Robert Patterson runs Revolver, a San Francisco shop and gallery that has stocked plenty of the lines Styleforum joneses for: Yuketen, Monitaly, Creep, Crate, and Journal Standard, among others. Revolver’s stock and atmosphere are very Pacific—somewhere between the Haight and Japan. But Revolver is just one among several successful projects that Robert is involved in in San Francisco. Ahead of Styleforum’s 10th anniversary events, in which Revolver will take part, Fok-Yan Leung talked with him about his philosophy.
Fok-Yan Leung: Robert, could you tell me a little about the history of your store and projects?
Robert Patterson: Experimental geography. We run lots of small, interesting projects that intersect. From Revolver, our first retail store in Lower Haight, to Voyager on Valencia, to our ramen restaurant in the Mission, to our upcoming Japanese sweet shop Suica—everything builds on an exploration of geography.
Each of our projects is built up from prior things. It’s fun to build things and see them grow. Different places require different things. Revolver was first. Revolver is sort of fancier and homier, cosy and neighborhood like the Lower Haight—off the beaten and hidden. Voyager is more exploratory and collaborative.
Ken Ken Ramen is food based. It grows out of our love of Japan and ramen. Taka, my business partner and head chef, and I met at Revolver over a shared interest over some Japanese brands, specifically Yuketen footwear. Today they all intersect in our commitment to quality service, attention to customers, and having fun! [Editor’s note: Ken Ken also serves Boba Guys, a project from a Styleforum/Superfuture member]
FYL: How do you go about buying for the store? On the phone, you told me that it was a neighborhood store. How has that affected your decisions when you are in NYC, or LA, or LV, or at some other tradeshow?
RP: Again, geography comes into play. We’re really rooted in being part of Northern California and finding wares that are practical, fun, a little bit off and strange. Pieces that reflect the climate, people, and place that we live in.
And while do sell unique and fashion-forward items from emerging brands, part of the reason I think people like Revolver is that we are very focused on a meeting a local demand and reality. At Revolver customers find jeans that suit everyone, like those jackets in herringbone tweed that thirty year olds buy to spend Saturday afternoons with their girlfriends at the bar around the corner. This local reality is a stranger to many trendy boutiques that aim for an international clientele and find that the most appealing customers are those that come from far away. We’re a general store in that respect and really enjoying selling to a wide range of people from cool kids stocking up on the new threads from emerging brands like Hixsept to more classic tailored pieces from old brands like CP Shades that just work on everyone.
FYL: How do you differentiate yourself from the competition?
RP: Service, our staff, and collaboration. We’re pretty proud of the service we provide to customers and aim to meet almost any requirement they have. Again without support from local everyday customers we wouldn’t have any place in the city to have fun. Also we have an excellent growing team. Nearly everyone who works at Revolver makes interesting product and partakes in our 20% rule—which allows them to spend 20% of their paid time on any project that they find interesting. Valerie, our manager, makes a beautiful line of jewelry. Julia, another staffer, makes home wares and crafts; another curates our vintage collection; others make and manage our growing in-house collection, etc. Their passion for their own products that we carry differentiates us both in staff and product and allows them to focus on bettering the stores for customers.
Lastly we’re all about collaboration. We love working on unique strange projects. We’ve worked with guys at Upper Playground to surfy kids at Mollusk Surf Shop to perfect gals from Spartan in Austin on store pop-ups, events, other items, etc. We love working with other people on fun projects to get our batteries recharged and to see things from different angles. Always a good thing in our opinion.
FYL: Could you tell us a bit about the lesser known brands you carry.
RP: We love exploring brands from around the world—especially ones that lend to our unisex aesthetic. Denham the Jeanmaker—men’s/women’s denim line with technical outerwear and jackets. Super well-respected and based on a combination of heritage research and forward design.
Hixsept/Etudes from France is just the perfect unknown men’s brand, with great tailoring, quality, and fit. Sort of a surfy Engineered Garments. Really beautiful, simple, but still forward.
Sifr from Singapore/Indonesia is just awesome. They make really amazing men’s wear, simple jungle pants, great relaxed blazers, and wonderful chukkas.
Satcas is awesome basics line from Indonesia that just sells out every season. Great nylon hooded fisherman jackets, jungle cloth jackets.
Workers from Japan. Like Roy of Self Edge—one guy on a mission to create a huge growing reproduction line. Always out of stock but beautiful reproduction pieces using amazing fabrics. Hard even for us to get—these are just standout products that are amazing.
CP Shades—wonderful linen wear that reminds you of Kapital/45 RPM but more accessible. Flowing wrinkled grey linen dress shirts and stranger wool vests. We worked with them on slimming everything down for our store. True Bolinas / California relaxed hippie wear.
FYL: Could you tell me about your house brand?
RP: Dillon Montara—named after two beaches we love in California. It’s a growing collection – all made in San Francisco. Tapered jeans, unisex dress shirts in heavy Japanese fabrics. We’re working with an ex-Levi’s guy on fits and patterns. Our dress shirts have a great slim but classic block and the jeans have little details, but we’re still having fun. It’s nice having a retail outlet to explore and we have a great relationship with a garment factory to produce small quantities of pieces.
FYL: Could you tell me a bit about your ramen place (I’m sorta hungry right now?)
RP: Revolver is where I met Taka Hori, one of the other owners of Ken Ken Ramen—our ramen restaurant in the Mission. Taka loves Yuketen and always came to our stores to check out new drops. Having lived in Japan myself, a friendship emerged and we started working on our ramen project together. Just like many of the brands we carry—we make everything in-house using premium products and passion. We love ramen and strive to make a beautiful, lovingly produced product. Similar to Revolver—at Ken Ken we aim to please both our customers and staff to make good product that are made of local parts but part of a larger whole. It might sound strange, but these all collate.
FYL: How did your experiences in Japan (aside from the ramen) affect your approach to retail?
RP: Service and quality. We only wish we could be as good as some of the stores/restaurants in Japan. Having lived in Japan there is a real commitment to quality and service.
FYL: If you were to give advice to someone starting a clothing store, or a ramen house, what would you say?
RP: Find a passion and explore it in your own way. Don’t over plan or worry about failure. Start with a step and just enjoy the ride and where things go.