When I meet with Bishop Collective founders Mai Vu and Dimitri Koumbis at their coworking space in Hell’s Kitchen, they jump up from their desks, both both eager packages of energy.
They lead me upstairs to a light-filled, spacious room, talking a mile a minute the whole way. The white-walled room, which has a feel of a gallery, is still decorated for the Summer’s End sale/party they threw the week before, with rolling racks of clothes, a table laid out with jewelry and accessories, artwork on the walls and a spare amp.
Sipping champagne at the party were the usual designers, fashion industry professionals, plus all of Vu and Koumbis’ students–in addition to running Bishop Collective, Vu and Koumbis are instructors at the Art Institute of New York City, where they teach merchandising and fashion theory. Attendees could buy fashion off the rack, but more importantly, several students walked away with internships with the designers present.
That’s the goal of Bishop Collective (named after the chess piece with the most flexibility): to provide a platform for emerging designers to showcase their locally-made fashion. “We were teaching all these great young designers how to present their work and make it look professional,” Vu tells me. “But when they’re done with school, they have no platform aside from the academic setting.”
(This is a similar mission statement to Young & Able, another online boutique by a younger former fashion student.)
“We thought, what can we do as instructors first of all to impact our student body, and secondly to bring what we’re learning outside back into the classroom?” Koumbis says. “Instead of getting part time jobs, why not create ourselves what we think is the perfect model for retail?”
That said, Bishop Collective, which launched in October 2013, isn’t for fresh, green graduates. While Vu and Koumbis can see promise in certain students, they usually tell them to go work for someone else for a few years before they try launching their own line.
So how do they choose who to carry? “First and foremost it has to be the Bishop aesthetic,” Vu says. She imagines the “gallery girl,” a sophisticated woman who isn’t necessarily chasing after every trend, but likes investment pieces with a bit of quirk that can be layered. And of course, everything is made in the U.S. On the Bishop Collective website you’ll find designers you’re familiar with, like H Fredrikkson, Feral Childe, In God We Trust, and lesser-known designers like Mary Meyer and Morning Warrior, plus jewelry and home objects.
Vu and Koumbis feel positive about the future of New York manufacturing, positing that if they can stoke demand for NYC-made products, that demand can help breathe life and skill back into the Garment District. “You have to cultivate it somehow. If you cultivate it, it’s eventually going to turn around,” Dimitri says.
That remains to be seen, but soon Bishop Collective will have a direct hand in the process of revitalizing the Garment District. They’re launching a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for an in-house private label. “Every season we are out searching for that basic t-shirt,” Vu says. “Designers love to design, so every season they come out with something different. That’s fine, but we’re trying to have a foundational garment for our collection that can be used to layer and merchandise the collection, without having to spend every season hunting for these staples.” Hopefully they succeed, so you don’t have to go hunting either for made-in-America fashion staples either!
And check out my favorites from their shop: