Sourcing all of the clothing himself, he distributes the items on his website, at pop-ups, and through consignment agreements with other vintage stores.

“I’ve done three events with UO now,” Darius said, “and I would definitely work with them again. It allows me access to traffic I wouldn’t normally get and exposure with a brand many people recognize.” Giving businesses that do not yet have a storefront of their own a way to reach new customers is a huge perk of the UO events and a major way Kat can personally catalyze the growth of small businesses.

Trezo Beach (@TrezoBeach), a vintage brand growing in popularity in the District, is owned by Yo Reef, and was also a participant in the pop-up. Reef is originally from Miami, but he has been living in the DMV area for 11 years. Reef says he was not thrifting or into vintage before he moved here, explaining, “I credit my style to D.C.” He founded his vintage brand Trezo Beach, meaning “treasure” beach in creole, in 2015. Reef hosts regular events at his studio space in Mt. Rainier but appreciated being able to take advantage of UO’s store front in the heart of the city.

Rewild (@RewildDC), a plant and floral studio specializing in interior decoration, is located in the Shaw neighborhood at Ninth & U Streets, N.W. Co-founder Lily Cox, explains that the term “rewilding” means to “reintroduce nature into the urbanized environment.” Being a young company recently hitting its six-month mark in business, the Yard Sale introduced Rewild to new customers and plenty walked away with new plants.

Kat usually finds vendors through word of mouth or friends of staff. She’s curated other programs at the store featuring local artists that happen to be on her staff. In September she threw a show featuring Odd Mojo, Foots x Coles, and three other DMV acts. The event inspired current employee, Jorden Robinson, to apply for a position at the store.

“For a rainy Friday, foot traffic was really crazy today,” Kat said, admitting, “I’m actually nervous to close.”

As store brand leader Kat has taken the responsibility of bridging the gap between corporate and community. She stated, “Even though it’s a big company, we still want to show it’s connected to the city.”

WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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