Exclusive Interview – Kiya Babzani and Tyler Madden of Self Edge Portland
Kiya Babzani of the denim institution, Self Edge, recently announced a fourth store would be joining their line up. In addition to shops in San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles, Babzani and his team are bringing Self Edge‘s selection of the best of Japanese and American jeans to Portland, Oregon with former Los Angeles team member, Tyler Madden, managing the location.
Everything’s set to open this Saturday, August 3rd and we were lucky enough to ask both Babzani and Madden some questions about their new base in the Pacific Northwest.
David Shuck (Rawr Denim): Hey guys, thanks so much for taking the time to talk just a week out from your opening. How’s Portland treating you both?
Kiya Babzani: Hey David, you mean how is Portland treating our mouths? Because if that’s what you mean, it’s treating us very very well.
Tyler Madden: It’s been great so far. The weather has been pure summer, not much of a change from LA. The amount of food and drink options has blown me away so far.
RD: Haha, that’s what I’ve heard! The good food comes first and the good clothing follows soon after. Both of you are Bay Area guys originally, but did either of you have any particular connection that prompted you to bring Self Edge up there?
KB: Three years ago Mike Anderson from Tanner told me about the area they were moving the Tanner/Woodlands store in Portland and urged me to open near them at the same time. We had just signed a lease for a store in Los Angeles and as there was no way to get involved with opening two stores at the same time, we had to pass.
A couple of years went by and i was having lunch with Sam Huff (Tanner co-owner) in San Francisco and he mentioned that the area they were in was really shaping up to be a real destination and that we should consider opening there.
RD: So you’ve been eager to open up in Portland ever since?
KB: My wife, Demitra, and I went up to Portland for a few days without the intention of actually signing a lease on a space but we fell in love with Portland. It’s the city that made us want to bring what we’ve done with Self Edge here, not the idea that we wanted another store.
That was in January and we’ve been working on the space for the past few months. It’s definitely a different feeling because we’re in a new development project and it’s 10 businesses opening at the same time.
TM: When I heard that Kiya and Demitra were serious about a new Self Edge, and that it was going to be in Portland, I immediately expressed my interest in being involved. When Kiya originally approached me about being involved in the Los Angeles store, I was in the middle of building what I thought would be a lifelong career in coffee.
I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to work for Self Edge, but I also wasn’t ready to leave my full-time commitment to the coffee world. After doing both coffee and Self Edge for almost 3 years, it’s become a lot more clear where my passion and interest is at, so I was excited to have an opportunity to work full-time.
RD: Any possibility we’ll see a Self Edge coffee bar?!
TM: While we have all at least half-seriously joked about doing a Self Edge coffee-bar concept, our Portland location definitely isn’t the place to try and sell coffee. We are less than a block from Stumptown Ace and Maglia Rosa, and there are new Barista and Heart locations opening within 2 blocks of our shop in the coming months. So I’ll have no troubles staying caffeinated and I’ll be enjoying being on the other side of the espresso machine.
RD: And did you say 10 businesses opening at the same time, Kiya?
KB: We’re in a new development called Union Way. It’s about 10 stores opening at the same time and there are some really cool things there. Danner Boots are opening their first boutique store right across from us – the store is wild, it has a living wall inside the store that they’ve made.
Quin is opening two doors over – it’s an artisan candy shop with a small selection of good chocolates. Canoe, Portland’s famous home accessory store, is opening a second store directly next to us called “Spruce Apothecary”. Steven Alan is opening a few doors over from us, across the hall with a buy that seems tweaked for Portland. To me, it has to be best out of any of the SA stores I’ve been to.
RD: A lot of high-quality, artisanal products all around?
KB: Yup, hella artisan everything.
RD: Do you have any plans on stocking and collaborating with locals like Tanner more frequently now that you have a base of operations there or will you be bringing primarily the tried and true Self Edge stock?
KB: We’re going to stick to what we do at Self Edge, and of course tweak our buy a bit for locals and others in the Pacific Northwest. But that doesn’t rule out working with locals on projects in the future.
RD: And on that note, you guys have been expanding pretty quick. This’ll be 3 shops in the last 4 years (New York in 2009, LA in 2010, and now Portland in 2013); do you have plans for further expansion and eventually covering the whole country?
KB: Expanding quickly?! It’s been 7 years! Haha, I don’t think 4 shops in 7 years is that fast. Any faster and you’d have to take on an investor, sell a part of your company, or God forbid start a Kickstarter.
RD: Haha, you know my opinions on Kickstarter…
KB: Oh yes I do. We can bond on that later.
RD: So no other cities you have your eyes on?
KB: I cannot even start to think about other cities. My wife and I nearly kill ourselves opening each store with how stressful it is and the amount of work we take on. It’s hard to think about anything beyond the project you’re working on at the moment. As time goes on I believe that you can have a Self Edge almost anywhere.
In the beginning I thought “we can only do this in a large city”, but that’s wrong. You do not need a large population of spenders, you just need a small community of people that believe in a product that goes above and beyond what’s expected in a garment or accessory regardless of price.
RD: Where in the city did you decide to locate your Portland store and what are the new communities there you think Self Edge will speak to?
TM: Our Portland shop is located in an area called the West End which is nestled between downtown and the Pearl District. One thing that is super apparent immediately upon arriving in Portland is what an active city it is. The amount of cycle commuters is striking and impressive, and it almost seems like the city empties out on weekends when the weather is nice because people are so busy camping, hiking, and enjoying just getting some sun at the river.
I think a lot of the product that we carry will be super appealing to people who want functional clothing that can hang with their active lifestyles and will age and evolve beautifully.
RD: So when are you guys planning to open up shop?
KB: We’re opening August 3rd, and having a big opening party on August 10th with some special product and giveaways from nearly every brand we carry. Christophe [Loiron] at Mister Freedom has made us some indigo vat dyed Portland bandanas which will be available at opening. Roy has also made a shirt that we’re releasing (at all of our stores) on August 3rd called The Portland Shirt.
TM: The Portland shirt is one of my three favorite products in the last year! In addition to being made with a beautiful fabric, and having the usual insane details of a Roy product, it has my favorite detail of any shirt ever – a cyanide pocket, so you’ll never be taken alive.
KB: This also is the first time we’re opening a new store where our hemming and repair services will be available from day one at the store. I believe we’re going to be the only ones in the entire state of Oregon doing denim repairs and chain stitch hems on all pre-60′s Union Special and Singer machines.
RD: I suppose one limitation of opening more stores is finding more old machines.
KB: Yeah, its gotten to the point where the most difficult part of opening a store is finding, setting up, and repairing these old machines. Then finding somebody that can work on them.
RD: Haha, everything else must be child’s play by now.
KB: I wish! It hasn’t gotten any easier because with every store you try and push it a bit further.
RD: Cool, well that’s all the q’s I’ve got for you guys. Any parting thoughts?
TM: Yes, I’m really excited about this new location. It’s an incredibly accessible area and I think our proximity to other interesting retail, and to the Ace Hotel is going to expose us to a lot of people who might be totally unaware of Self Edge, and possibly even of the concepts at play with raw denim.
Those are always fun and exciting conversations for me to have because I was lucky enough to be that customer at Self Edge in San Francisco 6 years ago.
RD: Thanks so much for your time, guys. Always great to talk with you and best of luck with the finishing touches on the store!
TM: Thanks, David. It was a pleasure talking with you, man.
Self Edge Portland will officially be open for business on August 3rd and is located at 1022 W. Burnside St. #J Portland, OR 97209. The grand opening party is next Saturday, August 10th.