Who Needs Woodbury Common?

Outlet shopping has come to Soho!

Located at 237 Lafayette between Prince and Spring, INVEN.TORY (the punctuation is something of a mystery) maintains a raw atmosphere with warehouselike high ceilings, exposed pipes, Mylar-lined upper walls and corrugated shelves. Stacks of fuchsia and electric blue postcards blaring messages like “YOU MIGHT WANT TO TAKE IT EASY ON THE INTERNET PORN” and “SHOP LIKE WINONA” sit on a coffee table.

Track lights along the ceiling and the big storefront windows illuminate styles that seem ready for Intermix and Barneys Co-Op. But the prices are, like, totally Zara.

Co-owners Mike Townsend, 35, and Whitney Singer, 29, first started the store on Kenmare Street in October 2008. “We were talking about doing pop-up stores for fashion and sample sales,” said Ms. Singer. “And we were like, ‘Let’s start out with sample sales and see how they run in this space.’ We would group together more, like, indie designers, a brand that couldn’t really stand alone on their own sample sale. We thought, ‘Well if we bring six of them together, we’ll have a really good sale, an interesting mix.’ That’s pretty much how it started in this neighborhood. After we had like five months of consistent sales, we were like, ‘OK,  this is a viable concept.’” They moved to the current space, which is nearly four times larger, in March of 2009.

“People are getting used to coming to us if they’re going to go out for the weekend or if they’re going away,” Mr. Townsend said. “They know they can find a bargain here. I feel we’re competing against Loehmann’s or something, because it’s the same business model, but we’re really competing against those other brands”—meaning local cheap-and-chic chains H&M—“too. Because it’s really just fun last-minute shopping. I can pick up something for under $100 or under $50 and still look good in it.”

Recently, Devotte, whose shoes can be purchased on ShopBop.com for a hefty price, designed a line exclusively for the store, retailing for $155 and up. Brooklyn-based designer Rebecca Turbow has also worked with the store to test out a “fast fashion” line, Safe, which retails at INVEN.TORY for hundreds of dollars below her collection.

“Getting to try a new designer at a discounted price is kind of a bonus,” Ms. Singer said. “We may be competing at price points with Zara and H&M, but these are really quality. A lot of this stuff is made in the U.S.A.” Also: “I think that our staff sets us really apart from a Century 21 or any of those. Our staff all has their own style, they can definitely help you out. It’s not like rifling through racks and boxes trying to find a label you recognize—they can definitely find a label you maybe haven’t heard of, but it will work great.” INVEN.TORY also stocks Geren Ford and many other familiar labels.

Each week, Mr. Townsend and Ms. Singer host a preview party with a featured designer, offering shoppers wine and snacks. “This space is so big, it’s almost like an event space. Our racks are movable,” Mr. Townsend said. Walking around the store, he pointed out the bookshelves adorning either end of a leather couch, stocked with leather-bound books—not reading material for bored boyfriends, but a collaborative installation by the label Commune.

“These actually aren’t our aesthetic at all,” he said.

 

Who Needs Woodbury Common?