superchat amsterdam: theodoor kuster

© the pelican studio / photography: ady van de plas

hailing from a small village in the largely rural eastern netherlands, theodoor kuster’s innate sense of style guided him – albeit by a meandering trajectory of many stints – to his current position as amsterdam’s serial retailer to watch. as the ambitious co-founder of the pelican studio, a newly launched retail concept he runs with business partner jelle lispe in the city’s canal district, kuster distinct view on retail is paired with a solid dose of ambition. and so much so, we see him as a budding and force to be reckoned with in this specific field of expertise. the duo managed to strike an interesting deal with a real estate tycoon, and it’s one that will see a gradual transformation of a landmark stretch of raadhuisstraat, a bustling yet bland downtown thoroughfare, into a meticulously curated shopping zone. superfuture sat down with kuster to see what he has got up his sleeve.

the pelican studio clearly is the most ambitious retail project you and jelle have embarked upon. what exactly is good retail to you? that would be a formula which makes perfect sense in terms of atmosphere, a coherence of brands, staff and the service they provide, and if you ask me, even the soundtrack would have to be on point. i truly believe in the art of selling, today’s customer needs to feel a personal connection when they’re served. staff has to be likeable and go the extra yard. they’re pretty vital in the big picture that’s called retail, and i should add that good staff is pretty rare. they don’t necessarily have to like all brand’s they’re selling, but they have to know it inside out and be passionate about what they do. oh, and having a personal taste surely helps. i personally think it’s inspiring to connect with someone who oozes personality through his or her taste.

you guys started out as sales agents, managing a fashion wholesale business. how did the transition to retail come about? well, both jelle and i have worked as sales associates ourselves in the past, and when we crossed over to fashion wholesale we got to see lots of it from a new angle. both experiences pretty much shaped our perception of retail. mind you, we’ve seen our fair share of bad examples, and we simply felt we could do it better, so becoming a retailer ourselves just came naturally. as you know we started out setting up shop here in amsterdam for velour, which initially was one of our accounts.

you have taken on the highly ambitious plan to transform raadhuisstraat. could you elaborate a bit more on the plans you have? it so happened that we first came across location of the pelican studio three-and-a-half years ago. jelle and i instantly fell for the storied grandeur of the place. we both consider a store’s location the very base of a good retail formula. but sadly, we couldn’t come to an agreement with the owner, who at the time, wanted to redevelop this chunk of real estate by way of an austere marketing plan. later on, we heard of a friend and fellow retailer’s intentions to set up shop here, but as he eventually grew anxious to go ahead with the plan, we stepped in and took over altogether. it was then that we decided to drop the existing interior design plan and come up with a concept of our own.

we wanted a fresh, colourful aesthetic, and a design that would additionally ooze a certain distinction. it's pretty much a u-turn from the heritage trend with exposed bricks and vintage knick-knacks we’ve come to across way too often in the recent past. we collaborated with amsterdam-based practice framework studio, and as you can see, the result is infused with pastel colours, reminiscent of the 1980s tv hit series miami vice. mind you, we’re far from having achieved what we’ve set out to do – well, let’s say we’ve achieved about 70% of our plan – but crafting a good retail formula not only takes time, but also proper funds. but we’ll get there sooner or later. the success of the pelican studio will also be determined by a well-balanced mix of brands, and there’s room for improvement in that department.

i’m very picky and would love to expand more to high-end labels. being able to stock a renowned brand such as dries van noten is the level of retail we strive for. the store is actually a venture of two parties: jelle and myself, and two hospitality entrepreneurs. we initially wanted to include the hotel upstairs from us in our business plan, but unfortunately that proved to be financially unfeasible. well, for now that is. just imagine, having the store also serve as the hotel lobby! It wouldn’t just be a cool formula, I’m positive we could’ve pulled it off! as you know, amsterdam’s hospitality scene is booming right now and a hotel/store concept would’ve been a welcome addition.

the suit store which has also opened next door is one of our initiatives, and will soon be followed by a boutique of another danish brand, won hundred. but other than those two other stores, i can’t confirm any additional launches just yet. we’ve been in talks with antwerp-based jewellery brand wouters & hendrix – they make such beautiful pieces! – and would love to open a monobrand boutique here. but we’re also thinking of throwing a great hairdresser or florist into the mix. the retail mix shouldn’t be comprise entirely of fashion boutiques, but one thing is sure, each business should add to the unique shopping experience that we envision for this stretch of raadhuisstraat.

what is the profile of the pelican studio's customer, who do you cater to? i'd say fashion-savvy and with some cash to burn. we like to see shoppers in here who know what they like and know about brands as well. i love it when people come in who demonstrate an effortless personal style – it doesn’t necessarily have to suit mine though! – and i don’t have a specific age group in mind, that’s pretty irrelevant to me. as for the brands we carry, we not only took over the operations of the aforementioned fellow retailer, but also his portfolio of brands. luckily, most i like, and it’s a good base, but now we need to build it up. we have to take a close look at the type of customer that drops by and see which labels suit their taste as we do have to think of generating a healthy turnover. but on the other hand, we’d like to expand our merchandise and hope to be able to stock quirkier pieces and embark on a trajectory that sets us apart as a store. 

apart from denim, the dutch aren't particularly know for their fashion sense. what's your take on the local fashion sensibility? quite okay, actually. i see people’s style improving. thankfully, the traditional emphasis on sportswear is fading – i’m so done with it! – and when looking around it’s not that bad. but i do believe dutch women could step it up a little, and make more of an effort. generally, they look somewhat boring and need to peek at how their parisian counterparts emphasize elegance and femininity in the way they dress. i Iove that!

amsterdam's retail arena has gone leaps and bounds in recent years. how would you compare it with leaading shopping destinations such as london, paris or even berlin? it’s heading in the right direction, although we’re still lagging far behind the offerings in london and paris, for sure, but also in comparison to a city like berlin. there’s a lot happening here in terms of streetwear and denim, but in the high-end segment there’s plenty of room for improvement, and jelle and i hope the pelican studio can contribute in that respect. i'd love to stock unexpected brands, but we simply need to make one step at a time. you know, i think we have a pretty good chance to pull it off!

any particular spots in town you where you like to hanging out and love to share? basically, anywhere with a good vibe. places such as buffet van odette and rijsel, two of my fave restaurants, are managed by passionate people who have a clear vision, and who know what it takes to create a unique and successful business.