Written by Calla Camero
Photograpy by Tao Antrim
On a seemingly desolate block on Dobbin street in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, surrounded by brick walls coated in graffiti, there’s a subtle vintage shop that is breaking every impression you’ve ever had towards the traditional retail experience.
At The Break, you always feel welcome. And that’s not just because of the edging racks brimming of colorful silhouettes, androgynous power suits, shades of hanging denim, and staple blouses, or that every person is greeted with a complimentary glass of rosé, regardless of how much you purchase or what time of the day it is, but mostly because each visit is an inviting and inclusive interaction with the sales associates and other customers alike, that typically starts with conversation and ends with lasting friendships. This is the intention that Hannah Richtman, founder of The Break, had set for the store when she opened its doors in 2016, to create a space that would be available for everyone, regardless of where you come from or how much money you have in your wallet.
I first wrote about Hannah and her Break baby in 2017, when I attended their first ever fashion show during NYFW Fall season. Along with the striking looks that made up the collection, I was captivated by how charismatic Hannah was about her brand, how much appreciation she showed for her team, and her emphasis on the importance of the community that The Break has built. It became clear to me why everyone at the show, whether in attendance or working the event, was there with a positive and all-embracing attitude: they were following Hannah’s lead.
Since then, The Break has produced two more fashion shows, a number of pop-up events including one in London, and celebrated its second birthday with a much-deserved cocktail party and dinner, where I sat down with Hannah for a chat about how she birthed her baby two years ago, why she chose vintage, and what’s in store for the new year.
Okay Hannah, can you tell me why you decided to create your own brand?
I went on a trip my junior year of University where I was living in Sweden for a while, and I discovered all of these social spaces that were stores, cafes, music venues, and bars. It was this really multipurpose and multidimensional retail example that I didn’t feel we had in America. I was fascinated by it because it these spaces felt comfortable as soon as you walked through their doors. Versus so many times, especially with vintage stores in New York, you walk in and it feels uncomfortable, unwelcoming, unaccessible or unaffordable.
I decided that once I graduated I wanted to start something of my own. I had some experience doing personal branding already, but I wanted to create something that wasn’t just for myself but also for everyone I love. I wanted a space that was about community over consumption, while still creating a really chic and accessible atmosphere to be able to buy a bitchy ass top. I feel like this has always been a part of me. The Break is my personality… but as a community. The goal is having a space where everyone can come in and we celebrate one another. Where we’re kind to one another, and in the spirit of fashion we’re breaking down these barriers. I feel like I’ve been born to do this.
Why vintage clothing?
Growing up in Wisconsin, first of all, I had no money. But I was obsessed with magazines, so I would look through these editorials and would be so incredibly inspired, and then go to thrift stores and re-create the silhouettes.
As for vintage stores in New York… a lot of times every vintage store feels and looks the same. So for me, I wanted to take the experience that I had with recreating affordable looks from editorial magazines and make it on a larger scale.
Beyond that, I wanted to create a culture at The Break where pieces were meant to be tried on, worn out, lived in. The accessible price point is hopefully part of the excitement factor, knowing that you’re able to go into a store and can afford to leave with something. It was just this kind of perfect storm, where kindness is at the root of all of it. It's affordable and it's relevant. You know, what’s more relevant than being kind to one another, being kind to yourself, and then helping people feel comfortable being exactly who they are and allowing them to do that in a safe space?
It’s fashion centered around community.
Well, it’s a very simple thing to do, again, when you’re kind. And people are attracted to that. You know? People are attracted to things that make them feel wonderful, spaces that make them feel included. No one likes to feel rejected. No one likes to feel like I don’t belong there. So if you open your heart up, and you surround yourself with people who genuinely act and live that life, of I treat people with respect and dignity at all times, because that’s the fair thing to do, it goes so far, and it expands so quickly. So it’s not just me, it’s all of these incredible people and as the community grows it spreads like wildfire.
I know you have a background in theater and new media -- do you feel like you took all your experiences from working in those other industries, and put it into the development of The Break?
I would say it’s the combination of my work. I think the one thing I’ve really been able to take away from every experience, whether that’s working in theater and being a part of a cast, producing a show, or being an intern and running around during fashion week, is that you can find the good in every situation, in every industry. With fashion, it makes us feel empowered and it makes us feel confident.
At the end of the day, unless you’re a nudist, every single person wakes up in the morning and puts on an outfit that represents them. It affects everyone. So why is fashion so often closed-off and exclusive. It makes no sense. We all have our own individual taste, which I think is so fascinating as well. It’s such an exciting thing to be a part of. The fashion industry is a multi-billion dollar industry because it affects all of us.
What’s been the biggest challenge since you started?
Growing pains. First of all, my team is incredible. I am so fucking lucky to work with really amazing people who are so dedicated to pushing this mission forward. We’re here because we believe in it, and that shared vision is what has driven us The Break to become everything it is today.
The challenge I think, is growing as quickly as we have and learning about managing and being a boss. Since I’m genuinely friends with all of my employees, it’s about learning to balance being an efficient leader and a good friend. I want to be both and I think it’s possible, but there are little things that you have to adjust to. So that’s been a really interesting experience—going from me just starting this in my bed, to a few interns, to now having 16 employees. It’s really wild but it’s the most gorgeous experience of my life.
The community. Sure it’s a buzz word, but for good reason. I get to meet so many incredible people everyday. It’s so rewarding to be surrounded by angels all the time. All the people who have walked in our doors, there’s never been an unpleasant interaction, for me at least. And that’s is the most rewarding thing I could ever experience.
How has The Break evolved over the last two years?
The Break has pushed into the hospitality space with the intention of evolving from a small-scale retail concept to full-blown lifestyle brand. This expansion has occurred during a particularly volatile time for the US, so remaining true to our mission of inclusivity, accessibility and sustainability has played a large role in how we’ve further developed our business practices. BREAK NYFW has been a huge platform for us to expand and gauge our community’s interest in a more multi-faceted company, including food, beverage, live performances and our own capsule collections. We’re so excited!
How have you evolved, personally, since the opening of the store?
My personal and professional lives are so intertwined. My employees and collaborators are also my friends. Because of this, I’ve learned so much about what it means to balance being a good manager, as well as a good friend. My career has become much less of an individual effort, and more focused on delegation and team building.
My time has definitely become more regimented. I’m addicted to organizing my schedule to reach maximum efficiency. In running The Break, I feel I’ve gained more confidence in my ability to navigate entrepreneurship and practice moderation.
What are The Break’s core values?
Inclusivity. Sustainability. Accessibility. Flexibility. Magnetism.
How have you been able to foster such a strong community through clothing?
The beautiful thing about the Break is that our product is secondary to the experience we provide. Nourishing our personal relationship to our customers and collaborators has helped us stand out within a shuddering retail environment. We believe that The Break IRL and the events we produce enrich our business and the industry at large. We wouldn't be here without the love and support of our #BreakBabes.
Can you tell me about the new Break collection in the works?
We’re designing a few pieces that will be highly wearable and produced locally using recycled fabric. We want to take our favorite vintage silhouettes that work for every body type and update them to fit a modern aesthetic. We’re not trying to recreate the wheel, but rather bring our community the pieces that their always looking for in store in more sizing options and en masse. We hope that you’ll be able to wear them together or as separates and that they’ll be the chicest and easiest pieces you own.
What’s your advice for someone who’s looking to one day open a business of their own?
Opening a business has been the hardest, most thrilling thing I’ve ever done. It is definitely not for the faint of heart. Be passionate, do your research, be flexible, and don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. A high tide lifts all boats.
Why the name?
I wanted something androgynous, but it didn’t need to be a store, it could’ve been a bar, salon, hotel, an agency. And hopefully all those things one day. The way I’ve always done business is to be flexible, and so I wanted something versatile that could apply to lots of different businesses. “The Break” also alludes to the breaking away from bullshit traditions. Break away from the notion that vintage is unaffordable or unaccessible. Come on in, take a break with us, have a drink, and relax.
Ultimately, The Break just resonated with me but it took a while to come up with it because names are hard. It's one of those things where once I thought of it, I said, and that’s it.