Valencia Street Purveyor of $800 Canvas Jackets Expands to NYC

Categories: Business
Kiya Babzani
Kiya Babzani is a 31-year-old San Francisco ex-BMX fanatic gets off on motorcycles and extra-thick jeans; three years ago he opened a 500-square-foot store on Valencia Street with the idea of selling garments made from a type of heavy-duty, old-fashioned-style denim that's popular in Japan. Examples include a $800 reproduction of a canvas French military jacket from the 1930s, and $360 denim cycling pants.

The store would have Persian rugs, and no counter. Instead clerks would sit at "a desk, a consultation desk, like you're at a loan office," Babzani says. "We'd rather sit at a big leather chair. And customers get to sit in a client chair. It's more comfortable."

The store opened just as bottom was about to fall from under the mortgage market. Soon, fey fashionistas evacuated the Financial District like lemmings. And, one would imagine, the market should have dried up for bicycle-riding pants that cost 12 times more than absolutely necessary.

But that market has actually thrived -- so much so that on July 15 Babzani will be opening up a new, slightly larger store on the lower east side of New York City. The new store will be 700-square-feet, likewise specialize in high-zoot Japanese denim and canvas clothes and, if things go according to the San Francisco template, make a killing.

"I did an interview with a guy at the Financial Times, and he was blown away that we were doing well in this economy," said Babzani.

Well, we're kind of blown away, too. What gives?

"I have a theory that if you sell something extremely rare, you'll find a small percentage of people who want it," he said of his Japanese reproductions of 1930s, '40s and '50s American work clothes. "Those things in our store -- we're the only people who have it. If you have no competitors, and a unique product, people will buy it."

In 2007, not long after he opened, the New York Times ran a feature referring to his store Self Edge as "something between a premium specialty shop and a museum."

Babzani, apparently not aware in November 2007 how truly fucked the upper crust would soon become, said his desired clients were the type who enjoy "Scotch, artisan cheeses, natural hand-carved leather wallets, fine art, intricate music."

We haven't checked in on the market for intricate music, but we hear the art market is hurting. Maybe it's because the jet set's spending its money on bike pants.

Speaking of which, we could think of no better person than Babzani to comment on New York's recently completed Bike in Style Challenge, in which the fashion muse LVMH sponsored a contest at the Fashion Institute of Design designed to raise the stylishness of the Big Apple's bicycle commuters. The idea was that, if only bike riding didn't cause one to look quite so dorky, more people would take to it, thus improving the city's quality of life.

Bizarrely, however, the contest required the designers to each produce a poncho. You know -- like the poncho you wore last week to the art opening?

Who better than the designer of a $360 pair of bicycling pants to assess New Yorkers' attempt at a cycling fashion revolution?

"I can't believe it -- ponchos? That's not even versatile. You need to be slim and compact on a bike in the city. How's a poncho not going to get caught on every parked car," Babzani said. "There's a couple of things I will never carry, and one of them is ponchos. I don't like corduroy. I don't like turtlenecks. And I don't like ponchos. Where in the hell are they getting ponchos from?

We hope Babzani takes New York by storm.

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