Locals | Ryan Willms - Inventory Magazine
Roden Gray: Thanks for taking the time to sit down with us. To start, could you give us a little background about yourself?
Ryan: Well, I grew up in Victoria after moving there when I was about 6 years old. It was around 2006 that I started my own blog. I wanted to start writing, but the first couple of magazines I approached weren’t really into the articles I had pitched, so I thought that I would just start to write for myself. It was mostly about sneakers and music. As it evolved, I definitely became inspired by Inquiring Mind from Toronto, and I decided to step it up from just a blog, to more of a well rounded online magazine, but with my own perspective.
I launched the website in 2008, and that was h(y)r collective. As the readership grew, more people wanted to get involved - some good photographers and better writers, including Inventory's creative director Simon Roe.
It seemed like publishing a print magazine was the way to turn it into an actual business. In terms of advertising, it was somewhat difficult at the time to figure out to how to generate revenue online. Digital publishing like that was quite new to a lot of people, and companies we had been in touch with didn’t really get it and the value it was providing. What we were producing was relatively niche as well, so it was a bit tricky. In early 2009 I decided to print a magazine and it felt like a good opportunity revaluate the brand, the goals and try to take things to the next level again.
Roden Gray: That's around the time everyone was jumping into the online world with blogs, and there was a lot of talk around whether or not print was dead. Was that ever your concern?
Ryan: There certainly were a lot of people closing down magazines at the time and things were collapsing in the industry due to bloated, unspecialized magazines that really didn't speak to anybody. I felt like we had a strong readership through what we had developed online, and we knew that there were people out there that would pay for quality, considered content that had direction and a point of view.
There weren't really many focused independent publications in the market at the time. The closest thing would be something like Monocle, which we'd been compared to several times, even though it was very different in almost all aspects, other than uncoated stock, considered design and a strong brand of it's own.
Roden Gray: What was the initial push for you to start writing about menswear? Were you always into clothes and fashion growing up?
Ryan: I was into clothing since I was a young kid, like basketball shoes, and I remember being really excited about champion basketball jerseys, and then Guess? and so on. I would also think about which running shorts I would have to match with a certain jersey, so it kind of all evolved from that starting point. It was all from sports and rap music - that sort of sparked the interest, watching Rap City, or MTV whenever I went to America. Fortunately my parents took our family traveling a fair bit as well, and going to Europe and getting exposed to brands like Armani and Versace, as well as big department stores in Europe - they all made a big impression on me.
Roden Gray: Could you talk about the evolution of your brand from its beginnings as h(y)r collective, and then onto Inventory Magazine, and then eventually opening up Inventory Stockroom. Was this planned out from the beginning or a natural progression?
Ryan: First it was the online magazine, and than we launched the online store. The idea was to basically just to do an outfit to start. So when we launched the web store we had the A.P.C. New Standards, Common Projects Achilles, one Porter tote bag, a Malin & Goetz candle, and Monocle magazine. We also had a collaboration with Gitman Bros. Vintage, which was a button down oxford in three colors; grey, white and red.
Roden Gray: Didn't that collaboration with Gitman Brothers launch at Roden Gray?
Ryan: Yes, when we launched issue 12 of h(y)r collective we had a pop up shop at Roden Gray. It was really cool, and it sold out really quickly. It was the first time that a blog had done a collaboration with a clothing brand in that way. At the time Gitman wasn’t very well known brand and the Vintage collection hadn't released in the North American market yet.
Rob actually set me up with Chris from Gitman and introduced us initially, and that was how it all began. From there it went from digital magazine and online store, to a printed magazine with a brick and mortar store.
Roden Gray: Did you always envision that?
Ryan: I always wanted to do retail, publishing, and form a design studio. It seemed like it would all fit together in practice, and it does, but it adds up to a lot of work for a small team. We had a gut feeling and just stuck with it. I don’t think a lot of people were telling me to go and print a magazine, but I felt it was the right thing to do, and went for it.
Roden Gray: How big is the team now at Inventory?
Ryan: In Vancouver, Matthew runs our shop and Owen, Anthony and myself are in the office. Our creative director, Simon, is in London and our art director, Phil, is in New York, along with our shop staff there. It's a small team overall, and everyone has traditionally contributed to multiple facets of the company over the years.
Roden Gray: What outside influences find their way into your work? Are there any cultural elements that influence what you and the team look for when putting the magazine together, or curating the shop?
Ryan: I don’t know if we really look for anything specifically, but we are conscious of what's going on with certain trends in fashion and publishing. When I started h(y)r collective I never considered it a Vancouver-based brand. I also took an international perspective to the best of my ability and knew we were speaking to people everywhere, and tried to take influence and be aware of what was going on around the globe. Now we actually have editors that have grown up in different parts of the world, and live in major centres, so that international viewpoint is even more organic and natural for us.
Roden Gray: I've noticed that you've been involved in projects outside of Inventory lately. With your work at lululemon, Stussy, and your new series of curated events called "Nice Night", are you making a shift to work on projects outside of the menswear realm?
Ryan: I've had my head down with Inventory for about 5 years and it's been pretty non-stop for the most part. I've been trying to find more of a balance in my life, and that also includes a balance of projects. A few opportunities have come my way lately, such as working with lululemon. It's not something I'm going out and looking for, but through word of mouth or Inventory, people have started coming to me for art direction or ideas, and it allows me to do something outside of what I would do with Inventory. Nice Night is a little bit more undefined. Our first event with Inform Interiors and Artek was really successful, and we're working on a couple more ideas for the fall, but we want to try to make each concept special and unique, which means it's not easy or straight forward! It's also given me the chance to play around with music a little bit more, and I've done a couple of mixes the last few months which have been fun.
Roden Gray: What are your thoughts on the Vancouver scene now, since you've started Inventory?
Ryan: Our neighbourhood has definitely evolved in the past four and half years. There were some nice shops that had come and gone before we ever moved in; Pigeon, Illustrated Example and one of the nicest shops I've ever been to, Richard Kidd. Stores like Livestock, Stussy and Roden Gray also helped to pave the way for independent retail in Gastown though. Now there are more shops, cafes and restaurants than I would have thought, but the quality level is quite high, which is great for the city, and the people in the community. Vancouver as a whole has evolved in the past few years, but I think it can be seen most clearly in our neighbourhood, and with companies like Secret Location, Kit and Ace and lululemon Lab soon to open, you can see a full transition from almost nothing to bigger and bigger brands moving in, within only four or five years.