Cultural Knowledge 

Need Supply joins forces with a luxury retailer from Seattle to compete with larger e-commerce retailers.

click to enlarge Chris Bossola, chief executive of Need Supply, says that his company’s merger with Totokaelo, a luxury retailer from Seattle, will help increase its scale with e-commerce.

Scott Elmquist

Chris Bossola, chief executive of Need Supply, says that his company’s merger with Totokaelo, a luxury retailer from Seattle, will help increase its scale with e-commerce.

Richmond's homegrown fashion trendsetter, Need Supply Co., wants to redefine luxury for a new generation.

To do that, they've merged with Totokaelo, a luxury retailer from Seattle with an outpost in New York. The result is NSTO, which combines two brands with more than 30 years of experience selling the kinds of apparel, accessories and home furnishings that appeal to the global millennial and Generation Z consumer.

If it sounds a long way from Need Supply's simple beginnings in Carytown in 1996, it is. Back then, the company had an audience in Richmond and if you weren't here, you weren't aware of how Need Supply was reshaping how young Richmonders dressed.

Their distinctive aesthetic marries emerging designers with established labels for customers who define their look by combining both streetwear and mid-to-luxury fashion. Now the eyes of the world are on the site and the pace of the fashion industry has accelerated, says its chief executive, Chris Bossola. "These days, there's not much difference between New York and Richmond when it comes to e-commerce," he says.

Although their network of five physical retail stores — in Richmond, Seattle, New York and two in Tokyo — remains unchanged, NSTO's new global headquarters sticks close to home. In the Handcraft building in Scott's Addition, half of the 20,000-square-foot space will be a photo studio, with the remainder housing the financial, human-resources, e-commerce, engineering and customer-service departments. NSTO's creative, merchandising, planning and product-development teams will continue operating from the New York office.

Bossola sees the two brands as strengthening each other, despite being distinctly different.

"The Need Supply customer is youthful, with an effortless sense of style and doesn't take itself too seriously," he says. "The Totokaelo price points are higher because these are luxury goods and the lines focus on curation and experience."

It's the latter line that likes to challenge its customers by introducing them to new designers and new pieces of clothing they may not have considered for themselves.

Not so long ago, aspirational buying was about showing off wealth, but Bossola says that it's no longer about the bling for NSTO's customers. Today's aspirational shoppers seek to show off their cultural knowledge and connection to a larger global community by supporting designers and companies who use commerce to change the world, or help it along at least.

One way the merger is good news for NSTO's customers is that it's allowed the company to increase its scale on the back end to better compete with larger e-commerce competitors. That means free next-day shipping for Totokaelo and free second-day shipping for Need Supply merchandise from a state-of-the-art, 60,000-square-foot fulfillment center in Sandston. A year ago, its customer service department was only open 9 to 5, but as of this month, it operates 24/7 to resolve issues on a timely basis.

Meanwhile, nothing will change at the flagship store in Carytown.

"Our customers won't know the difference," Bossola says. "They'll still enjoy discovering new fashion with us."

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