Bogotá’s ‘Concept Stores’ Showcase Colombia’s Emerging Brands
This article is part of our special report on global shopping.
BOGOTÁ, Colombia — Bogotá’s growing Colombia-only “concept stores” offer shoppers an adventurous twist on the retail experience, and a chance for emerging designers to get their goods noticed.
In these variety stores, newer brands get an upscale setting to introduce new clothing, shoes, home accessories, beauty products and more. It’s a brick-and-mortar marketing opportunity they could not easily establish on their own. The largest of these concept shops works with as many as 200 local labels, laid out on racks and shelves meant to display them to greatest effect.
Inventory shuffles quickly, and new designers might be introduced as often as every month. If buyers can keep up, they have an efficient way to follow the country’s latest trends while snagging deals on new brands before they catch on.
“We do a refresh here every 15 days,” said Catalina Huertas, co-owner of Ba hué. “We change the whole store. We just mix everything up.”
Ba hué opened four years ago in Bogotá’s Quinta Camacho neighborhood, known for its orderly streets lined with red brick, Tudor-style houses, a holdover from the country’s fascination with European design a century ago. The busy store’s success — it has been open for about four years — shows just how inward Colombian tastes have turned.
The store occupies both levels of a mansion on a historically protected street, and shoppers wander through a maze of small rooms and up and down a creaky staircase to investigate the wares. It’s a fashion fun house of sorts with murals on the walls and ceilings, and mismatched woods and tiles on the floors.
Ms. Huertas and her business partner, Juan Baquero, have known each other since childhood; their parents were best friends, and so are they. The shop has the feel of a family business, but one slicked up by in-demand brands like New Anchor, Della Terra and Pluvo. Ba hué, which sells alcohol-infused ice pops at the front door, skews toward younger shoppers, and it is the city’s sole retailer for the established brand Urban Rock.
Nearly all of the clothes are unisex — still a strange concept in Colombia, according to Mr. Baquero — and what stands out are casual blouses, pants, boots and sportswear, the kind of clothing that would work at an art gallery opening or a late dinner on the patio of one of Quinta Camacho’s many restaurants. There are numerous jewelry cases, racks of sunglasses, shelves of candles and an entire room of skin care products.
Like other concept-store proprietors, Ba hué’s owners talk about having more than a transactional relationship with customers. “We want them to live the shopping experience to the fullest,” Ms. Huertas said. To that end, they have opened a full-service cafe in the backyard where people can hang out, work on laptops, share a latte or a glass of wine, and stay for regular talks by designers, brand introductions or samplings put on by local breweries.
Ba hué aims to keep customers guessing by integrating familiar brands with wares from total unknowns. The store promotes itself as an incubator of new talents, even stocking the work of local fashion students who show promise, though that is also a business strategy.
“We feel if we identify them from a very early stage we can grow with them,” Ms. Huertas said. “And the people who come here are going to see different things than what they will see in other stores.”
At the other end of the concept-store spectrum is St. Dom on Bogotá’s famous Calle 79B, which is traditionally known as Antique Street but has morphed into a complete neighborhood of restaurants and international retail operations that cater to higher-end consumers.
St. Dom boasts that it invented the Colombia-only concept eight years ago when it opened its first store in Cartagena. It quickly took off as a place where tourists from around the world could acquire locally designed items to take home. In keeping with its port-city surroundings, the place has a beachy vibe, as its co-founder Maya Memovic described it.
When the store decided to establish a second location in Bogotá, it went in a totally different direction. St. Dom Bogotá is elegant in the way of an upscale department store with glass doors that slide open automatically, oversize picture windows that frame the merchandise for street views and mannequins dressed in fancy evening wear that are positioned across its showrooms. It carries a variety of clothing, but it is the dressy handbags, necklaces and ankle-high leather boots that shape its personality.
Ms. Memovic, who grew up in New York, developed the store with her husband, Alexander Srour, who is from Colombia. St. Dom has three levels that visitors access using a winding, glass-enclosed staircase surrounded by tropical plants and trees.
Compared to the Cartagena store, St. Dom Bogotá’s curation is “a lot more city,” said Ms. Memovic. “Most of the clothing is urban, or evening wear, that’s appropriate for the climate and for what the city is.”
St. Dom’s carries both established lines and up-and-comers, a mix that includes Ballen, Cala de la Cruz, Camilo Franco and Polite, as well as the in-house brand, Azulu. There is a sizable — and playful — children’s wear section called St. Dom Mini, on the top floor.
Like its Cartagena location, St. Dom Bogotá is meant to draw locals and tourists alike. Ms. Memovic said her New York upbringing, combined with her time spent in Colombia, gave her an eye for what plays internationally. She eschews what she referred to as the clichés associated with traditional Colombian design — “big sleeves, lots of ruffles and prints and big earrings” — by stocking sophisticated jackets from Cubel and unexpected pieces like snakeskin-print shoes by the footwear label Kaanas or a bright-green motorcycle jacket from Otros Inc.
Ms. Memovic described the typical St. Dom garment as something different that is “unique to the country but that also works anywhere in the world.”
“It’s a great pair of shoes or a great dress that you can wear in New York,” she continued, “and people will be like ‘That’s cool. I’d love to know where it’s from.’”