THERE EXISTS A WIDELY-HELD belief that men don’t like to shop. That men only shop once a year. That partners, sisters and yes, mothers, are the ones who buy the clothes. I get it. I enjoy shopping, yet even I’ll admit that tiny changerooms and the watchful gaze of a friendly shop assistant can be a recipe for clammy palms and general unease. But maybe guys don’t need to hate shopping. Maybe the shopping is just being done in the wrong places.
A pot of coffee is brewing inside 108 Warehouse, and Edward Widjaja, Edwin Widjaja and Jacinto Guevarra Churches are setting things up for the day. Pants by cult Californian brand Gramicci hang near the entrance of the store, which sits one storey above Marrickville Road, while second-hand pieces from brands like Engineered Garments, Margaret Howell and Comme des Garçons hang next to new season collections by Australian brand Pseushi and Indonesian graphics brand Funguys. These brands might be classified as ‘niche’, but you don’t need to know them to shop here. The three mates will tell you everything you need to know about them, to the point where if you were to buy a Funguys T-shirt, you would feel confident telling your friends all about it.
“We wanted to create a space that was really welcoming, so you wouldn’t really feel intimidated by those things,” says Edwin, one of 108 Warehouse’s three co-founders. “Because it’s a passion and interest of ours, and to share that is kind of natural as opposed to… I think we felt in the past that fashion was kind of gate-kept. It was a bit secretive.”
Edward and Edwin met Jacinto during university, where they bonded over their mutual interest in clothes. “We’d always be hanging out and talking about clothes and what we’d recently bought or were thinking of buying,” says Edward. “We were also really into Facebook pages at the time, but they kept getting taken down and so people stopped using the platform to buy and sell.”
With a swag of second-hand clothing between them, in 2019, the friends (the Widjaja’s are twins) decided to launch their own website, where they sold pieces they’d purchased but no longer wore to friends, friends of friends, and, as word spread, a community of guys who, like the trio, were really interested in fashion by cool designer brands but couldn’t necessarily afford to purchase them brand new. A physical pop-up on Sydney’s Oxford Street soon followed; as did the launch of 108 Warehouse branded merch. At the time, Edward was working in finance, Edwin in engineering and Jacinto in specialty coffee—108 was their side hustle, but as a community of like minded people began to form around what they were doing, the friends began to think seriously about opening a physical store. The Marrickville space was the first location they looked at. With a stairway sandwiched between a florist and an Asian grocer, and a little booth waiting to be converted into a coffee stand, it was everything they needed and more.
“We only had planned to open two days a week, and we were still working other jobs and stuff. We didn’t have heaps of time and resources and money to pour into it, so we wanted somewhere where the overheads weren’t crazy. We thought we’d just see how it goes, as opposed to full-on committing to something in the city,” explains Churches.
It went well. “I think word of mouth is probably the biggest way people found out about us,” chimes in Edwin. “We wanted the space to be like: you come here and it’s exciting, and then you might go away and tell a friend that you’ve found this spot over here. And it’s really spread that way. A lot of people run into their friends when they’re here. And we’re always in the store, so people see us all the time. Customers turn into our friends.”
While the trio are, without a skerrick of doubt, the most friendly aspect of 108 Warehouse, the type of clothes the store stocks aren’t intimidating. They also make an effort to stock small, independent brands from cities beyond the usual global fashion capitals.
“We have a tendency to focus on easier-going pieces and silhouettes. I guess one of the biggest things we try to do is make everything approachable. We don’t want to focus too much on crazier pieces. It’s more situational; more stuff that you can just put on anytime,” offers Churches. And clothes aren’t all people visit 108 Warehouse for, nor is fashion the only niche the trio are committed to de-mystifying. Roasted by Churches, the Take It Easy blend is the store’s house coffee. You can purchase it in 250g or kilogram sizes, alongside all the gadgets you need to percolate your own home brew. Art books, zines, Cawcow candles and incense by Melbourne maker Agaric Fly also add to the store’s lifestyle appeal.
“People will come in to look at the clothes, or they’ll come in especially for the coffee or to buy incense, or they’ll just come in for a chat,” says Edwin as he gestures around the cosy store.
IN THE MELBOURNE suburb of Fitzroy North, Error404 owner Kacy Heywood is greeting a customer, who also happens to be a friend. “Oh, they just walked out,” she laughs. “Tuesdays are quiet, but it gets busy on weekends.”
Heywood opened Error404 during Covid. Similar to 108 Warehouse, she tested things out with an online store before opening a physical space. She’d recently moved back to Melbourne from Berlin, a city where, she says, community-oriented independent retail spaces are more common. But ultimately, it was a touch of “desperation” and a lack of exciting, independently-owned retail spaces in the city at the time that motivated her to open her own store.
“I have my own fashion label, and I was like, ‘Where do I put my clothes?’ I had no credentials for running a retail space,” she adds with a laugh. “But there was no place like this; it just didn’t exist. And it was a hard time in Melbourne. Everyone was so negative about everything that was happening around us, and I could just feel that everyone was desperate for something new and exciting and fun to happen, because everything else was shutting down.”
Today, Error404 stocks a curated mix of independent Australian designers and avant-garde international brands such as Melbourne-based brand Posture Studio, Greek label Serapis Maritime and Alix Higgins, who recently took out the emerging designer of the year award at the Australian Fashion Laureate. Heywood also regularly hosts events like collection launch parties in the space, which draw people from all over the neighbourhood, who spill out from the brightly lit store and onto the pavement outside.
“We get people that come in because they’re really eager to learn about new designers, or they might just see a shoe in the window and wander in off the street. I think the community around the store elevates the designers here as well. And I feel proud to be part of this shift that’s happening,” she adds, nodding to the store’s role in bringing fashion to a new demographic of people, which is helping to build a stronger culture around local fashion in the process. “I love it. I never saw myself filling that kind of role at all.”
ON AUSTRALIA’S WEST COAST, meanwhile, is Highs and Lows, an independent store that’s been bringing brands like A Bathing Ape and Norse Projects to Perth since 2005. “We’re really a modern department store,” says Matthew Thomas, the store’s founder and director. “We have coffee, linen, fragrances, books, music… you can buy a Fear of God shirt with the new Taylor Swift record. Even if you don’t know a lot about fashion, you can come in and find something.” (When I enquire, Thomas confirms that yes, you can purchase copies of Swift’s Midnights record at Highs and Lows.)
Community events are also a part of the dynamic fabric that makes up Highs and Lows; to celebrate the arrival of London-based brand Chopova Lowena, which is known for its up-cycled kilts and punk ethos, the store held a DIY workshop, where guests assembled carabiner bag tags, keychains and pins. “Brands will come to us for launches and activations because they know we have such a strong community over here,” says Thomas. “But because we’re in Perth, we’re still a bit of a best-kept secret.”
Back in Marrickville, customers are wandering into 108 Warehouse, chatting to Churches, who is manning the floor. Looking on, you’d be forgiven for thinking that actually, guys do like to shop. The same could be said inside Error404, Highs and Lows and a growing constellation of Australian stores that are inviting more people into the world of fashion, one friendly conversation, cup of coffee and DIY workshop at a time.
Shopping list: three more Aussie stores driving the fashion zeitgeist
In Melbourne’s historic Nicholas Building, this archival designer boutique specialises in pre-loved pieces by the likes of Dries Van Noten, Marni and Fendi.
Above the Clouds:
This Sydney institution is the place to go for designer drink bottles, Carhartt WIP drip and Australian-exclusive sneaker launches.
Brisbane’s destination menswear store, Contra’s range of surf, skate and streetwear brands warrants a trip to the sunshine state.