My annual USA Road Trip, Part II: Secret Shopping – the hidden gems of Bodega and Unique Hype Collection

It helps to travel the USA with a curious 16-year-old who loves fashion, film and brands. Isaac is one of my best sources for all things new, so our first stop in Boston was a store called Bodega. No one that I know living in Boston has ever heard of it, but with Isaac as my guide we sought it out.

Entering the store, I felt as though I had stepped into the Banksy film Exit Through the Gift Shop – though this was more like ‘Enter through the convenience store’. On the face of it, the store is just a tiny kiosk selling drinks, magazines, soap, sandwiches and the like.

Press a button on a vending machine selling chocolates, though, and it slides back to reveal a very small, secret store selling cult Japanese fashion brands, accessories and the most covetable sneakers from around the world.

The boutique, which also sells a limited amount of own-label product, reminded me of a smaller, down-to-earth version of the Colette store in Paris. Through careful product curation and exclusive collaborations with the likes of Vans and Pintrill, Bodega has become another one of those cult retail brands that are so popular with today’s super-connected young consumers.

Bodega was created in 2006 by friends Oliver Mak, Jay Gordon and Dan Natola as a centre for their passion for discovering unique items from around the world. It has since evolved into a must-visit destination for those in-the-know consumers seeking premium fashion and style.

“We deal with hard-to-find and exclusive products and reinforced that message by hiding the sales floor in an unadvertised space,” Oliver tells me. “It reinforces the client’s experience of discovery, while at the same time strengthens the image of our partner brands.”

Not everyone wants to buy fashion and sneakers but everyone needs soap, so although it is exclusive and esoteric, Bodega also has a real egalitarian feel to it. This little store has been so successful that it now has a fantastic ecommerce site and the founders are planning to open a second shop in Los Angeles later this year. During our visit in Boston, I also learnt a great deal about baseball from listening to customers and staff have a heated discussion about a game that was happening later that day.

“We are the creators and consumers. Our founders and core team are artists, vandals, poets and musicians. Contributing to youth culture has always been what we naturally have done.” – Oliver Mak, co-founder of Bodega

Next stop was New York, where Isaac was keen to pay a visit to another ‘secret shop’. I was taken into the depths of Chinatown, down back streets and some stairs to a tiny basement with no name or signage. The place we arrived at was Unique Hype Collection, an almost magical place frequented by a select ‘in-the-know’ few.

A reseller of mostly Supreme, the store feeds the bustling city with highly sought-after clothing, sneakers and accessories. Given that the Supreme label produces fashion items that are collected like contemporary art, Unique Hype Collection is an underground haven for the brand’s die-hard fans. Since launching in the 90s, Supreme has built a global fashion empire with a red box logo like no other.

Unique Hype Collection’s incognito owner is just known as Peter. It is thought that he pays teenagers to wait in the horrendous queues that form outside the Supreme store in New York for as long as five days before a big drop, ensuring Unique Hype’s inventory lives up to its reputation.

It is meant to be the most reliable place to shop for unworn clothes, hats and accessories carrying the Supreme name, as well as labels like Palace, Bape and Nike Jordan. Peter, born in Guangzhou, China is what’s known as a ‘flipper’ – a trader who deals in goods whose demand generally exceeds supply. Prize pieces are behind glass and are marked as not for sale. At the moment, these coveted, off-limits items include the latest drop of the Supreme/Louis Vuitton collaboration, which was masterminded by Louis Vuitton artistic director Kim Jones.

Image left: Isaac with Lam Xie

On the morning we were in the store, a dad was shopping with his two sons and they were allowed to choose one item each. Peter was on the phone doing what sounded like a sneaker deal and on a stool behind the counter was Lam Xie, Peter’s mother who runs the day-to-day operations and has over 98,000 followers on Instagram @uniquehypecollection.

Some regulars say that Lam Xie is like their aunt. Isaac insisted on having his photo taken with her wearing his purchase of a Supreme Barack Obama shirt, which is sold out the world over.

Our experiences at Bodega and Unique Hype Collection got me thinking about new consumer behaviours, and how the world seems to be changing faster than we have ever known. One thing is for certain: young entrepreneurs are seizing the moment and changing the retail paradigm and the face of retail forever. | @MoiraBenigson | @TheMBSGroup