L'Officiel Hommes USA
LA ISLA CHIC
COCO SHOP BRINGS CARIBBEAN COOL TO THE WORLD.
When Taylor Simmons talks about Antigua, she lights up. Her family has been going to Antigua since the 1950’s. As Simmons was finishing her MBA, she heard news that Coco Shop, a beloved island clothing store, was closing. Given her interest in retail, her background in business and her family’s connection to the island, it seemed only fitting that she attempt to revive the company.
Coco Shop was originally founded in 1949 and for over 60 years provided unique printed cotton clothes designed and made in Antigua, sold out of the two stores on the island. It was a small, family run business with the mission to support Caribbean artists.
Simmons is now the CEO of the company, which relaunched in April as an online store. Keeping true to the spirit of Coco Shop, Simmons designed the first collection using original Coco Shop prints, exclusively on washable cotton. She’s updated some of the silhouettes, but is trying to keep the ethos of the brand largely unchanged. Production is currently based in New York City’s garment district, but there are plans to move parts of that process back to Antigua. Simmons was pleasantly surprised to hear how news of the relaunch was spread on the island: via Antiguan public radio.
You have a background in business.
I studied history in college, actually, and after graduating in 2012, I knew I wanted to be in retail in
some capacity. I joined Bloomingdale’s buying organization and was there for three years, but I realized that I needed a broader business background to better understand exactly what I was doing there. I decided to go to NYU Stern because they have the most number of classes geared towards people in retail and I knew I loved retail, and wanted to stay in it. I interned at Rosie Assoulin with their CEO doing strategy projects with him and sales projects with the director of sales there throughout my two years at Stern, which was great. So my background is more on the business side of the industry.
Antigua and Coco Shop is part of your childhood.
Antigua was always such a family place. My father’s parents started spending a lot of every year there in the 1950s. My father grew up knowing the Island. He and my mother decided to start spending a lot of time there when I was very little, so we grew up having Thanksgiving, all school holidays, Christmas and New Years, always down in Antigua. The same people would go back every year, so we really grew up with a community and friends that we only knew from Antigua. I’ve never missed a Christmas or New Years there. My little brother is in the Navy and worked very hard to still come to New Years. It’s special.
My father grew up knowing the original Coco Shop and then my little brother and I grew up knowing the original Coco Shop when we were growing up down there. It was just a beloved little island business; everyone who went there felt like it was their secret treasure. The founders passed away about 10 years ago and the two stores officially closed two years ago. They announced they were closing the month that I was graduating from Stern. I was figuring out what I wanted to do, and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to use what I learned at Bloomingdale’s and what I had learned at Stern to keep alive a company that had had such a wonderful history and story. The company itself was founded with the goal of supporting Antiguan artists, so it felt like a wonderful opportunity to renew that mission. I reached out to the family who owns it, the children of the founders, and they were really thrilled that someone was excited about what their parents had made and wanted to see it again.
You have plans to move production from NYC back to Antigua.
Since my background is on the business side of the industry and I had never made clothes before, I decided to make the first couple of rounds of clothing here in New York’s garment district, right on West 36th street. I could oversee it, learn, hopefully catch issues before they become big issues. We are now starting to sew in Antigua again. That is kind of my passion project. We are sewing currently in the small town of Piggotts, with the plan to expand to many of the towns in the coming months and years. We have tapped into what are called on the island ”Sewing Projects.” A man and his wife taught sewing classes in each Antiguan town, and often sewing is something passed along from generation to generation in Antigua. We’re tapping into those sewing projects and the women, each of their towns are sewing Coco Shop clothing. Often their mothers or grandmothers used to sell Coco Shop clothing, so they’re excited to be a part of it again themselves. That will be an ongoing slow rollout as we get the hang of it.
What’s the design process for the capsule collection?
A lot of sketching and going back and forth. So far, we’ve only used some of Coco Shop’s original prints. I was very lucky in putting the pieces back together again, so many people who knew the original store went back into their closets or storage bins to find all of the old Coco Shop clothing they had, took pictures and sent them to me. That’s how we’ve kind of put together our print archive. To make the clothing up until now, I spent a lot of time going back through old photos of my grandmothers and what they were wearing in Antigua in the 1950s and ‘60s, gone through the kind of Coco Shop print archive that we’ve put together and updated some of the silhouettes, but kept kind of the ethos of Coco Shop the same. Everything was built off of a washable cotton, so we’ve only used washable cotton. We’ve only reused the original prints and sort of updated Coco Shop that way, mostly just through silhouette. We’ll start to make tweaks. We’re starting to resource our cotton. We’ll start to add in some new fabrications. I think the design process itself won’t change a ton once we begin sewing in Antigua, that’s mostly just a production change. As we use more and more of the old Coco Shop prints, we’ll also start to ask Antiguan artists to create new prints in the Coco Shop aesthetic, so that’s a design piece that will come from the Island.
Are you a small team?
I have one employee, we’re a team of two. She’s our production manager. She has a fashion design background and really handles communication with the manufacturer here in the garment district. She sources the buttons, all of the trims, zippers, she runs back and forth between our office and where production is happening, does all the quality checks, things like that, which is a huge help. She helps in the design process. I will sketch and she is a whiz in Photoshop—she will take my sketch, put it in Photoshop, superimpose the prints onto it, so we can see the collection before it’s made in the prints and then I’ll go back, change things, resketch, she’ll update it. That’s how we then come to our final collection. We’ll make samples in the garment district, we’ll then change some things again, remake samples, and then that’s what the collection will look like.
Do you want a big design studio one day?
We don’t have any plans to implement a design team. I think our next hire will probably be someone focused more on sales. After that, it might be someone focused more on finance and operations, since all of those buckets all fall under me right now. The design piece of it is sort of my ability to be creative in the process, so I really like for now doing it. I’m sure eventually I’ll need help, whether it’s sourcing new fabrics or creating new prints, once we kind of get more complicated, but as of now, no plans to. I’m very lucky that the original company had such a point of view, only using cottons and with all of the hand drawn prints, so we have a lot to work from.
Any plans to open a new Coco Shop on the island?
It’s something we’re building up to, but we’re not quite there yet.
What are you excited about in the future?
I am really excited about reintroducing as much of the production process to the Island as possible. The Island has really focused in recent years on tourism, which is fantastic. But I think bringing back sewing and production into each of the towns would be something really special, and it’s a skill that’s already there. Long-term, I’m really excited to introduce Coco Shop and it’s wonderful story to more people. Originally, since it was just made and sold on the Island, we felt like it was our little secret treasure. I think the clothing is applicable to any warm weather destination, whether it’s the broader Caribbean islands or California, Hawaii or South America. The goal is to be go-to travel wear.