In the past decade, digital platforms have changed the way we purchase clothes. Grailed was founded in 2014, imagined as a haven where fashion enthusiasts could acquire hard-to-find garments. Its growth and eventual saturation resulted in sellers opting for alternative platforms where they could take charge of their work. Many ended up on Instagram, where even more specialization was possible.
A big player in this new retail-scape is Zeke Hemme, owner of one of the largest clothing pages on instagram; Constant Practice. Zeke started his journey during the early Grailed years, initially attracted to Japanese brands like Undercover and Cav Empt. He became well versed in the brands’ repertoires, and in the game of acquiring clothes.
It was during these early years that he began to garner a following on instagram under the handle @soft_ee, before changing to @constant_practice. His offerings and preferences have evolved over the years. Brands like Yohji Yamamoto and Issey Miyake are now personal favorites featured constantly on his page.
Through Constant Practice, Zeke emphasizes interesting design and quality materials, stocking a wide range from the obvious and quintessential brands to the newer players like Per Gotesson, Kiko Kostadinov, or Bryan Jimenez. His products often appear on visible cultural figures, such as Travis Scott in the @rayscorruptedmind - captured image above.
While his page has mostly lived in the digital space, he has recently entered a physical one. He hosted a pop up in Washington during 2020. He also recently opened a shopping space in Richmond, Virginia. Of course, you can still go the digital route by accessing his site through the instagram page.
This summer, I had a chance to sit down with Zeke to talk about the direction of his page, his personal taste, his expanding relations with aspiring designers, his new shop, and more.
Jaime López: Things in the fashion scene are quite different than when you first arrived. Grailed has a vastly different selection, and prices, the number of buyers, sellers, and collectors increases daily. How do you feel about this change? Do you think it has been overall positive or negative?
Zeke Hemme: I think the change has been positive for the community in general. It forces people to look [beyond] what people are currently buying. That’s why you see me buy into other brands too. At a certain point, it becomes too price-heavy on certain items. Even for me, as a seller or a store owner, to invest in a certain item is quite risky when an item gets to a price. Like a Raf Bomber or whatever, it is so beyond what I would want to pay for something.
But then that forces you, the consumer and myself, to find other stuff that is good, because there is so much shit out there. It’s just like Welcome.jpeg, there is so much interesting stuff out there and it's about finding that interesting stuff and showing people. At least that is how I do it.
I know you are working on opening a physical store in the near future. What do you want the store to be like?
Yeah, I actually signed a lease, just a short lease, with the Branch House in Richmond, VA. It’s the museum of art and design on the first two floors and on the second or third floor its office spaces that they rent out to consultants and local businesses that don’t really need a storefront. So I got an office space with them for 6 months, starting at the beginning of September.
Yeah I’m pretty excited. it's going to be fun to actually have a separate space and allow people to come in. I’m trying to do booked appointments only. It offers more of a personal interaction between me and the customer, and whoever is helping me out. At the end of the day I want this space to be a place where we can just have a conversation, me and the customer, and try to not only inform them, but also to express my enthusiasm for this stuff, my reasons for why I buy the things I buy. That way we have more of a connection.
I personally think that is an overlooked aspect of collecting clothes, getting to know people in the community who share your interest in clothing and who you can learn from.
Yeah, and I just don’t have time to write up item descriptions and all of that stuff, I don’t. I work another job and I have a baby, and another one on the way [laughs]. The majority of my time is really just finding the products and getting them on the website. I’d love to be able to go into more detail and do more explanations because I can talk about my reasoning why I bought it and the historical context of certain things.
That's why I want the office space. For customers who want to come in and see this stuff in person because at the end of the day if you don’t come in, you will probably never see this stuff in person.
Do you have a specific concept for this or what do you want the physical space to be like?
I was thinking of setting it up like the Philly office, where I had it set up on the racks and everything. Nothing too formal, there's no grand concept, it’s just a place to actually see all the clothes. I'm very nonchalant. I try not to be pretentious about this stuff because at the end of the day it's just clothing.
Everybody goes through this where you're trying to get into [fashion], and you are just stumbling and bumbling your way through, figuring it out. Especially for people who were relatively new in following the account. I met some people during the DC pop up, a year ago now almost, I mean, you could tell they had not been into clothing that long. But still, letting people try stuff and not being pretentious about them trying it on and taking a fitpic or whatever. If you came to the event I'm thankful that you did, so why not try stuff on? Even if you're not going to buy it I don't give a rat's ass. If they do it’s great, but at the same time like, it's cool to see this stuff, try it on. I completely understand that.
It’s definitely a refreshing and welcoming approach in a community that relies on exclusivity. Do you think that this has been the reason why your page has been so successful in recent years?
I think slightly, but honestly I don’t fucking really know. Yeah, me and Cliff, from Middleman. We’re friends and a lot of times we just text back and forth for hours like “I don’t understand what fucking people want any more.”
But I think it is partially the approach taken in the account. And then also posting literally every single day for about a year or two. I don’t do this full time [yet], so I'm tryna get to a point where I can. And just garnering that following even more and growing the page. I have a business mindset to it as well as an accessible approach. I think that's something that some people forget about, the business aspect of it is extremely important. People see all the clothes I have but you don't see how I literally spend hours every single day looking at stuff.
It's definitely a weird kind of skill, so specific.
Such a weird skill [laughs]. I've learned so much more about good clothing and how to identify what's good and what's not when I get it in hand. I've been in the fortunate position where I get to see all this product in hand, I get to see how it's made, or what the fabrics are using, how good the stitching is and all this stuff, which not a lot of people get to [experience].
I have probably [seen] thousands of items, so I know what stuff I like or what I think is actually good or not good. And one of the areas I want to get more into is consulting for brands. Even though I had no direct experience working in any of that. I think just from the breadth of knowledge that I've gained is extremely valuable, my personal opinion and understanding. That's why some brands reach out to me and do buy stuff because they end up referencing it in their upcoming collections.
Yeah that's very interesting, kind of what Kiko does also. He has a crazy archive.
His [collection] is ridiculous. But I don't think a lot of people really focus on that anymore these days. When you see stuff in person is completely different than seeing it on an image, people think you can just look at an image, or like this pocket, and copy it and put it on the jacket I'm making. But it depends on the fabric you're using and all this other stuff that is involved with it.
You often feature designers that are not as known or as widespread (e.g. Bryan Jimenez and Per Gotesson) to introduce to your customer base. How do you go about choosing to work with these designers?
I like Bryan's aesthetic a lot. I think it fits with the store, and what I'm going for. A lot of the colors he uses are very interesting and I think he's trying to push patternmaking a lot, at least from a new designer standpoint, which in my opinion you don’t see often. I want to help promote interesting designs at the end of the day. If I think it's interesting from a design standpoint and the overall aesthetic fits in the store.
Per and Bryan are the first two official accounts that I had in the store that are actual retail looking to bring one other person on. So it's just a matter of quality - the biggest thing for me is quality. It's funny because all the stuff that I purchased from these old designers like Armani, Hamnet, Yohji, etc. gives me a perspective on what's actually good and what's not. I can tell based on construction like I was mentioning earlier, the fabric, all that stuff. When I get in hand, I can tell if it's good or not.
It’s a very collaborative type of partnership, especially with Per. He kind of gave me free rein to help. Like for the recent collection for those slash crewneck sweaters with the jewels on it. Yeah, those are actually T shirts in the collection that he did and I was like “hey I don't necessarily know if my customer really want t shirts but if we did a sweater or crewneck sweaters and slashed it and put jewelry on it I think it'd be better,” and he was extremely open to it. [It’s] a good working relationship. He gets a promotion and all this stuff from my account and I get the product that I want for my customers. That's kind of the bonus of working with smaller designers is having that open communication and the ability to be flexible and do things for the store.
Is this something that you want to keep doing? Because I think it's very interesting.
I think it's a good way to provide these up and coming designers with some sort of visibility, but also offering my customers unique products from those designers that they can't find anywhere else. That's satisfying the same thing that I'm already doing with the vintage, [because] vintage is a limited product that you're not gonna find necessarily elsewhere. I want to work with up and coming designers because it offers the same unique specs.
Because there's so many influential people following the account too, they're getting exposure that they probably want. What I’m going for is that people come to the store because of that interesting, unique product and they offer interesting products. So if I pick you to be in the store I think you're doing something right. I think you and your brand and your product is something that other people should know about.
How have the pandemic and lockdowns affected you and your business?
I think it actually, unfortunately, kind of helped the business. I think just because people were doing nothing. 2020 was probably the best year I ever had. But again I think that's due to the amount of time people have just kind of sitting around.
For me personally. I was just so busy. I have a wife, my daughter was three months old when that started. So I was home all the time with her, and my wife so I think that was a positive there too. Just being around family constantly. I mean I'm still working from home anyway so it's basically two years I got to see my daughter grow up and be home all the time which I am very very thankful for.
If you had to narrow down your offerings to a single brand, what would it be and why?
I thought about it and I'm still kind of unsure. At this point It would probably be Issey Miyake, personally, or Armani. I think Issey Miyake offers a bit more of everything. If you have the full range of Issey Miyake from the 70s ,80s, 90s, until now, like they did pretty much everything. At least the aesthetic is more up my alley. It's kind of functional but he also is doing some tailoring and basic stuff too. That's probably what I would go for. Or Armani. Armani, or Yhoji would probably be my second or third [pick].
You have some very rare pieces from Yohji leather jackets to Kiko Konstadinov x Stussy sweatshirts. What is your favorite piece you own and why?
The Issey Miyake AW04 parachute pants I wear in all my fit pics.
Yes, I finally found another pair after three years of not seeing one. I remember when I first bought them I spent $400 on them, which was probably four years ago. It was a lot of money at the time. But then I got them in and I have really worn those things to death. They're not even beat, and I literally have worn them almost every single day.
That's the thing is those pants go with pretty much any look. They're not black, but they have this good silhouette and volume. I don't have to put a belt on. I just kind of wear them and it looks decent with the stuff I buy. It's very cohesive with all [my] functional military clothing. They have a mesh lining and are durable as all hell. I shovel snow in those. They're made out of a very durable nylon. They can get hot but I always have them unzipped since they have mesh ventilations.
And because I have kids, I don't want them to get stained and they shouldn't be able to get ripped easily. I guess that’s why I wear that stuff, and that's why I kind of gravitated towards Issey Miyake because all the Yohji stuff I have I couldn't really wear because it would probably get torn up or thrown up on or stained with food.
What would be your advice to people who are trying to figure out what their style is or trying to venture into fashion?
You are going to stumble, for a while [laughs]. It takes a long time to actually figure [your style] out, honestly. I think now, after doing it for 7 years, I finally feel like I am relatively comfortable. I know what I like, if that makes sense. It's really just putting in the time and just kinda plugging along with it. It's just trying and experimenting, because I was wearing some stuff that now I look back and I’m like “I don’t know why the hell I was wearing that.” It doesn’t really fit with what I like, but you kinda have to experience a little bit. It will help you kinda cross things off or circle things that you actually like or dislike. That’s the best approach I would say.
I was wearing some Yohji Collettes that were made out of silk from FW09, and they literally looked like a long dress/skirt, but they are actually massive shorts. Looking back I didn’t really know how to style them that well or really even wear them that well. But I mean it’s really cool looking, like everything looks cool and new when you are first into it, so it’s really easy to kinda just want to try a little bit of everything. You do need to do that, but it helps when you have a more honed vision of what you wanna dress like or what you actually like. It takes time though, it's not going to be super easy. That's my best advice.
This conversation has been edited for clarity and concision.