Vividbraille: Risk taker

by Elise Diamantini

Breaking the rules: New contemporary stores redefine the men’s specialty business — part two of ten

In this series from MR’s February issue, the editors talk to ten new retailers (seven brick-and-mortar, three online).

Location: Chicago, Ill.
Opened in 2011
Owned by Brock Willsey
Size: 1,000 sq. ft.
Breakdown: 1/3 men’s apparel, 1/3 men’s footwear, 1/3 women’s


Detroit-born Brock Willsey started Vividbraille about 10 years ago as a wholesale collection of artsy, hand-printed T-shirts. In 2011 Willsey switched things up by moving to Chicago and opening a Vividbraille store in Bucktown. “We stopped wholesaling the line because we wanted to have a more direct relationship with our customers,” explains Willsey. “Wholesale became about mass producing and I wanted to put more emphasis on design. A sales floor allowed me to take more chances by moving product directly.”

Brock Willsey Vividbraille is now 25 percent private label (and a full collection), and 75 percent branded (Opening Ceremony, Marshall Artist, Takahashi and Naked & Famous). “We also have an amazing men’s shoe selection. We carry a lot of hard-to-find brands in Chicago and the Midwest like Vans Vault (the stuff they do with Takahashi), Diemme, Del Toro and Saucony Elite.”

Willsey refers to the store as a studio boutique because in addition to product they have a four-color screen printing press on the sales floor. “It’s cool because someone might walk in and see me printing a small run of T-shirts. A lot of customers are drawn to the whole creative process, so we’re rolling out screen printing classes. We’ll charge for the class, but then customers leave with their own custom-made Vividbraille T-shirt.”

Vividbraille will also be featured on a PBS show called Start-Up later this year. The show features new businesses in the U.S. “For us, it was about showing viewers how to turn creativity into a business. They filmed when the economy was still very unstable and the goal was to inspire people to take risks.”