Photos: Marcus Stabenow
We’ve really enjoyed getting to know Brian & Lauren Simpson, the couple behind our St. Louis account East + West, over the past few years. Each time Brian comes to visit us for market week, we are reminded that he is someone who possesses genuine enthusiasm not only for bringing great clothes to his hometown, but for the opportunity to serve his customers and his community. Read on to hear a little more about Brian’s story.
Tell us about the full-time job that you left prior to opening up East + West.
I worked in the Sales & Marketing division of the Financial Planning group at the Wells Fargo Advisors HQ in St. Louis for 6 years. Our goal was to train, educate, and develop best practices for Financial Advisors to best serve their clients throughout the country. While it was always a dream of mine to open a my own shop one day dating back to high school, I was extremely thankful for my time at Wells Fargo. I learned how to interact/work with people from all different backgrounds and stages of life which has been crucial in relating to customers at the shop. Also in my time there I learned a lot of valuable business lessons and ideas on how to manage money and cash flow which is vital to a healthy business. Lastly it gave me the opportunity to travel all over the world to experience many different types of cultures which in turn helped me shape the store I ended up opening.
How did you come up with the shop name?
The name pays tribute to our city. People commonly say St. Louis is where the east meets the west because we're directly in the center of the country; it's also referred to as the "Gateway to the West." We wanted a name that embodied that, but also when you come into our shop we've created an atmosphere that might give you a taste of Brooklyn or Venice.
Before East + West opened up, were there any stores in St. Louis carrying the kind of raw denim selection that you currently have in store? How have your customers responded?
There were a few stores that had good selections of denim but not as much of a focus on raw denim. We feel like we've been able to bring a nice focused collection of raw denim to St. Louis from brands that you might not normally find around this part of the country. Customers have responded well overall but in a couple of different ways. In one aspect we had an instant community of folks who were stoked on what we were doing and extremely familiar with the brands we were carrying from seeing them online, on blogs, in other cities etc. On the other hand for most of our customers it's their first experience with most of the products in our store, so with that we really focus on brand/product education. We want the customer to understand why we find value in a particular product and why we love working with the brands we carry. We realize we are a niche store and it doesn't serve everyone's taste but it's been really cool to see one-time customers turn into regulars who've turned into friends.
You’ve partnered up to throw in-store events with Sump Coffee and Mofu. What is it about food and drink that links up so well with what you guys are doing at East + West? What do you hope to achieve through these events?
At the core of what we do along with those doing food and drink is the idea of hospitality. Our desire is to serve the city of St. Louis through a men's clothing shop while Sump does it through coffee and MOFU does it through food. We all want the customer to experience something more than just a transaction when they choose to support us. Not only are we fans of the businesses/people we partner with for events but we choose to do it with those who have a similar mindset in their business philosophy as well. Ultimately our hope through throwing these events is building community and relationships with the people in our city and having some fun in the process!
What are some of the challenges you’ve encountered since opening up?
Overall it's been an amazing experience so far since we opened the doors 2 1/2 years ago, although it has come with its share of challenges - both ones we did and didn't expect. Being a business owner with a small staff and store has proved to be a more lonely experience than I would've anticipated. Through that, I've realized how vital it is to build community and relationships with other small business owners who are going through a similar experience whether it's a clothing store, coffee shop, or small restaurant. Another thing that's been a challenge to work through is learning how to turn the "OFF" switch. My mind tends to race 24/7 on ways to improve, new ideas or concepts, so I continually have a hard time balancing this. It's been really important to learn how to separate family and friends from work to make sure I'm investing in my most important relationships. Sometimes it means saying no when I don't want to, waiting till tomorrow to finish a project, or something as simple as turning off my phone.
Tell us about some of your favorite small businesses in your area that you like to support.
If I can brag on anything in St. Louis, it's our food and drink culture. For the size of city we are, we have some amazing options for people to try when they come in town. Here's a few of the staff favorites...
Sump Coffee: Best coffee in town and arguably the country. It's an experience.
Pastaria: Made from scratch pastas & Neapolitan pizzas.
Taste: Favorite cocktail bar in town with awesome small plates as well. Knowledgeable staff who are extremely helpful & courteous.
Bogarts: Amazing BBQ. We'd put up against anyone in the country.
Mission Taco: Fun taqueria. Recently started making their own masa for their corn tortillas. Great happy hour.
K Hall Design: Home goods and design store that specializes in making their own fragrances via soaps, candles, lotions, etc. The vibe is always right in there!
East + West
205 N. Kirkwood Road
St. Louis, MO 63122