Urban Industry – Authentic, Modern, Eastbourne
We like to showcase influential and innovative businesses, and Eastbourne-based Urban Industry, one of the biggest indie eCommerce platforms in the UK, is amongst them. We talked to owner Dan King about its rise, the challenges its faced, and where it is going from here.
A lot of our customers may never come to this part of the world, but we feel now more than ever that our customers want to know what we represent. We want to be known for where we live and being a decent company.
Located in Lottbridge Drove, Urban Industry has a team of fifteen, a turnover of over four million pounds and growing, and stocks items from 100s of major brands such as Nike, Adidas, Arc'terycx and Vans, carrying over three thousand different product lines. With a sizable social media following and brand collaborations in the pipeline, you will be surprised to learn that it all began with just a shop on Eastbourne high street.
Dan’s passion for menswear began at an early age, ‘In the 90s,’ Dan said, ‘I would take the train to London to buy from the latest high-quality brands. Supreme, Volcom, stuff that you could not get in Eastbourne at the time. Back then, you had to travel a fair distance to get new and interesting brands.’
Dan did not start in the world of fashion but rather worked in design.
I was born in Eastbourne, lived in Hailsham, this is my home, and I wanted to bring my own sensibility down here. It is nice to have a national park around the corner that I can visit regularly.
However, following the dot-com crash, Dan's career changed direction. ‘I was going to go back into freelance web design and had dabbled in my own clothing brand, and thought it was an opportunity to start my own shop to support my small family.’
Putting everything into the business, Dan rented a retail unit in South Street, Eastbourne in 2002. It was a modest success, but it was not making as much as an impact as he wanted. With the help of a friend, they made the critical step of taking the business online, launching in 2003. While the shop was ticking along, being online made a massive impact and resulted in exponential growth, resulting in Urban Industry outgrowing its premises.
Urban Industry was able to take up warehouse space and hire more staff in 2008, closing the South Street shop and focus on its eCommerce offering, but still kept a small store open for his regular customers inside the warehouse. The company grew again and moved to the current premises in Lottbridge Drove in the early 2010s, giving enough space to stock more products and a bigger retail space.
As the streetwear trend grew, the website gave Dan an avenue to further develop his business, by investing in the right brands, and strengthening his market foothold. Urban Industry has been winning key accounts from major brands such as New Balance and Nike, in spite of competition from bigger players, ‘a lot of the big brands are now seeking socially active customers in more ways than one, rather than just shops with a physical presence in a major city, and doing so by engaging with us.’
We haven’t stood still when it comes to adapting, and we are looking for new stuff and trends from established and emerging brands. Sticking to your true values helps.
This perspective was hard-earned. Urban Industry faced its own crossroads as fashion and taste change all too often: ‘We have had our bad years, such as around 2015/16, some streetwear brands weren’t selling well at all compared to the previous years, and we had thousands of items unsold.’
During that time, Dan found he and his team had the opportunity to rediscover the company's authenticity: ‘I found a lot of change makes you really look at your business. The time was right for us to re-establish, and for me, ultimately what my customers will enjoy is products that I enjoy. It’s ever-evolving.’
Outdoor, Workwear, Sport
Working from there, Urban Industry decided to invest in outdoor brands, anticipating a change in customer trends, buying in high quality in stock from the likes of high quality brands includingThe North Face and Patagonia. ‘When we ordered from them, some brands were confused. They couldn’t see the trend but seeing the market now, it’s a no-brainer. They knew they could trust our insight.’
This has been a part of Urban Industry’s new mission, ‘Outdoor, Workwear, Sport’, clothing that is stylish, and reflects what is important to them.
We realised that we needed to be proactive in responsible production, but also promote where we live. We are a global retailer, shipping to Australia, South Korea and the USA as well as around South East England.
What has been a response to this change? ‘Well, a good problem we have had this season is that we put stuff on Instagram, it sells out overnight! We have a vast reach on social media, but our sales have not been just because of our web presence, but rather we have engaged and understood our customers. Our customers want brands that match their ethos, and Urban Industry is proud to showcase our independence.’
‘The global pandemic has only accelerated people’s new priorities, wanting to explore outdoor spaces. I am wearing the stuff Urban Industry stocks right now and going outside, and so are many others. The demand for ethical and environmentally friendly clothes is also only going to get bigger and bigger, with brands like Cotopaxi.’
East Sussex, England
‘In the past, we have kept a low profile locally,’ Dan admits, ‘we have always had loyal customers who support the store in Eastbourne and in Sussex, but now more than ever we have to use what is around us.’
‘We have learnt how important it is to put us on a literal map; we are global and local. Urban Industry is an English story, and we live in a great part of the world. We’re less than a quarter of a mile from the sea and at the beginning of the South Downs National Park. We have been talking with a few brands that want to come down here and collaborate.'
When you visit Urban Industry’s website and look at the roster of brands, it is a list of names for potential customers to explore. They read each brand’s story, their ethos, their manufacturing methods on full display. ‘We stock brands that have a purpose, and we have one as well.’
I can ship something to Los Angeles in three days on a bad day, twenty-four hours on a good day.
A lot of our customers may never come to this part of the world, but we feel now more than ever that our customers want to know what we represent. We want to be known for where we live and being a decent company’.
During the lockdown period, Urban Industry was able to do rotating shifts of three days, and it was able to manage the influx of orders during and long after the lockdown period. In the downtime, Dan and his team took the chance to revaluate and develop the offline store plus their own brand line. The rebranded HQ, The Depot (named after a brainstorming session with the team), now offers a high street experience for customers to visit and view the latest releases, complementing their online presence.
Carefully curated, The Depot is not the online shop actualised, but an extension of Urban Industry itself. The Depot looks to serve local customers and act as a destination for the years to come, offering a place where customers can see the best products. Helpfully, with a wider warehouse behind the wall, anything that is online can be brought out for any customer to see.
As part of this renewed purpose, Urban Industry is now looking into investing in its own product line, already seeing Urban Industry plain t-shirts, ethically made, organic, and sustainable, become proven best sellers for their customers.
Whilst social distancing has delayed bigger product launches and promotional events, the Urban Industry Depot is open six days a week, and its website is available to visit right now.