Photos courtesy of Tommy Cole
Spotlight is the first in a series of profiles on emerging, independent and established designers.
I spent my last 2 years of college in Boston, Massachusetts, earning a BFA in Fashion Design from Massachusetts College of Art and Design. It was there that I met Roy Caires, co-founder of ALTER and creator of the clothing line This Old Thing?, which is made up of one-of-a-kind, reconstructed vintage pieces.
Roy and his partner Tommy Cole have always held an interest in fashion and retail. I remember while in college I admired Roy’s keen aesthetic and was not at all surprised that he worked in avant-garde designer Alan Bilzerian’s Newbury Street store. Roy and Tommy’s eye for an amazing find has led them from trunk sales of vintage clothing to opening shop without investors or any formal business training- they’ve achieved their success with persistence & tenacity, and of course, good taste.
ALTER is based in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, on a quiet stretch of road adjacent to the East River overlooking Manhattan. Far from most subways and a little out of the way, Franklin Street has become a mellow stretch of residential brownstones, clothing shops, cafes, bars & restaurants. Roy was kind enough to share with us his story below.
1. When was ALTER conceived?
The original Alter (the men’s shop now known as ALTER 109) was conceived on February 2nd 2007, which is Ground Hog’s Day. We thought it would be funny and easy to remember the opening of our first shop on this day. The women’s store (ALTER 140) was conceived on 08.08.08 another day of ironic coincidence.
2. How did you manage to set up shop in the beginning (i.e. overhead, inventory, materials)?
Alter was created, designed and executed by myself and my partner Tommy Cole. When the shop first opened it consisted mainly of vintage pieces that we hand-picked and curated ourselves from special wholesale rag houses that we have been fortunate enough to get into and work with. We also carried a few Cheap Monday jeans and our in-house line This Old Thing?.
We have grown quite rapidly since ’07 and currently house about 40 or so designers from all over the US, Canada and even Sweden. We constructed the shop with our own hands using vintage tools, found objects and materials from our neighborhood of Greenpoint. We turned found wood into our cash wrap and redesigned tables, bookshelves and other common fixtures found in the trash into unique sculptural pieces for display. The overhead was low to begin with as we did all the work ourselves and with what very little money we did have, we purchased a few key denim pieces from Cheap Monday which has now become our largest and sought out label.
3. When did you begin to sew, did you study fashion design formally?
I was formally trained at Mass Art in Boston, Ma., where I received a degree in Fashion Design. Tommy is a self taught photographer and graphic artist who I taught to sew when we first had the inclination to start our own line 4 years ago. In 2005 we began selling This Old Thing? to a few select shops in NY, LA and TX. It was then that we had created a stock of vintage garments with which we would work from. Many items we didn’t have the heart to cut up so we kept them as inspirations. This pile started to get out of control so we decided to create one-day-only pop-up shops to make some extra cash. We did these in Boston (our hometown) as well as in Brooklyn at the space now called Public Assembly (formerly Galapagos).
The popularity and quick success of our this new endeavor gave us the idea that we should combine all of our retail knowledge (15 years between Tommy and I) that we have ever had and make it official with our own permanent shop. So hence the first ALTER came to be.
4. Do you follow a design philosophy or is your process more organic?
We are very organic in our approach to fashion, merchandising and buying. It all comes from our gut. We do not have a specific design philosophy but do approach things in hopes to create a fresh view on retailing, styling and curating.
5. What do you find advantageous about designing & selling your collections in Greenpoint, Brooklyn?
We enjoy our neighborhood and working in it. It is a small community filled with great people who are enjoying what we do. Our customer base is very fashion conscious and savvy and look to us to give them clothing that they can wear all the time at an amazing price.
6. Do you have a muse?
We don’t have a specific person who we would call our muse. We respect and look up to many different people/ companies from all different disciplines. We try to meet our eye for great, fun and wearable fashion with the needs of our customers.
7. What is your favorite restaurant in Brooklyn?
Diner in Williamsburg… amazing food in a low key atmosphere.
Alter 109 (Men)
109 Franklin St.
near Greenpoint Ave.
Brooklyn, NY 11222
ALTER 140 (Women)
140 Franklin St.
near Greenpoint Ave.
Brooklyn, NY 11222
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