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Locality: Contra is the Brisbane-based store shaking up Australian retail

Purposefully small and considered contemporary fashion

Posted by Mitch Parker

Locality is a series about places and spaces. In this instalment we speak with Matt Kyte who runs Contra store in Brisbane.

I used to live in Brisbane. Like a lot of people who spent their formative years there I left for a bigger city to pursue a career in the creative industries. Over the years I never felt like I was missing out on anything by leaving Brisbane (apart from the occasional exhibition at GOMA). To be completely honest, all of that only changed once I heard about Contra store. Friends-of-friends from the riverside city mentioned it to me when it first opened and so I began following them. Now I’m envious of Brisbane.

Contra is tucked away in the city’s CBD and is small but considered. It’s carefully selected offering include labels like Études, COPSON, Maison Kitsune, 032c, CMMN SWDN, as well as Lacoste Made in France, and even the coveted ‘Cop Spec’ Dr Marten’s. It’s quickly become a favourite, and in my opinion, one of the country’s best retail spaces.

What was the catalyst for Contra?

Contra came about when myself and my good mate and partner in crime Tas felt there was an opportunity for another store in Brisbane. Seeing a chance to sell the aesthetic and brands that I’ve been into I felt it was a “now or never” situation.

How do you decide what to labels stock?

Right now it’s mainly off gut feeling, along with looking at what is lacking from the Brisbane and Australian retail landscape. Over the years I’ve developed a love for tracking down new and exciting designers and rather than pestering shop owners with “you should get this” I now just look at it and think “will this fit our direction?”

Is it sometimes more important what you choose not to stock?

At first it was definitely a case of what we could stock, but as we grow and build a reputation and really begin to define what we are as a store it does become important to really focus on keeping things tight and not jumping on something just because it might seem commercially successful for a season but be completely opposed to what we are best and and known for.

What’s the Brisbane scene like these days?

Brisbane is exciting. There’s so much potential and everything seems like it’s happening for the first time (because sometimes it is). I love the idea that we could be part of what defines Brisbane in the future.

How has the city responded to the store?

Honestly we’ve been humbled by the support right off the bat. I was lucky enough to build some great relationships with people over the last seven years through working at Laced and travelling with Tas to events and doing things of our own that people really shared our excitement opening the store.

Given my history and rep in the sneaker scene I think it threw a few people that we don’t sell sneakers at all really, instead it’s focussed on contemporary fashion with a bit of footwear that supports the clothing. Once people realised I was just as big of a nerd about this stuff though they came around pretty quickly.

Your store is kind of hidden, you have to know what you’re looking for to find it. Did you do that on purpose?

For sure, for us the focus of boutique retail should always be on the experience itself. The store is setup in a way that allows you to come in, interact with the clothing and feel relaxed. Being tucked down an arcade and backing onto an alleyway, it means I can have more one-on-one time with our customers and give them the treatment they truly deserve. Being on a busy street-front dilutes that experience with constant walk-ins that don’t really care about what we’re doing. If you know these brands, or you’re looking for something different you’ll come across our store.

What’s your goal for Contra?

We’re looking to break new brands into Australia this year. We’ve brought Lou Dalton, Copson, and CMMN SWDN already but we have two Woolmark Prize winners coming soon as well. We’re also expanding our offerings for women this year, I feel like Brisbane’s ladies don’t have too many boutique options since Blonde Venus left last year.

Tas and his brother also took the Contra concept and applied it to a café this year (Café Contra) which opened whilst we had the store closed for renovations. That one definitely threw people into a spin but they’re doing cool stuff over there.

Overall it’s still pretty early days for Contra as a business but we’re always looking for opportunities to get involved in the community and make our contribution in some way.

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