How Figure Eight Is Reimagining The Sustainable Luxury Retail Experience

by Freya Drohan

After climbing fashion’s corporate ladder, friends Nicole Marra and Tina Bhojwani both found themselves at a fork in their professional lives. With executive-level stints at the likes of Gucci, Alexander McQueen, Bottega Veneta, Saint Laurent (Marra) and Dolce & Gabbana and Donna Karan (Bhojwani) behind them, they found themselves putting their heads together to come up with a new purposeful venture. It was perfect timing too, as Bhojwani had launched her own conscious brand, AERA New York. Enter the duo’s new baby, Figure Eight: a sustainable luxury platform and pop-up in Soho. The fashion veterans’ multi-brand experiential boutique aims to not only bring together companies who are worthy of sharing a spotlight on, but to also create a space where the full spectrum of sustainability and how it applies to our daily lives and interactions can be explored and highlighted. The Daily caught up with Marra to hear how it came to be.

Throughout your career, how has fashion remained a thread line?
I was at Gucci for over 10 years, leading legal and business affairs for Gucci and other Kering brands. I’ve always said that it was a real honor to be trusted with these incredible heritage brands; to be able to have my time and opportunity to build, protect, and grow, and collaborate with so many incredible teams around the world. I’ve always been a fashion lover—and as a lawyer and a fashion lover, it was a dream job! A time came that really felt like an inflection moment in my career and personal life. I was turning 50 and it was time for a new chapter, so I spent a lot of time thinking what that might look like for me. That’s how I came to launch Fixer Advisory, the consulting firm that I run, and also what led me to connect with Tina around Figure Eight.

How did you know Tina?
Tina and I have known each other for years! We met when she was at Dolce & Gabbana. We were introduced by a mutual friend and we remained friendly and kept in touch. When Tina left Dolce and did some consulting and ultimately founded AERA New York, she reached out to me for support and some of the legal aspects. We’d always have periodic touch bases, like you do with industry friends, but one thing led to another and we dreamed up the concept of Figure Eight and how we could reimagine the retail eco system based on where we were individually and what was happening in the industry.

Tell us about some of those founding principles.
We talk a lot about community, collaboration, and connection. Those concepts are deep and meaningful to both of us. We both feel that reinventing and reimagining retail is something that needs to happen; reimagining the way brands and retailers work together, the way developers and landlords work with tenants, and the way the client engages with the brand.
Coming out of this traumatic period after COVID, lots of brands were able to thrive in a DTC environment, but I’ve always felt like there’s an important connection to be made in person and brands and consumers were needing that.

Nicole Marra (Courtesy)

So brick and mortar retail is still important to you.
I don’t think brick and mortar retail is dead, no way! I feel very passionate about that. There was a tremendous amount of unused retail space in Soho and it was important to us to use that in a way where we could also come up with a platform for brands to reach consumers in a new way.

What has the timeline been like, from idea to execution?
It’s been incredibly fast! It’s kind of stunning to me when I think back on the last year. The time we conceived the idea to execution—it might be a record! I’m very proud of that, and also amazed that it actually happened! We came up with the idea in March 2021, which, in retail and luxury, that’s a nanosecond ago! We started dipping our toes into the water, leveraging our contacts, connecting with people, and talking about the idea. Just testing the water to see if there was an interest, if it resonated, and could we pull together a team. It was a very organic process which took on a life of its own as the ideas flowed. People just flipped for it: creatives, brands, designers. We had help from so many different people! We put together a team of creatives to help with branding, concept, and design, and started talking to brands we thought might be interested. We signed our lease July 1, designed and built it out, and we soft opened on September 1.

How has sustainability been on your radar during your long career in fashion?
Over the past five years, its something that’s become much more top of mind for me. I know people have been thinking much more deeply for a lot longer. During my time at Kering, I was very proud of the work being done around sustainability at the parent level. I spent many years working with the team at Stella McCartney and being part of the evolution of Gucci—going fur free and [tackling] supply chain issues. These were all incredible opportunities for me. Given everything that our planet, world, and people have gone through, it’s become increasingly obvious to me that it’s mission critical to do what we can, and to take part of the evolution of the fashion industry, and to influence and drive change.

 

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What kind of brands have you welcomed at Figure Eight? Did they come to you or did you approach them?
It was a mixture really. We started out with friends of the house, if you will! Tina has a lot of connections with brands as a brand owner herself, that lent a tremendous amount of credibility to what we were doing. The concept is new. We came up with a financial/business structure that’s intended for everyone to thrive, one that goes with the sustainability angle. Not only are we focused on eco-friendly products, we also want to be thinking about financial sustainability and the experience when you come into the boutique. Everyone needs to work together—there can’t be a winner takes all philosophy. The traditional whole sale models are very difficult on a brand’s margins. We’ve come up with a way to enable each brand and to amplify each. We explained how we’d provide this platform, the resources, and the space. It’s truly a collective, so they were excited to be involved.

I saw you stock Amur, which I love. Tell us about some others.
Some of our most popular brands are A Shirt Story; it’s been incredibly popular. The founder takes vintage mens shirts and repurposed them by adding Swarovski crystals. It’s so simple and so lovely but yet elevated and fun. House of Fluff is another really fun brand; making faux fur products from recycled fibers. Mavra Toufidis is a tailor who takes couture-level dead-stock fabrics and repurposes them into beautiful tailored pieces. We also have a brand called Minimalist that’s doing really well!

 

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What kind of experience have you created?
We really wanted the clients to be able to come back to shopping in real life, and to find a warm and welcome, interesting, engaging space. Somewhere to not only discover new brands and to learn about those brands, but also to be able to spend time in the space enjoying art, furniture, and design. We wanted people to be able to come to events in an environment that felt like a salon setting. Throughout the curated space, we have cards with QR codes that provide a little bit of information about the brands. It’s a journey that feels very warm and welcoming.

What’s the plan for 2022? Will the pop-up be extended?
It’s TBD! Our current deal is through the end of this month, but we’re in talks with our landlord about what’s possible…

Exciting! What are the goals, regardless?
We’re thinking about how we can continue to champion emerging brands and drive the connection and community we’ve seen happen in real life. We’re not sure what it’s going to look like! It could look like reiterating it in different locations or partnering with more traditional retailers.

What has feedback been like?
One thing that’s key to us, and which we’ve gotten through feedback, is that we wanted to make the point that luxury and sustainability are not mutually exclusive. Since Tina and I come from a luxury background, we wanted the space to feel like a luxury shopping experience, from a high touch sales associate engagement to the way the merchandising is done. It was very important for us to show the fashion community, the brands, and the consumers how we could elevate the sustainable shopping experience. We’ve also got some nice comments about price point! A lot of the brands are at a very accessible price point. i thought i was going to pick something up, it was very much affordable!

 

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What were the activations like?
We have had a number of talks around climate change and around healthy and sustainable farming and eating. We have done a women’s event around women across multiple industries: how do we sustain each other and take care of each other? Because it’s also about caring for people, not just the planet. We’ve had events around book launches, networking, and general topics we feel are interesting to the community we serve. Again, that’s one off the distinguishing factors of the concept”: we’re creating a community and connecting people. It’s a center for thought and inspiration!

What’s your biggest dream for the future of Figure Eight?
I think showing the world that sustainability and luxury can live together, and thrive together, and that we can support emerging brands and create more of a powerful impact when we come together. It’s the power of collaboration and community around mission-driven businesses. I can imagine it being focused on different kinds of mission-driven brands; thinking about the broader ways in which people connect and collaborate. So much of what I spend my time doing outside of Figure Eight is working with brands that are growing and changing at various levels. For example, Gucci remains a client of mine, along with more emerging brands. The goal would be to continue to support emerging brands and brands that are growing and changing throughout their journey.

Lastly, what’s one thing on your holiday wishlist from Figure Eight. Only one!
That’s very difficult! I would say…wait, I’m going to cheat and say two! One is a piece of art by Leslie Sardinias, one of our artists. And a beautiful coat by Mavra Toufidis!

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