The Break is more than a vintage store in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. It’s an event space, a lifestyle brand, a hospitality company and a community. With big garage doors that roll up on hot summer afternoons, it’s a beloved gathering spot for trying on clothing, hugging old friends and meeting new ones.
When retail stores closed at the beginning of quarantine, these were the moments that founder Hannah Richtman missed the most. Now that The Break is reopened, albeit in a different and rapidly evolving environment, Hannah is more committed than ever to community, connection and her original mission of kindness.
We asked Hannah about shifting NYFW plans, the ways that fashion is breaking, and the opportunities she sees to rebuild a better, kinder, and more inclusive industry.
September looks different this year. How is The Break thinking about NYFW?
We would usually be planning ‘Break NYFW’ right now – which is by far the most ambitious project we work on each year. In past years, thousands of people show up. It’s the best thing that we do. It represents everything we value as a brand and is the strongest example of our idea of community.
For us, our event was never really about selling a product, because obviously all of our products are vintage. ‘Break NYFW’ was more about celebrating our community and creating a space for everyone to be included. For the runways to be filled with incredible people that you can relate to, that we love and want to celebrate. To dance together, to have a drink together, to really come together as a community.
So, it’s definitely very bittersweet to not be working on that right now. Then again, it’s good to recognize the times. What’s happening on a larger scale. The entire mission behind ‘Break New York Fashion Week’ was to do just that – to break it.
What was the idea behind the name ‘Break NYFW’?
‘Break NYFW’ is our play on all the craziness that happens each September. The Break is fully part of the fashion industry, and I love being part of fashion, so we're not saying that we’re doing it right and you’re doing it wrong. Breaking fashion week is our effort to break away from the traditions that no longer suit us; that no longer suit our community.
Let's break away from this notion that the runway has to look a certain way. Let's break away from the notion that fashion can’t be inclusive, celebratory and fun. Let’s break away from the hierarchies of the current industry. Let’s create a fashion week experience that we – The Break and our community – feel is a better fit.
What are your hopes for the future of Fashion Week – and the industry as a whole?
We’ve recognized, for years now, that there are some huge issues in fashion. There’s too much. To many collections, too many shows, too much product. It’s not timely and it’s not inclusive – whether that’s who is on the runway or who is receiving the invites. It all feels very elitist and classist and not representative at all of the consumer. Designers are getting burnt out. The pressure and expenses keep rising. And a lot of young brands can’t afford to put on shows in the first place, so where does that leave them?
This is an important moment to slow down and re-evaluate. We’re all so used to a super fast-paced, high-pressure environment, especially in the New York fashion world. This is an important opportunity to ask, what are we really doing here? What does it mean? Are we doing this because it’s tradition or because it's beneficial? Are we empowering our community or doing this because we feel like we have to? Are we spending money unnecessarily? Are we wasting resources to fit in with a set of standards that no longer suits the industry? Why are we doing what we are doing and how can we make things better?
What role does vintage play in shaping the future of fashion?
Our generation is demanding inclusivity, kindness, body diversity, and higher standards. Sustainability and many of these values are inherent in vintage fashion and have been at the core of The Break for so long. Now, many of these values are trickling into contemporary fashion. It’s becoming increasingly clear that these are not suggestions. They are necessities. That means a lot of brands are going to have to pivot.
I’m in no way saying The Break is perfect, but since day one – and through COVID – we’ve committed to continuously learning and growing and evolving. To make sure that our practices are in line with our community’s values and that we are transparent, generous, open and kind as we go.
The future of fashion is about being conscious. Consuming consciously, spending less, spending your time wisely, knowing what you're buying, who you're buying it from, and what the impact of that purchase is. On top of that, it's about celebrating those positive choices. It’s about lifting up brands that are making good decisions and promoting values that align with yours. Putting your money where your mouth is.
How is kindness leading you through this unique moment?
Kindness is everything. We have to be kind. That is probably the most important thing we can all do right now – as small business open stores, as our customers trust us to take the right precautions to make that experience safe. Even in masks, kindness and connection are possible. Because of masks, kindness and connection are possible.
My staff and I are making the extra effort to make our community feel safe; to make sure they know we take their well-being seriously. Our community is the only reason we are still here and the reason we will always keep going.
The mission of The Break has always been about kindness. Spreading kindness, encouraging each other, making one another feel good. I feel very blessed to have such a strong community of people who want to want to keep us around, want to connect with one another, want to have this unique kind of space available to them.
If they want it, then I will continue to build it and bring it. With kindness and community, we can come out of this stronger, more aware, more in touch with ourselves and one another. We can gain what is necessary to build a better, stronger world. A better, strong industry. For everybody.
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