Sep 26, 2019 | By Jane Boddy
Pintrill was founded two years ago in Jordan Roschwalb’s Brooklyn loft.
If you don’t know Pintrill (you should), the accessories line of enamel fashion pins, are an Instagram favourite. The brand found a younger audience immediately thanks to its fluency in the language of the Internet. Its most popular products range from physical renditions of emojis to memes like a crying Drake.
Pintrill has leveraged that into a bustling business supported by manufacturing private label pins for companies like Jordan Brand, P.F. Flyers, and cult menswear label Engineered Garments, while continuing to release lo-fi versions of wearable technology that speak to a meme-savvy customer base. Roschwalb and his small team also regularly collaborate with artists like Naturel and Naomi Otsu on limited-edition releases that often sell out.
Two weeks ago, the brand made its biggest move yet: opening a retail store in the rapidly developing neighbourhood of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The small shop serves several purposes. In addition to the retail space, it also serves as the company’s online fulfillment centre and office.
We visited the new store and talked to Jordan Roschwalb about building a brand off of inexpensive-yet-luxurious accessories, the difference between e-commerce and retail, and why his products resonate with consumers so much.
Why did it make sense to move into retail?
For us, it was a natural progression for the brand. It’s something I felt was really necessary to become a global brand and be the global ambassador of pins, was to have a brick-and-mortar retail.
How much has Pintrill grown?
We started off originally in my loft in Brooklyn. From there we grew into a community workspace, and now we’re sitting in our own retail space. The growth has been exponential over two years’ time. I think that this is really the first time we’ve stepped back and we’re like “how did we do this?” For us to take a brand where the average product is $12 and put it in a brick and mortar store, something shifted in me to realise that was a serious accomplishment.
I never thought about it, how the product is so inexpensive; to me it’s still a luxury product. If it’s exclusive, and not everybody can have it, then it’s luxury. I don’t think about it in terms of how much the average sale was gonna be. Now I see the sales growing and people spending even more. It’s crazy.
Is the private label portion still important to the business?
The private label is a really huge part of the business. It just provided exposure for the entire pin community, so it’s really important to us, and we have to keep doing it. Now I think we can go even harder with it, because we can have that exclusive in-store release.
Who have you collaborated with?
It ranges from made-in-America brands like P.F. Flyers to Nike and anything in between, like GREATS brand. Outside of clothing, there’s Arizona Iced Tea. We’re huge Arizona fans. We’re delving into the food industry. We did Pizza Loves Emily, we did a a bagel with Yeastie Boys in LA—we made a tuna fish bagel! And we worked with [food blog] Infatuation.
How did you approach the retail aspect?
It’s very much a visual thing, so you’re able to see every single pin, as opposed to being on a website and seeing 5-10 on the screen. The vintage isn’t available on the website right now. We actually pulled it off so we can curate it more precisely in the store. Now that we have it figured out, we’re going to release vintage online once a month, but it’ll be very limited. The exclusivity of the vintage will stay in store.
The vintage pins are displayed in a really cool revolving case. What is that?
That’s called a Berg Motion Case. It was invented probably 60 years ago. It’s a rotisserie case originally made to hold trinkets and keepsakes for antique stores and jewelry stores. We’ve hijacked it and put it in our space because it works so well.
How do you price the vintage pins, which can fetch over $150? And what are the rarest pins?
I have this crazy Hi-C pin, which is really nuts, and a super-old Adidas pin still in the blister pack. I have some original Nickelodeon pins that are really, really rare. And I have some really cool Beavis & Butthead stuff from Viacom, with a back stamp, year marked on it, and everything.
How many vintage pins do you have?
There are easily 1,500-2,000 vintage pins to look at. That case holds over 1,000. On ice, we have 2,000-3,000 pins waiting to be revealed.
You also have apparel on offer. How does that tie back to the pins?
The apparel is very pin-specific. Some of them are vintage caps with vintage Nike pins or vintage Pepsi pins. We have a Levi’s partnership that we’re working on, so we have pieces of apparel that are curated and themed by us, like a Star Wars-themed jacket that’s $1,500, and a NASA-themed jacket that’s a vintage Levi’s piece with tons of NASA patches and pins on it that commemorate the missions and whatnot. On the flipside, we have a bootleg Bart Simpson jacket that we picked up overseas, and something like that is selling for $299. So there’s really something for everybody. You could get a Simpsons jacket, which is still going to be one-off, but has maybe 6-10 pins on it instead of 25.
What about the corresponding accessories you sell?
We have our cap line, One of None. The reason it’s called “One of None” is because each hat is one of four, but once you go through the process and select pins for it, it becomes one of a kind. The hats range from $99-$150, and that includes the vintage pin also.
Social media’s been huge for you guys. How are you tying it to the retail experience?
The biggest thing for us is having “pin pictures,” which is our call-to-action in store. We have easels set up throughout the store, that make for ideal pin pictures. Or you could take a picture of the pin wall, or the vintage Berg case. That’s the biggest thing for interaction.
‘I think one thing brands miss is that they just expect people to take pictures in their store.’
It’s hard for me to think of a lot of stores that get it, with the exception of KITH or Saint Laurent—when you walk into that store in SoHo, it blows you away. With KITH, you walk in, look up, see the ceiling, and it’s like: “OK, I gotta take a picture of this.” I don’t want people to feel forced to take a picture, but I also don’t want them to feel like it’s for their eyes only. It’s something to be shared.
What are the key differences you’ve found between retail and e-commerce?
One of the biggest things is that, because people can touch the pins and it’s such a physical thing, the sales are significantly higher in-store than online. Online they’re probably going for specific things, but here they see a red “100” pin they know that they want, but then they see all the other ones and might want five. It’s funny because people become emotionally attached immediately. That’s something you can do in-store. It’s much more difficult to do online. If you were on your Instagram feed and saw it, 20 minutes later you’re lost in the feed.
Do you think the low price of pins and accessibility of meme culture are related?
I do think they’re related. I think they all make you feel something. A meme is the best example: You see it and you laugh, or you’re like “this is stupid.” It always evokes something inside of you, and I think that’s what we’re looking to get out of customers when they walk into the store.
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