Photos: Martin Kirby
Our friendship with Martin Kirby goes back almost three years, well before he decided to open up a boutique in Melbourne's Fitzroy neighborhood. In early 2014, we had scheduled a trip to visit Kuroki Mills to see our denim being woven from start to finish, and were hoping to tap the skills of a good friend (also from Melbourne) named Ben Clement to help photograph the experience for us. Ben was unfortunately scheduled to leave Japan a few days before our arrival, but he connected us with a friend of his who was living and working in Japan who was willing to lend us a hand. The first time we met Martin was at the Okayama JR train station as he hopped into the van; we hit it off immediately and he accompanied us all day long to document our mill tour. You can check those photos out on VSCO's website or via our 'About' page. After that trip, we stayed in touch and were excited to hear about his decision to open up a retail shop in his hometown a year ago. It's our pleasure to now introduce Martin's labor of love, Godspeed, to you.
You’re a man of many talents. Walk us through all the different jobs you’ve held over the years leading up to opening Godspeed.
Hah! I’m always worried I sound a little crazy with this one. Basically, I started out singing for a hardcore band called Carpathian when I was pretty young. I was lucky enough to travel a lot with the band playing shows around the world and made it to Japan a few times. I wore a lot of Carhartt WIP at the time and was introduced to the guys doing that out here through my record label and ended up being sponsored by WIP and that was so rad. Those guys also run Supply, which has done a lot for Japanese streetwear in Australia and I ended up working for them at the Melbourne Carhartt store recently before opening Godspeed. I had an affinity for Japan since as long as I could remember and after spending time there with the band I knew I wanted to live there. Throughout my time with the band I was always doing design, photography, tour and finance management and a bunch of different tasks so it was essentially my first step into ‘business’ though I never really treated it that way. When the band went on hiatus in 2010, I packed up and moved to New Zealand on the off chance I would pass the snowboard instructor exams, become a snowboard instructor, get a visa and work in Japan even though I was heavily tattooed. That fortunately all worked out, and for the next four years I traveled back and forth between the two countries for their respective winters, and spending the rest of the year living in Tokyo and working with Japanese brands.
When and how did you develop your love for all things denim?
Around 10 years ago in Melbourne my good friend and I wanted to start a denim label. I was obsessed with only using Japanese selvedge fabric for the jeans but at the time getting information and sourcing selvedge fabric was extremely difficult. After resigning ourselves to ‘Australian denim’ we made some samples and were disappointed by the fabric and construction of the jeans. On my first trip to Japan I spent almost all the money I had on a pair of 21oz Iron Heart jeans from this (now very famous) little store in Ueno. At the time they were the heaviest jeans you could buy and my friends thought I was an idiot. That was a turning point for sure in appreciating denim and Japanese craftsmanship. I still have those jeans and they’ve toured the world maybe 10 times over so I guess they speak for themselves! The last few years I spent a lot of time hanging out with the Radiall guys at their flagship store ‘Doobies’ in Tokyo. I realized there is an entire culture of real Japanese denim / streetwear / menswear brands that the rest of the world doesn’t necessarily know about, so I opened Godspeed to introduce my friends and their brands to the world. So far it’s been really rewarding and I genuinely believe in the brands I stock.
What are some valuable lessons you’ve learned from previous jobs that help guide your day to day responsibilities as a shop owner?
For almost the entirety of the band’s career, I felt like I was responsible for every little thing and would get really burnt out on having to manage an extreme workload. When you don’t have the time or energy to focus on the areas you are talented at or even passionate about I think there is potential to really mess things up. I’ve always envied bands or businesses where there is a real synergy and respect between members and roles are defined based on ability or desire to really improve on something and things just really seem to work. Musically, the best example I can think of is the band Converge and to be honest when I first met you guys at 3sixteen I could instantly appreciate what your roles were within the brand and how well you guys worked together. So that’s it, I know I’ve got a bazillion weaknesses and the most important step I can make is to get some friends on board that can really help me out with building this thing!
Our visit to Kuroki Mills two years ago was life changing. Tell us about how that experience was for you from behind the lens.
Firstly, it was great to finally meet you guys. I had been admiring (and secretly jealous of) your denim label from a distance and had heard so much about you guys from our mutual friend Ben so when that opportunity came up, I was stoked. That was my first time visiting Okayama and to have that tour through the Kuroki Mills was really special. I’m still sweating from that shoot. It was hot as hell, I was carrying like a thousand cameras and tripods and really nervous about getting good content for you guys. The place has such a surreal beauty and rhythm to it that anyone could take good photos there. I think the coolest part for me was the looming room. We could walk a few steps from one of the Toyoda selvedge loom’s working away on the latest 3sixteen fabric to the next which was looming the super black Iron Heart fabric and so on. The fabric for the very clothes we were wearing was being loomed right there in front of us.
You’re located in the Fitzroy neighborhood of Melbourne, one of my favorite parts of the city when I visited several years ago. What drew you to open up Godspeed here? What are some favorite local businesses that you like to support?
Fitzroy has a long and interesting history and is actually Melbourne’s first suburb. I guess it is comparable to New York’s Williamsburg or London’s Camden with a rich history of live music, food, street art and multiculturalism. I’m actually opposite one of the biggest housing commissions in Melbourne so the rent is affordable. Godspeed is actually a heritage listed building, almost 200 years old, with bluestone and brick foundations. It was all boarded up and looked like shit when I moved in… I found out on opening night that my friends had all thought that I made a huge mistake but managed to turn it around haha!
My friends Callum and Mo have an amazing vegan restaurant called Smith and Daughters, they opened Smith and Deli next, then released a cookbook and it’s all just gone completely bananas! Burnside is Melbourne’s most chill coffee spot and the dudes are the best. Neko Neko and Wabi Sabi Salon are the best Japanese in Melbourne hands down and this great couple run both and support the local Japanese community and Godspeed. HAVN next door is helping me change this end of the strip and has some great brands in there. Hugo has Spares down on Smith Street and local owner-makers Christian Kimber and Tailfeather (who I’ve got a collaboration belt and wallet with!
Finally - what are some things you’ve got planned for Godspeed in 2017?
Right now I am really hoping I can afford to come to Inspiration LA and get to New York in February. It would be great to get a chance to check out some stores in the US and meet up with you guys and some of my other brands! Then Japan in March for the Clutch CC tradeshow and Radiall, Rats and Rough and Rugged exhibitions. It will be my first anniversary in April and I hope to announce some exciting new brands for the store. Finally I am going to spend some time on the backyard and transform it into a space for friends to hang out and get some good coffee.
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