DAVID FISCHER: THE SNEAKER PIMP
Starting out as a hobby project to archive a niche scene of limited edition sneakers and such, Highsnobiety is ten years on an established global brand and one of the most visited sources for the latest on fashion, sneakers, music, art and lifestyle culture. MYKITA JOURNAL talks to founder and publisher David Fischer about what it takes to become a global brand, why materialism is not necessarily a bad thing and, of course, how the MYKITA for HIGHSNOBIETY collaboration frame is the perfect fusion of two worlds.
In conversation with David Fischer: founder and publisher of Highsnobiety
Would you describe yourself as materialistic?
Yes, totally. ‘Materialism’ has this negative connotation, but yeah – I love stuff! I get excited about a new coffee table book just as much as a ten-dollar magazine, for me it doesn’t have anything to do with being expensive. I love a Rolex but I also love a Swatch. That passion for things is also where Highsnobiety comes from. And not being afraid to stand behind all kinds of things, unrelated to the price. That mix has always been present on Highsnobiety. And I think that is maybe something a lot more people understand today than ten years ago.
We write about 30 dollar t-shirts; we write about Gucci; we go full-scale. It feels authentic to us. We write about Bottega and Vetements, but also about Stüssy and Nike.
Do you need time for new items to grow on you or are you happiest with the newest thing?
I have a strange thing from my grandfather that you don’t wear new things immediately. Somehow that is considered bad taste or showing off or just weird. So I buy new things and then don’t touch them for a month. My wife is more the one who will change into her new shoes in the store and wear them directly outside. For me it might be two weeks, or three months before I wear something. I’m usually still happy about the purchase but I just can’t wear it right away.
The view from Highsnobiety's Berlin office
What are your criteria for an interesting product these days? When leather trousers or cashmere sweaters are affordable to everyone, and hyped fashion brands sell polyester dresses for 1500 Euro – what defines luxury in fashion? Does luxury have to mean ‘handmade’ – a return to craft? Or is it just about exclusivity?
We appreciate it all. We appreciate certain things because they are handcrafted, because they are quality, timeless and lasting. And we appreciate other things for being hip, for being a statement right now. I was reading an article on “Business of Fashion” talking about this new breed of fashion hipsters, who are guided by irony and insider humour in their purchases. Vetements has this worn-out style but is freaking expensive, it’s a kind of phenomenon that’s not really been there before. But I think it’s interesting to write about everything. We write about 30 dollar t-shirts; we write about Gucci; we go full-scale. It feels authentic to us. We write about Bottega and Vetements, but also about Stüssy and Nike. The reality for our audience is that they mix and match – no one dresses just in Gucci, or just in Nike. That is what Highsnobiety represents on the page. We show how you can do that and what brands work.
What was your motivation for founding Highsnobiety?
I never really intended it to be a business, so I wouldn’t have been disappointed if it didn’t become one. It started just as a place for me to archive cool things that I came across on the web. I was reading a couple of other blogs, which were quite new at the time, tech-centric blogs like Engadget or Gizmodo. I wasn’t coming across so many fashion blogs, but I just thought that this is something I can do.
I never allowed a compromise on delivering news to our readers seven days a week. It didn’t matter if I was on vacation, if I was sick – it just didn’t matter. I think a lot of people simply underestimated that that is what you need to do.
Did you come from a writing background?
No, I would never call myself a journalist or a writer. This was also confirmed three or four years ago by one of my editors, who asked me to please stop writing anything for the site (laughs). I’ve always been into fashion and yet at the same time I knew I’m not a designer or anything like that. I had a hard time finding my place in that world, so the blog was my way in because I always had a strong opinion on the subject, i.e. fashion and all kinds of lifestyle topics.
How has the site developed over the last 10 years? Was there ever a turning point where you thought, ‘Okay, I feel established now’?
I was just extremely excited to be filling the pages of that blog and shocked that others would read it. After a time stores asked me if I’d be happy to post one of their banners on the site and gradually this turned into quite nice pocket money. But for many years it felt like the blog would never become a long-term business but rather offer me the opportunity to do other things. By the end of 2006 I was doing the blog full time and it was making enough money to actually live from. I was writing about limited edition sneakers, which felt so niche – I thought it was impossible for the blog to keep on growing. Today, we have three to four hundred thousand people visiting us a day.
Highsnobiety's print magazine
What would you say is the secret to this success? Was it the timing, your strong opinion…?
Well, compared to YouTube, which was also founded in 2005, I guess our success has been moderate (laughs). But yes, I would say it was a mix of factors. The interesting thing is that our space has not really changed over the last ten years. The people that we competed with ten years ago, we are still competing with today. A lot of people have come, but not many have stuck around. Much of the success comes from continuity. I never allowed a compromise on delivering news to our readers seven days a week. It didn’t matter if I was on vacation, if I was sick – it just didn’t matter. I think a lot of people simply underestimated that that is what you need to do. As I mentioned before I’m not a native English speaker so, people didn’t come to the site for the amazing writing. Today I would say that we have really good writing on the site, but when I started it was more about being fast, first and consistent. I also come from a time where there were no press pictures, no video, none of that. I really had to fight my way for assets, for access. It’s a lot easier today, but back then I also really went out there; I went to trade shows, I travelled to the US to meet brands. So over the years I built up a really strong network, and this allowed me to be the first to get the best information. Also, we were given time to grow. Someone who wants to start an online magazine today doesn’t have ten years to make it big. They need to be big in one or two years. We had ten years to build what we did. We do not only have traffic, we have a true brand. You have to imagine that the 16-year-olds ten years ago grew up with us. So, on the one hand the old dogs know us and on the other we try to stay relevant to the new 16-year-old, who is just as important. To maintain this balance keeps things interesting.
What does the Highsnobiety brand stand for now?
We’ve become a dominant lifestyle property with a focus on men’s style. We are aiming to become more unisex, but today we are one of the best-known men’s lifestyle properties online. What has hugely contributed to our growth is that the sneaker and streetwear segment, is simply not niche anymore – my dad wears sneakers. We have grown together with this segment. Today is so much more than we have ever been before; we write about sneakers, fashion, streetwear, watches and grooming. And we are building on that, we make sure we remain picky whatever the topic and we only feature the best and the most interesting part, it’s never about covering everything. We’ve really built up a high level of trust with our audience and readers over the years. They know when they come to us we have put a great level of thought into why we are featuring this product.
I’m someone with a pretty strong opinion, and – it might sound ridiculous – but a certain level of taste I believe, so I know what I want and what I don’t want, but at the same time I’m very open to ideas.
Making of MYKITA for HIGHSNOBIETY sunglasses ATKA
How did you first get to know MYKITA?
While on buying trips for either Highsnobiety or Soto (a men’s concept store in Berlin Mitte) we would often meet the guys from MYKITA. That’s how the relationship first came about. And when it was time for us to look around for a bigger office, MYKITA HAUS came up and we came to check it out.
And what was your perception as an outsider?
MYKITA has always had a very concrete image. And that was before we even moved into the building. Every touching point with MYKITA is always good, from meeting Moritz (founder and managing partner), to meeting Rune (commercial director) or Jochen, who manages MYKITA HAUS. It’s always a very nice overall atmosphere here in the building and I love how MYKITA has managed to keep its values and also somehow transmit these values to all these people that have joined the company over all the years. We are small, we are 40 people; MYKITA has over three hundred people so that’s big for me. I admire the fact that a company from Berlin has managed to stay cool, relevant, produce high quality products that are admired globally and keep its company culture intact while doing it.
So, let’s talk about the MYKITA for Highsnobiety frame that marks your ten-year anniversary: How did the design come about?
We have done numerous collaborations for this anniversary with Adidas, Puma, Bathing Ape from Japan, and there are more projects that we are rolling out with Vans and Porter. The way we approach these collaborations is that we have an idea we want to realise but at the same time we are not product designers and so we need these brands to step in and help us. Creating products is their expertise. These collaborations are about celebrating our tenth anniversary but also celebrating the strong relationships that we have built with these brands over the years. I don’t expect to walk into any of these meetings and say, ‘Okay, this is how it’s done’. Again, I’m someone with a pretty strong opinion, and – it might sound ridiculous – but a certain level of taste I believe, so I know what I want and what I don’t want, but at the same time I’m very open to ideas. When it came to the collaboration frame, MYKITA had a very good idea of what we were looking for.
And how would you describe the style of the frame?
The frame that we did with MYKITA is to me the perfect combination – it was exactly what I wanted. The stainless steel parts make them really light, much lighter than anything else out there, while the acetate front gives it that classic appearance. In my eyes, it’s pretty much as good as it gets. It’s really the perfect fusion of those two worlds – classic eyewear design and new technology.
Who would you most like to see wearing this frame?
Oh, I don’t really think like that. I’m just excited to have worked with MYKITA. Even though we are in the same building, the collaboration is in no way a compromise for us. I definitely see MYKITA as the most exciting eyewear brand in the market when it comes to style and technology, so I think it’s a fantastic look for us.