502 Meridian Vision Interview, 2021

Meridian Vision Interview
Interview: Seth Footring
Photos: Meridian Vision

I always thought that owning a store would involve drinking a lot of free champagne at brand showrooms, but obviously this doesn't work during the Covid19 Worldwide Pandemic™. How have you been coping with the pandemic? 

I’ve never been one for the free champagne at brand showrooms, I don’t really drink. But I absolutely miss the sense of camaraderie and community that accompanies the best buying visits, that’s for sure. I think it goes without saying that the pandemic has been super- challenging to cope with on both the business and personal fronts. As it became clear that the brick & mortar shop was going to have to shut its doors with less than a year in business, I had to make the transition to all-digital for what seemed like an indefinite amount of time. Scary? Absolutely, it was terrifying. But ultimately a boon of sorts in the sense that I was able to spend 100% of my energy honing the visuals and brand-language of Meridian, while also getting product up online faster than ever before. As things have started to stabilize a good deal in NY this Spring with case numbers dropping and vaccine distribution in full-gear, I feel as if I’m in a better and more connected place with both my immediate community and my nascent global audience than beforehand which is a win for sure. 

What is Meridian's overall vision? Does it change from season to season? 

Meridian began in my mind around 2013 like many creative ideas do: as a loosely-formed concept with an accompanying collection of inspirational ephemera drawn from my own life experience and interests. I was born & raised in NYC, but my pops is from Cali and grew up climbing in Yosemite and the High Sierra in its heyday, and so I was raised with a pretty uncompromising love and appreciation for the outdoors. I’ve also been a photographer as both an artist and professional for much of my life, so that really informs the way I look at my environment. At the beginning of the last decade, there wasn’t much happening stateside that reflected these dual interests in functional fashion and visual culture. Positioning Meridian at this intersection was the goal from its inception and remains a guiding principle to-date with room built in for the project to grow and change as-needed of course. 

Where the fuck is Hudson NY? Is that not normal NY? 

Hahaha...This is a funny one, particularly since I can’t even count the number of times that a customer, brand, or agency has made the mistake of thinking Meridian was in NYC, or “normal NY” as you call it only to plan a visit and be extremely confused or disappointed. Hudson is an Upstate New York micro-city on the banks of the Hudson River exactly two hours north of the city by train or car. I moved here in late 2012, and now make my home directly across the river in one of the smaller outlying villages. With a population of less than seven thousand, Hudson is a pretty tight-knit community struggling with many of the same issues any rapidly gentrifying city does albeit writ-small. As a transplant, I’m especially grateful for the embrace of folks who grew up here young and old who’ve taken a chance on Meridian and stopped in to see what we are up to with openness and curiosity.  

I read the GQ USA (aka the good GQ) write up on hard clothing, amazing shout out for the store, can you explain about hard clothes and Man-tle? 

Yeah, yeah that was exciting for me; big shout out to Noah Johnson at GQ for that. I’m an egregiously bad self-promoter, let alone someone who has a PR-firm on retainer or some shit like that, so you can imagine my surprise when he hit me wanting to visit the shop to discuss MAN-TLE. While Noah’s thesis on hard clothing is his own, we definitely share an affinity for garms constructed from heavyweight and hard-wearing fabrics.  

While several of the labels I stock either specialize or dabble in high-density “hard” clothes, few of them have built their brands around it in the way that MAN-TLE has. Designers Larz and Aida produce a growing collection of clothing inspired by the climate and landscape of their home in Western Australia. Each season–or “Range” expands and iterates on some of the same styles and themes while venturing into new materials and color palettes. Larz and I share a background in architectural fabrication, and so the fact that the brand produces much of their own hardware and componentry in-house was a big draw as well. MAN-TLE is unquestionably one of my favorite discoveries of the last few years, and it’s a real pleasure to be one of the first retailers to present them to a North American audience.  

Is there a story behind the name Meridian?  

As I said above, it’s a name I’ve kicked around for a while and one that I’ve always been drawn to. A bit vague and amorphous, but also grounded in both geography and the body in a way that I like. What’s been fun and curious to me is the way that the shop’s name has taken on new life via the online audience most of whom know it by its uncommon “.vision” domain extension. I’ve enjoyed the fact that the business is interchangeably called “Meridian” and “Meridian Vision” and have no desire to correct anyone in either case J 

What are some of your favourite pieces in the store? 

That’s always a tough one to answer, because to put it simply: I don’t buy shit I don’t like. But I’ll happily play the game and pick three. This season I’m finding myself particularly excited by the “Stand-Up T-Shirt” from Auralee, a masterful take on the boxy tee cut from a gorgeous high-density cotton-linen blend with incredible structure. MAN-TLE has a new addition to their growing carry offering I’m loving called the Frame Bag which combines their waxed MT Cloth with a waterjet-milled aluminum frame in an open-topped bucket-like design to create something that looks and feels architecturally interesting. Finally, I’m super-excited to have picked up South2 West8 this season and have their legendary Tenkara Parka on the racks here. This is an outerwear grail that speaks to the brand’s fly fishing heritage with its slightly cropped length, absurd quantity of pockets, and removable arms and hood. Too many bangers here to name to be honest, because that’s just how we keep it. 

I love finding out about new smaller brands in the US like 1733, will you be unearthing more gems for us? What was it like to collaborate with them? 

I mean…Gem unearthing is kinda the name of the game over here whether at home or abroad, so that’s been happening and will continue to without question. 1733 is a story in its own right and our ongoing collaborative work has easily been some of the most exciting stuff Meridian has been involved in, period. I approached Phil of 1733 in the planning stages (mid-2018) at a point when very few brands had actually signed on to the project. At that time his audience was fairly small too, and I just remember being like: “Yo who the fuck is this guy and how is he just flying under the radar making all this rad shit?!” He has always had his own sensibility (and its clearer now than ever) but in the earlier stages what excited me was that I could also clock his influences and they felt really in-sync with my own. Equal parts TNF Brown Label era goodness and Japanese UL wizardry. The guy was making and selling Sacoches at a time when literally no one stateside knew what the fuck that even meant. I would got to menswear market in NYC with his bags and people at MAN or wherever would be like “What is that, who made it?” without fail every time. It was clear to me we had to work together.  

We started an ideas thread and as we kicked things back-and-forth it became more and more obvious that Phil was on the same wave I was on. He just gets it. So the developmental stages of our collaborations are a real pleasure as we kinda finish each other’s sentences in a way that feels really organic and generative. I initially thought that our work would be well-received by a select few, but a 1733 x Meridian release is now one of the most popular and anticipated “events” on the shop calendar with the last collaboration selling out in 90 seconds. That’s absurd for me by the way. Totally unheard of because I don’t sell hype shit, ya know? We began co-branding as “17MM” starting with V3, and we’ll continue this with the release of V4 dropping this May as the shop celebrates its 2nd anniversary. In the process of working together we’ve developed a genuine friendship and creative relationship that feels invaluable to me. It’s been a privilege to grow alongside one another and every time I see Phil drop something new or hear him tell me about some rad collab he’s working on I can’t help but smile. 

You have the best designed menswear store on the internet. That's not a question, but just to let you know I think that. 

Hey, thank you. I’m gonna go ahead and agree with you. This is something I’m comfortable being a little less humble about these days. Because to be real with you, long-time close friend and Meridian interactive design wizard Peter Toh of PTOH absolutely killed it with the site. It’s got a design language and user experience that I think really sets it apart. This was Peter’s first Shopify site that he handled design and development for 100% solo, and needless to say I was floored by the results. He and I have known each other for well over a decade, and his ability to build around my visual sensibility as a photographer and artist is unmatched. We’d worked together on a couple tiny projects prior to this but had been talking about collaborating on something more substantial for years. His work on the site and the identity has been invaluable to me and to see both of our visions articulated so clearly in the final product is a gift.  

What's the in-store vibe like at Meridian? What does it smell like? Are there nice spots to get fits off for the gram? 

I jokingly refer to the in-store experience of Meridian as an afterthought, but it’s kinda true. Toh and I worked on the site and had it ready to launch before I’d even really considered what the brick & mortar space was gonna look like. It was pretty much an empty space with some built in racks and shelving I’d bought off the previous occupant until a week or so before opening day at which point a couple friends helped me really whip things into shape. Meridian prominently features what I’ve come to call “vernacular merchandising” in which the means of online content production and inventory storage become display apparatus for the clothing, books, and objects that populate the store. This is a fancy way of saying you’ll see a lot of C-Stands, Apple Boxes, Milk Crates, A-Clamps, and other things used in place of more traditional retail fixtures. When the shop closes mid-week, all of this gets used to shoot for e-comm so it’s truly dual-purpose. It usually smells like Blackbird incense in here (Targa and Gorgo in the cooler months; Ploom and Mars as the weather warms up) and there is seldom a day goes by that people don’t comment on it. The giant mirror in the front of the shop is a popular gram-fit location with excellent light, but if you’re fam or just not an asshole, you might be able to unlock the secret level that is the Meridian’s terraced backyard. That’s where the real magic happens… 

What non-fashion stuff are you in to at the moment? 

I’m an enthusiast by design, so I’m always getting into something new and usually getting really, really hype about it. One of the struggles with having two kids and running a business entirely solo is that time for these interests and pursuits is at a premium. something I’ve gotten heavy into in the last couple of years is Backcountry Nordic Skiing. Your European readers will be more familiar, but for my American brethren its essentially cross country skiing on ungroomed hiking trails with equipment that’s a bit more robust and takes some design queues from Alpine. I just keep all my gear in a ski box on top of my Volvo wagon in the winter months so I can drop the kids at school and hop out for a quick ski at one of our local trails before I get on with my day at the shop etc. A healthy dose of outdoor activity is a must to keep me sane regardless of the weather. 

Have you got a recommendation of something to watch, read or listen to? 

I have a lot of friends who work in music and film so there’s a nearly endless stream of quality things to absorb at any given moment from my immediate circle. I’ve been digging what my family Geng from NYC-based artists collective PTP has been doing over the past few years with various friends and collaborators. A particular stand-out has to be An Unknown Infinite a project by his alter ego King Vision Ultra and rapper Amani. It’s got a dark thoughtfulness and a gritty, layered vibe to the production that manages to call to mind some classic NYC rap references while also feeling completely fresh and comfortable in its own skin. That’s a line that’s tricky to walk, but Amani and KVU do it with ease. I always keep a selection of PTP cassettes in stock at the shop so you can have something curious and unexpected to bump in your late 90s Honda Civ, you know? 

Are you a fan of whatever Gorp Core is? Do you have the nature around you in Hudson to be fully Gorp? 

The so-called Gorp Core shit is cool with me, though like every other trend-label its quickly becoming a way to pre-package and commodify an existing subcultural current for a larger audience. It’s definitely a part of Meridian’s DNA in the sense that I’ve been actively participating in the world of outdoor activities and related clothing for decades and the Hudson Valley is Gorp-central. Trail running, UL hiking & backpacking, cycling, and BC Nordic skiing have all helped keep me abreast of developments in textile and hardware innovation long before they hit the fashion world. Because of this, you’ll find a healthy dose of Gorp-approved gear on our brand list even as my own perspective continues to expand and diversify. The fact that outdoor lifestyle is having its moment in the limelight now is cool to me, but I’ve been here before and I’ll be here after. 

Do you get to keep any of the amazing jawnz you stock at the store for yourself? 

I do, though far fewer than you might assume. I’ll generally allow myself a single “personal” item each season when I’m doing my wholesale pre-orders. This season it was the MAN-TLE P3 Loose Pants in the incredible ‘Soil Wax’ colorway. Beyond that, some designers are kind enough to allow me to keep garments with small defects that they credit me for, or to gift me new styles outright. In the event that I really like a style mid-season, I will occasionally purchase it from myself at full price which feels ridiculous but helps keep me honest. The above lets me stay dipped without getting high on my own supply, which I quite simply cannot afford to do! 

Do you think physical geography affects creative output any more? Or has the soup of the internet levelled everything off? 

I feel like it effects creative output to the extent that you let it if that makes sense? I mean there’s something to be said for the vibe and creative energy of a major metropolis, but as someone who’s been based in an outlying city in a predominantly rural area for nearly a decade now I certainly haven’t felt that it has stifled my creativity in the least. While there are so many challenges being a tiny shop here in Hudson, I conceived of and built this all here. I quite literally wouldn’t even have the opportunity to do this at all if I still lived in my native city at this point as the overhead would completely overwhelm me. Being a “satellite” of sorts in the same orbit has allowed me to tap into the sizeable NYC audience for what I’m offering, while also building a following nationally and to some degree globally through the shop’s digital channels. 

For any young and naive people out there who want to start a brand or store, what one piece of advice can you give when they think they're ready to start approaching stores? 

If you want to open a store . .  . Don’t do it!!! Hahaha! Kidding/not kidding, but I think it’s worth acknowledging very openly what a struggle it is to run a small brand or a small shop like Meridian in 2021. I understood the challenges pretty clearly going into this, but even so there are moments I find myself completely overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of tasks it requires to keep the shop functioning at even the most basic level. It’s really hard to find the money in this very niche lane my shop and others like it are in, particularly when a lot of my goods are imported. We are essentially middle-manning in a scenario where the margins are slim, and they get shaved down every step of the way. So that 60% can become half that or less quite quickly once you land the goods in the US depending on what your sell-thru looks like before the inevitable markdowns come around. Meridian isn’t SSENSE, Mr. Porter, or LN-CC—and has no such ambitions—so I can’t make up for that in volume. This means choosing carefully and making mistakes at my own peril basically. I’m trying to find ways to shift the model a bit, but it’s super-challenging because it’s one that’s pretty deeply entrenched here in the States. In order for Meridian to not just survive, but thrive, I’ll likely have to find ways to offer more co-branded products or goods of my own on the one hand, and expand into the consulting/art-direction/identity realms on the other hand. 

Where can people follow you and is there anything you would like to plug? 

People can see what’s what at meridian.vision on the web (no, there’s no “.com”) and catch us on Instagram @meridian.vision where we are quite active. So much happening at Meridian for the SS’21 season and beyond much of which may already be released by the time this interview makes it to your readers. Breaking brands is a big part of what we do, and I’m really excited to bring new labels meanswhile, CAL O LINE, and CAYL to the US for the first time this year. In addition, the budding relationship we’ve been building with designer Mark Smith Clarke and NYC micro-label archie has been really exciting to me, and I’m looking forward to being the first retailer to present the SS’21 in its entirety here at the shop. Finally, keep your eyes peeled for 17MM v4, our fourth collaborative effort with Phil Schade of 1733. New silhouettes, new hardware, new fabrics.  Blowing lids off, standard. Follow the vision . . .