Class of 2020: Why Showfields Is Betting That Retail Will Survive After All
Apartment Therapy’s Class of 2020 Design Changemakers is a specially-selected group of the 20 people in the design world everyone should know about by next year. We asked experts (and you!) to tell us who they think should be included—see the rest of the nominees here.
Why Showfields is part of the Class of 2020: “Katie Hunt is creating one of a kind experiences through Showfields, which some have called ‘The Most Interesting Store in the World’. We admire how they’re creating a sense of community and providing unique brands, established or new or about-to-launch, a platform to the world. Showfields helps great ideas be SHOWN to the world. Their sense of design is represented in the selection of brands that come together at Showfields to create an amazing experiential space. An entire second floor transports you through a true experiential space that feels inspired by Sleep No More. The fourth floor is an event space that hosts unique events throughout the year.
They deserve to be a part of Apartment Therapy’s class of design changemakers because they are bringing a fresh face and feel to retail, which is in desperate need of change. They’re leading by example and don’t be surprised if they open many more with such a great idea. Great ideas like this spread like wildfire.” —Bob and Cortney Novogratz, designers and owners of The Novogratz
If you’re going to deem yourself the most interesting store in the world, you’d better have the inventory to back that up. Indeed, Showfields does. In a time when brick-and-mortars are struggling to stay afloat—plagued by bankruptcy after bankruptcy—Showfields is betting on the retail industry’s success in the long term. The key, according to its three founders? Rethinking everything you thought you knew about the typical shopping experience.
“Success in design spaces is creating experiences that inspire the consumer entering the door,” co-founder Tal Zvi Nathanel tells Apartment Therapy. “That’s what we’re trying to do here. On the first floor, we use partitions to create a sense of discovery for customers. We’re creating a design that will make them excited and inspired, and that will set the tone and put their minds in discovery mode for each brand.”
Showfields opened its four-story New York City location in December 2018 to much buzz from design and retail insiders alike. Alongside Nathanel are Katie Hunt (of Warby Parker fame) and Amir Zwickel, a hospital and real estate entrepreneur. The three founders came together to produce an experience that’s essentially Instagram IRL. Think of it as a one-stop shop for all the brands on your feed, with bonuses like art exhibitions, theatrical productions, community events, and specially curated food and libations.
“The startup world is a place where creativity and rule-breaking is not only encouraged but celebrated, and since I never knew the rules to begin with, it felt like a natural fit for me,” Hunt says about her inspiration to join the Showfields venture. “From artists to architects and brands, telling a story is more important than ever. People are buying the story as much as they are buying the item, and I am constantly in awe of all the new stories being written daily.”
So, when it comes to being “interesting,” it’s less about the highly subjective nature of the word itself and more about presenting consumers with brands and products that they’re most likely to feel some type of significant connection to.
“We say we’re the most interesting store in the world not because we’re so interesting, but it’s because once you lower the barriers for entry to the physical world, suddenly you have thousands of brands who can open their own physical store,” Zwickel explains. “That’s what makes Showfields different. We are curating and bringing the most interesting brands directly to people.” We talked to all three founders to get the inside story on their inspiration, their future, and more.
Apartment Therapy: Who do you look up to?
SF: The customer. What we try to do is think about how the space looks, feels, and interacts before building it around the needs of a customer. While most environments are very customer friendly—some less, some more—none of them is entirely built around customers. When you think about retail, the one who is supposed to be in the middle of your core orbit is the customer. We try to build a business model in our space that puts them in the middle.
AT: What do you think you’re doing to change up the field you’re in?
SF: We are trying to rethink every aspect of retail. We’ve decided to put the customer entering the door in front and optimize for their experience. The principles that Showfields was built on are what we call the five things: community, curation, connection, comfort, and convenience. All those things together are what customers are looking for today. And those who get them right are successful. But it’s very, very hard to do. Developing that thought process and applying it to everything we do is unique to Showfields.
AT: What three words would you use to describe your work or style?
SF: There are a few words we use a lot, like discovery. We try to have customers come into a space that’s designed in a way to push you through that journey of discovery. Serendipity is the second word we use a lot. That’s one of the most magical things a person can experience, but that can only happen physically. Serendipity cannot happen digitally. It is like magic. The third word is curation. We are on the verge of a very interesting period in time. We are going into the age of curators. It means we all define ourselves with many brands—brands are like an extension of our personality. We’ve all become curators. That’s why social media became such a big part of our lives. Suddenly every person can both become the curator for others—an inspiration—or get inspired by the choices others are doing. Sorry for the complex answer, but those are the big three words.
AT: Is there a specific piece or design of yours that you think is particularly indicative of who you are or what you’re trying to do?
SF: The first store. Most multi-venue environments have a very open pipeline. We really drove that forward. You look at the space, and it almost looks like a museum. Each entrance leads to a different place. It’s a signature design we’ve created, designed using a very talented studio based in Shanghai. It’s a very strong, defining moment for our customers and Showfields. It makes you want to go and explore. It feels like there’s something around each corner, and you want to go in. It pulls you in.
AT: What three words would you use to describe where you see the design world going into 2020?
SF: With design, back to roots. That’s the direction where things are going—more the exposed bones of the building. With retail specifically, everything is going into the direction of being much more immersive, experiential, and holistic. Experiencing brands today in their physical space is a very flat experience. If retailers want to succeed in the physical space, they have to create extremely immersive, cohesive experiences. The most defining thing is that space is going to become very flexible. When you look at Showfields, Showfields is a stage—a very elevated stage, but a stage. You have a stage for artists, and you have a stage for brands. Tomorrow we can be a stage for something else.
AT: What would you say sets you apart from your peers and what do you see as being your special thing?
SF: If you go back to our five things—convenience, community, curation, connection, and comfort—what you see is many of our peers trying to do one or two of those things. Some brands are doing a very good job in creating communal spaces. Some brands are doing a very good job in creating a space where there can be some comfort. What’s unique about Showfields is we look at things in a holistic way. We believe magic happens when you do all that together and don’t focus only on one or two. Many great players are doing this or that, but no one is really doing all five of them, which is what customers are looking for.
AT: What legacy do you hope to leave?
SF: We call Showfields the most interesting store in the world because we have a stage of the most amazing brands out there. The legacy we want to leave behind is that there could be a place for that to happen in the world. If our legacy can be creating more spaces for others to come, that would be amazing. We’re building a stage and allowing others to shine on the stage. If anything, that’s what it should be about.
AT: Any big plans for 2020 or beyond that you can share with us?
SF: We’re going to open another space in 2020. We know the brands are there. We see them on our Instagram feed. We find them in our streets. Five years ago, they needed to add e-commerce because people want to buy in an app. But the physical space is just another medium, another platform. We believe all brands in the world should have a physical touchpoint, and our mission over the next few years is to become the infrastructure. We’re on a mission to allow all brands in the world to have a physical touchpoint to their brand.