Fashion News: Public School’s Next Act

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Public School and Nike’s new retail activation in New York.

UNITED STATESNew York based brand Public School recently unveil their newest collaboration with Nike as they embark on a direct-to-consumer strategy.

The pioneering streetwear brand, which Dao-Yi Chow & Maxwell Osborne launched in 2008, has been in and out of the limelight over the past decade as it navigated the vagaries of the fashion industry.

When it opened the doors to its pop-up with Nike last week, it marked the latest reinvention strategy for the brand.

Last year, Public School collaborated with Nike on a sneaker centered around the Air Force 1. Although the initial design was created for the shoe’s 35th anniversary, it was never released to the public. That changed last week when the sneaker was front and center — along with complimentary apparel — at PSNY’s pop-up space at 3 Howard Street in Manhattan. The shoe was released globally last Wednesday.

This is the first time Public School has worked with the core Nike collection, although the designers collaborated on the company’s Jordan brand since 2014.

To celebrate the new partnership, the designers and Nike will hosted a Streetball Classic event on a court on East Houston Street before the store opened to the public tonight.

We’re doing a basketball tournament in celebration of our AF1 collaboration,” explained Dao-Yi Chow. He said the sneaker, which is a mash-up of the low- and high-top models of the shoe, are known as “uptowns” in New York. “Our collaboration is a love letter to that,” he said. “We’re a downtown brand and this is designed to bring uptown and downtown together. We’re calling it the High Low.”

After that, Chow said the store will be converted to another concept, one that will sell the Public School collection that was shown in the raw space during New York Fashion Week: Men’s in February.

This space is a temporary/interim pop-up,” Chow said, pointing to the gravel floor and white walls. “We have the space until the end of the year and we’re planning a lot of innovations every month. The presentation [in February] was the launch of the space, now it’ll be the Nike activation and we’ll be doing something with the NBA in October.”

Chow said keeping the store as a Public School retail location after the end of the year is a possibility, but nothing has been decided. “It’s not us being shy or secretive,” he said. “We’re just keeping our options open. We could be here 10 years or 10 months.”

Public School’s journey over the past decade is “the quintessential fashion story,” Chow said. “It’s not a Cinderella story, although we’ve had that, too. But it’s about the ups and downs of the fashion industry. We’re not immune to the changes and what’s happening around us. But we also have staying power. We’re just trying to figure out a lane for ourselves.”

That lane involves the dramatic decision to exit the wholesale market and go direct-to-consumer. The brand is also men’s-only again, which was the way it started, although women’s is “in the queue,” he said.

The switch to a direct-to-consumer model is a difficult one and has been a seven- or eight-month transition,” Chow said. “We just didn’t like the whole wholesale arrangement.”

In order to please retail partners, Public School was losing sight of its identity, he said. “Our brand was sold in a lot of places, but they all told a different story and they often weren’t aligned with our business. So we felt we had to do this.”

While a shift like this also requires a substantial investment, Chow said the brand is still privately owned by himself and Osborne along with Alan Mak, who has been a strategic partner since 2012.

Although Public School does sell online, a new e-commerce site is set to launch this week — if all goes according to plan — that will significantly upgrade the experience and offer a larger assortment.

Chow said that to make it in fashion as an independent brand, “you have to be really well capitalized or really broke and put everything on the line.” Asked which one would describe Public School, he said, “We’re trying to pick our side.”

One thing that will undoubtedly benefit the brand is its streetwear-infused aesthetic, which has remained constant throughout the years.

The barrier to entry is so low now. Anybody can create a brand and talk directly to the consumer. The obsession with streetwear is an obsession with youth. Now, everybody is a teenager until they’re 60. Five years ago, they may have felt silly, but now they’re embracing it.” And that’s good for Public School.

But if there’s one thing you can count on anything in fashion, it’s that it’s cyclical,” Chow continued. “I’ll be curious to see what happens when everybody jumps off the streetwear wagon. Or maybe it’s solidified to the point where it has a permanent seat at the table, which would be cool.”

Public School and Nike’s new retail activation in New York.

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Donovan

Donovan is the CEO and Editor-In-Chief of www.dmfashionbook.com. For all general inquiries please email don@dmfashionbook.com Donovan has a BA in Journalism & Media Studies from the prestigious Rutgers University. He's currently studying entertainment and fashion law.