This week, I had the amazing opportunity of interviewing Vita Haas and Lucy Weisner of Café Forgot. The duo has a very unique approach to shopping and fashion, and I was interested to learn more about their shop and how it works. They sell clothing, accessories, and other works from a wide variety of artists. The usual business model involved an ever-changing cycle of pop up shops throughout New York City, along with a wide variety of events. Their very personal model of selling one-of-a-kind art in unique storefronts has been challenged by COVID-19. I asked them about their brand, how they’ve handled transitioning their in-person business online, and the fashion industry overall.
Tell us a little about your brand’s history and how it started!
We (Vita Haas and Lucy Weisner) have been friends since high school in Brooklyn, New York. We were inspired by the many friends who were making incredible clothes and accessories yet did not have an outlet for their work here. Our goal was to create a dynamic space to show and share truly interesting fashion and to hold special events to introduce these designers to a wider community.
Since beginning the project in 2017, Café Forgot has taken form as a series of ephemeral shops throughout New York with a DIY aesthetic and a quasi-punk ethos. We continue to encourage friends and customers to come to our shop, hang out, dress up in our clothes, and have fun. Many of the designers we work with make one-of-a-kind pieces, so it’s great to have them come into the shop and tell us how each design came to fruition and for everyone to try on the garments. We also use our shop to host programming and events which have included a concert, a healing salon, and a breathwork series to name a few.
How would you describe your aesthetic?
Some words that come to mind are DIY, Baroque, Renaissance, Punk, early 2000s, Victorian, handmade. However, beyond a particular defining aesthetic, we see the practices and production methods many of our designers employ to be conceptually aligned. For instance, the designers and artists we work with predominantly make their clothing by-hand, producing one-of-a-kind pieces, as opposed to working with factories to produce entire seasonal collections.
How has COVID-19 changed your business?
In December 2019, Café Forgot began our year-long lease in Manhattan’s East Village at 627 East 6th Street. We planned for the shop to be open for business every other month: FEBRUARY, APRIL, JUNE, AUGUST, etc. During alternate months (January, March, May, July etc) we aimed to host a series of special programs.In response to the pandemic, we closed our brick and mortar location, postponed all of our programming and shifted our sales online to shop.cafeforgot.com. Up until this point, we had eschewed e-commerce as antithetical to building a truly connected fashion community. We love the experiential aspects of our shop: the dressing up; connecting with designers and customers; impromptu photo and video shoots, and, most of all, the marriage of art and commerce we promote in our curatorial choices. However, since VR is our only option right now we have developed strategies to continue the conversation through e-commerce and virtual programming.
Has lockdown made any aspect of your work easier?
We really miss merchandising and curating our physical space. We love arranging pieces in dynamic ways and creating unique outfits with our inventory. That said, we have put a lot of effort into the display of the clothes on shop.cafeforgot.com and on Instagram. We show “looks” by placing various pieces together. We color-code the merchandise virtually just as we would in the shop.
We had always imagined that if we ever did Ecomm, we would photograph the clothing in a simple, uniform way. This has worked out well seeing as it wouldn’t be possible to shoot the clothes on a model right now anyway! Many of our items of clothing are one of a kind, hand made, straddling the line between clothing and art objects. For that reason, we are happy to let the clothes speak for themselves in this way. We aim to recreate the excitement of shopping in our store, while evoking the feeling of viewing art-objects in a gallery/ museum.
It has been useful to have the full collection on display in a digital view, not only for our own organizational purposes, but also so that people from all over the world can finally see what we have. We had been hesitant to launch e-commerce, but it’s been exciting to see so many new followers from across the world. Some of our designers who don’t live in New York have finally been able to shop with us. Also, for some pieces that come in a variety of colors and sizes, our Ecomm sight has enabled us to display all of these varieties at once. We usually don’t have the space in the physical store, but now online, we can!
What is something you are doing for others during this time?
We’ve partnered with many designers to donate 100% of sales to various organizations supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and we’ve sent $5,306 so far. We currently have over 50 items in the donation section of our website going to HERBAL ✿ MUTUAL AID ✿ NETWORK, an herbal medicine drive for Black People seeking support due to the ongoing crisis of racial violence + injustice , G.L.I.T.S an organization working to support trans people locally, nationally and internationally, Loveland Foundation, which brings opportunity and healing to communities of color, and especially to Black women and girls, just to name a few.
You can shop to benefit these organizations here. A few of our favorite pieces are shown to the left.
What’s one goal you have for your brand in the future?
We have always supported our BIPOC and trans designers. However, we feel we must do more at this time to foster diversity amongst our community of designers and artists. We are personally and professionally working toward long-term transformation by listening and learning where we can make changes that can actively dismantle racism.
How do you hope the fashion industry as a whole will change in the future?
Many people have reached out and done whatever they can to support us in this time, whether it’s by shopping on our site, contributing to our virtual collage project, or reposting our work. We hope people continue to support smaller designers after the quarantine.
Also, we know that many designers have slowed down production, but the situation is a bit different for us. Many of the artists we work with have always made their clothes and accessories by hand or produced smaller runs. Unfortunately, some of them have been let go from their day jobs, but the extra time they have to work on their own designs has enabled them to produce more pieces for us and experiment with new ideas. We hope that larger brands continue to be more thoughtful about what they choose to put out into the world and produce collections less hastily. We also hope our designers are able to benefit from the shop.cafeforgot.com so they are able to support themselves and continue making more of their beautiful work. We believe that their innovative designs will carry on after this tragedy is over.
What’s one thing you wish everyone knew about running a small fashion business?
One thing we have learned and want to share is that to run a small fashion business you must be highly adaptable. We have had to constantly adjust our strategies and outlooks in response to the environment around us.
We began by hosting temporary shops around New York City because we had zero financing, and, therefore, couldn’t afford a permanent location. Also, time was an issue for both of us since we had full-time jobs in addition to Café. We have discovered that moving location for each shop has allowed us to reach new audiences and take risks that would have been prohibitive in a shop with a permanent lease. Having an end date also creates a special event vibe and buzz which results in a big bump in our supporters with each shop.