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Interview: Todd Barket

Thursday, May 18th, 2017

President’s in conversation with Todd Barket, founder of the San Francisco based menswear store, Unionmade.
Photos by Kelsey McClellan. 

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Unionmade has built a reputation as one of the best classic menswear stores in the world. What’s the brand’s origin story?
I have worked in retail all of my adult life. I worked for Gap Inc for almost 20 years in various creative capacities and I was always lucky to work with people who had great taste and understood quality. I was also lucky to understand what American style and personal style meant to consumers. With my past experience I have come to realize that it’s nice to have a classic base to our wardrobe. Things that get better with age, things that you want to hold onto. It seems that at Unionmade we are doing the opposite of what is happening in the world, but luckily we have a group of customers who share this idea of timelessness and quality with us.

After I left my old job in 2009 I wanted to start my own project. I was always inspired by stores in Japan like Beams, Journal Standard and B Shop and their take on Americana. They always had an unexpected twist to it that made it not literal.  When we opened we were heavily based in American brands, many of which people haven’t seen in years and we were able to curate and present things in a way that people hadn’t seen before and give it our own twist. The concept resonated with people and we have luckily had a very loyal following since.

How do you keep things interesting season after season?
I always look forward to the next season. I think that’s why I always liked retail so much, because there is always change, movement, and new ideas. We work really hard to find new lines and concepts each season, we travel for inspiration and meet a lot of people. We are lucky because so many of the people we have been working with do such an amazing job at recreating their lines seasonally, so there’s built in freshness there. We are also lucky we get a lot of word of mouth connections from people about different lines but at the end of the day, we are out looking in showrooms, talking to people and making connections.

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There is so much cultural and economic vitality in San Francisco, but it’s not generally thought of as a style capital like Paris, New York, or even Los Angeles. What are your thoughts on the matter? Is Unionmade changing that?

I have lived in San Francisco for 25 years and it’s changed so dramatically during that time. When I first arrived it felt like a secret. If you were in the know you understood how amazing of a place it is: beautiful, gritty, diverse, and with character unlike any city I have ever been to. The secret is out and new people are coming to live here all the time, which I think has helped us cement ourselves as a casually stylish city. The city oddly has a really classic and casual approach to style and people tend not to fall into trends and are rather understated. We invented denim here and we are home to several internationally known brands. People have a distinct sensibility and we have developed our own sense of style. We have educated people who like quality and appreciate thoughtful design. Our food scene is unmatched and it seems like with the food movement revolving around quality it has moved into clothing and other aspects of people’s lives too. I think Unionmade has a distinctly San Francisco point of view, and I’m always thinking about how the things we buy will work into people’s wardrobes as well as their lives.  We have a large group of customers who look to us to disseminate seasonal ideas for them and show them how to interpret ideas through our lens.

You’re in a real hotpot between the Castro and the Mission. What’s your favorite thing about the neighborhood?

We are in a great neighborhood! The Castro is the birthplace of gay rights and continues to be the most famous gay neighborhood in the world. The Mission was a Latin neighborhood that has morphed into a diverse area brimming with restaurants and retail. We are in the middle of both, near Dolores Park, a gathering place for everyone on the south side of the city. We are also lucky to have great neighbor stores. The building that we are in is a historic pre 1906 earthquake victorian and the city has done a great job of keeping the personality of each of its neighborhoods, large chain businesses are not allowed for example. My favorite part about the neighborhood is the diversity and access to great amenities.

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You always look so dapper. Do you have a personal style philosophy of sorts?

Thank you. At my age I’m not trying too many new things. I have always been into fashion and worked around it, so I’ve always had access to clothing at many levels and I like to mix things. Long before fast fashion there was Gap which have played a huge role in my sense of style. The idea was nicely priced well designed basics that you can wear and make your own, with your personal style. My philosophy is kind of the same. I tend to have a base of easy quality basics and I layer with pieces that have a little bit more of character. I tend to hold onto a lot and mix old pieces in with new, as I tend to wear only neutrals (blues, grey, creams, black). Everything works together and always mixes well.

Tell us how Unionmade selects the products it sells? What are the general characteristics of items that make your rigorous edit?
We definitely see a lot of product but we only have a limited amount of space, so that is one thing that tends to keep us in check. I usually use myself as the brand filter. I feel like everything I buy I would want to wear. There is nothing that we have that I don’t like. The buying in curation is really personal and I work really hard to edit and present the best of what we have seen.

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What is it about President’s that has drawn Unionmade to the brand? We’re so pleased to be among the excellent brands in the shop.
President’s makes complete sense to us. It’s high quality, understated and beautifully executed. The story of the brand is lovely and Guido and his family have such a passion that we were instantly attracted to what they do. Also, we love their connection to the creative world and the love of photography. Customers love it because the quality is evident from the first touch and all of the pieces easily work into everyone’s wardrobes and anyone can style them how they choose, which is what Unionmade is built upon.

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What does Italian style mean to you?
In America I think we have an interesting perception of what Italian style is. We see the fashion side of things with the design houses and the seasonal trend ideas but when you go to Italy and see the sense of style that people have it’s always amazing, and inspiring. Italians know how to keep it casual but always looked pulled together. People take great care in how they look no matter what their socioeconomic situation – I have always felt it’s quality over quantity.

President’s is available at Unionmade in store and online here.