The high-end shops and boutiques found in trendy places like New York’s SOHO, the Back Bay area of Boston, Minneapolis’ Uptown, and San Fran’s Mission District are a peek at the zeitgeist of consumer products and a pulse check of sorts on the retail world in general. On rare occasion, this haute sphere engages an outdoors brand, and over the past couple years I have covered shops that cater to the REI crowd yet have enough mass market buzz or appeal to open in areas more often associated with wealthy window shoppers and fashion freaks.
Examples? See my stories on the Fjallraven Store at 262 Mott Street in New York City, a strange Swedish basement gear boutique. Or, down the road in Manhattan, Icebreaker’s “Touch_Lab” store in SoHo is at 102 Wooster. Ibex Outdoor Clothing, another merino-wool purveyor, swung open fancy doors in Boston this year with a 1,000-square-foot shop on trendy Newbury Street. In Minneapolis, my home town, The North Face and Columbia Sportswear have opened big, high-ceiling “box” shops that look like places where you’d regularly buy an Apple iPad instead of a fleece coat.
On a trip to San Francisco last month, I ran into one of the most unlikely examples of this retail trend, which makes it among the more interesting. The company is Triple Aught Design, TAD for short, and it is a brand for which the word “tactical” leaps to mind when you first glimpse its military-influenced product line. There are knives, pants, backpacks, pouches, jackets, small camp tools, sharpeners, lights, and sew-on patches that feature skulls.
TAD opened this retail location, its second one in the city, at 551 Hayes Street in the Hayes Valley neighborhood west of downtown. It’s a wood-floored narrow space that has a clean, arty theme that conjures lingerie or designer jeans long before you think of a Rambo knife. But a close look at the TAD products and you see the company is not just upscale Army Surplus. The apparel and gear are well made and also quite pricey.
Packs are $239 and up. Jackets like the Stealth LT, a softshell new this month, incorporate tech fabrics from Schoeller and cost $325. Knives range past $500 in the glass display case.
At the TAD store, there’s a modern aesthetic to many of the products. It matches the austere motif of the retail space. The theme is strange here, a mix of military and technical outdoors, but with design-world grace. Think Arc’teryx or brands like Nau, though bulked up with tactical features and then smoothed with a look that is commando and stealth.
If you’re in San Francisco this year stop by the TAD store on Hayes. The company has some neat products any gear junkie could love. A visit to the store is also kind of an odd trip. There’s an upscale vibe. . . at least until you notice the Army pants. Check out the brass-button compasses and the patches made to sew on your pack. Oh, and the varnished saber-tooth skull on the shelf, that’s worth a peek, too.