Denim label UBi-IND and footwear brand Wolverine have a knack for creating retail theater. On Friday, UBi-IND opened a pop-up shop inside the Wolverine Company Store in New York. In addition to the brand’s line of athletic fit, selvedge jeans made with Cone Denim, the pop-up shop’s defining feature is a denim exhibit with pieces from the ’30s and ’40s—a nod to both brands’ workwear qualities.
“Retail should feel, smell and taste like an experience,” said UBi-IND owner Ulrich Conrad Simpson.
Wolverine has stocked UBi-IND jeans for a several season, but the idea for the pop-up/exhibit came during a discussion about sales at the shop between Simpson and John Tee, who runs the Wolverine Company Store on Elizabeth Street. “At some point I mentioned I had an extensive collection denim, military and workwear products, and from there he said, ‘Let my people get back to your people,’” Simpson recalled.
The exhibit is housed in the store’s event room, where in the past it has screen films and hosted press previews. Highlights include the F3 electric heated jacket designed by GE and the N-1 Deck jacket.
“I really didn’t have an idea how many vintage garments I had in my collection until I started pulling pieces from the three different places I store my garments,” Simpson said. “I have about three times what I brought to show. Some might say I have a vintage obsession. I like to say I have an obsession with all things vintage.”
That appreciation for history is a common thread in both UBi-IND’s and Wolverine’s collections. Simpson said both brands have a respect for the past with a focus and direction to the future. However, Simpson noted that it is important to him to move on and bring things into the current century, explaining that the needs of a worker today is very different from a worker on the job in the 1930s.
“Fabric today plays a huge role for that guy. Different workers have different needs all over the world,” he said. Not to mention, UBi-IND’s clientele includes an impressive roster of NBA superstars including Magic Johnson.
Simpson also has a unique history with Wolverine, back from when he was the creative director for Caterpillar from 2007 to 2009. “I had the pleasure of working with [Wolverine] very closely because they made our footwear. Not many designers get the opportunity to actually work on and with an actual workwear brand,” he said.
It was an experience that Simpson relished. “I felt like a kid in a candy store… I called it ‘Method Designing.’ You should have seen me—it was quite funny,” he laughed. “I would do odd construction jobs, go on construction sites and ask the workers the most random questions.”
Simpson admitted that he almost got into a few fights on the sites. “I might have been a little annoying,” he joked, but he remembers the time spent with driver and mechanics at the Cat testing grounds in Arizona was “an epic experience.”
Now Simpson is navigating the sometimes rocky world that is retail, but he said opportunities like the Wolverine pop-up offer brands like UBi-IND great exposure. “[It] also teaches us that if you want to grow sometimes you have to bend a little more than you would like to,” he said, explaining that it’s a win-win situation for everyone involved. “For the larger company, it keeps them relevant and fresh, let’s them step out of their comfort zone. I’ve had the opportunity to be on both sides of the coin, so I understand one needs the other to be successful in today’s world. I think if its right for your brand and it makes sense then go for it.”
It’s a 21st Century approach to doing business that Simpson likens to online dating. “Everyone shows their best profile, but it’s not until you spend time with the person that you see maybe it’s not what the caption really says,” he said. “Like everything, you need to work on building a good relationship.”