For two days in March, faux flowers lined the floor and walls of a small shop in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood, while an assortment of hand-crafted candles, planters and watering cans sat atop shelves set up for the occasion.
The space was transformed as part of the “Urban Outfitters Flower Mart,” the first-ever experiential pop-up shop erected by the Philadelphia-based retailer. Shoppers could come and make arrangements of faux flowers from the company’s new floral collection and browse lifestyle products before they hit permanent stores. In another first, the temporary store teased the work of independent artists teaming with Urban Outfitters for its inaugural Artist Editions Series. The series, which officially launched last week under UO Home, the home goods division of Urban Outfitters, sells products from a monthly rotating group of hand-selected emerging designers across the U.S.
While Urban Outfitters has sold furniture and housewares since it was founded in 1970, the company has recently stepped up its game to better compete with peers that are rapidly evolving their product assortments to join the lifestyle brand hype.
“This is a brand-new piece of the home business,” said Gabrielle Conforti, chief merchandising officer for women’s at Urban Outfitters. “The one common thread we wanted to hold through the Artist Series is that inspiration and personality come through in the work [the artists] put forward.”
The first collection is based around plant-themed pieces, and includes four designers that hail from Brooklyn, Los Angeles, Cleveland and Orlando. Conforti said the team scouted artists on Instagram and other social media platforms, and then messaged them directly to gauge interest.
Working with outside talent is a clear way for Urban Outfitters to expand its reach while maintaining its cool factor — the brand that has grown synonymous with indie and hipster culture over the years. It’s taking a cue from companies like Gucci that have found success through tapping rising artists.
An Instagram post by Kelsey Ryder, founder of Hello Happy Plants, one of the first artists featured in the Urban Outfitters Artist Edition Series
Its efforts are ultimately paying off: Urban Outfitters continues to grow under parent company URBN, which reported a record sales increase in the fourth quarter of 2017, with 4 percent growth across all of its brands including Anthropologie and Free People. For Urban Outfitters, Conforti said home goods will continue to be a focus and efforts like the artist series will likely pave the way for high-profile collaborators.
“What sets us apart is that you can buy furniture, but you can also buy things for your entire kitchen or, say, a bouquet of flowers or a lava lamp. It’s a very eclectic [mix], but it all makes sense for our customer’s DNA,” she said.
The rise of home goods is also changing the way Urban Outfitters thinks about brick-and-mortar, which was part of the inspiration behind the pop-up shop. Conforti said the aim was to build upon the company’s eight existing UO Home showrooms, based in cities including LA, New York, Dallas and Montreal. She said pop-ups allow Urban Outfitters to showcase a small slice of the showroom experience, adding that the team intends to host more lifestyle-focused pop-ups across the U.S. in the future.
Feature photo courtesy of Rebecca Lee