Inspired by Brooklyn shopping trends, longtime city resident Shauna Mei began AHA, an online shopping experience, with her husband Sachin Devand in 2010. They recently opened their first storefront at 147 Front Street, where we got a personal tour of the new space, and a nice chat with Shauna.
Photo Credit Ramon Pebenito
Tell us about AHA!
We founded the company about six years ago with the mission statement to celebrate and protect creativity. We felt that there are so many talented artists and designers that are getting lost in the offline retail world, while the market and economy makes it difficult for artisans to thrive and build a real business. Meanwhile, a really fascinating shift is occurring on the consumer side of going for authentic, niche products and I think Brooklyn is at the fore of that trend. We were inspired by these trends, the thriving artisan population of Brooklyn, and the shift of almost everyone exclusively shopping online. AHAlife is a fully digital online platform and a marketplace where we're curating designers from all over the world. We wanted to create a site and an experience that was more curated than a lot of other online shopping platforms out there - we only sell products that have been personally vetted and tested. We get over a hundred applications from designers every week and accept less than twenty at this point. What I'm most passionate about is that customers who purchase from AHA are really supporting an independent artisan or designer to thrive, and I really think we can start a movement here of buying things that are truly special, that carry a story.
Is this your only storefront currently?
Yes, we just launched this storefront a couple weeks ago and it's meant to be a fun, experiential playground. We don't follow any of the rules of traditional retail in terms of supply and demand; we're thinking about how we can curate a really beautiful experience with objects we're really passionate about, see how people interact with those products and learn from observing those experiences. Offline is definitely different from online, but I think the storefront has been really great for our own team to see AHA come to real life. A lot of people who come to the store have actually shopped on the website, so for them to walk into the world of AHA is this awesome experience. They get to see and feel the quality of the products, and that's an aspect of offline shopping that you can't get online.
What was the impetus behind the storefront?
It's always been a dream of mine. I love concept stores, I think they're super interesting because it's like a retail experiment. I think for us it was an opportunity to do something out of the box. It's also a great opportunity for our designers, they care so much about having the platform to sell their products so the store has been great for that. We see the store as a service to our designers, a service to our customers and as a business it's a great place to experiment.
Photo Credit Ramon Pebenito
Why did you choose DUMBO for the storefront?
I live in Williamsburg and I love Brooklyn. I think DUMBO is a uniquely situated location being super close to Manhattan. I love the types of people who criss cross in DUMBO: you have the local DUMBO Brooklyn crowd, the Manhattan people who maybe only come to DUMBO if they come to Brooklyn, and the more savvy in-the-know tourists who make the time to come to Brooklyn and come through DUMBO. I think that mix of people is interesting and I think it's a good way to describe our own customer base at AHA too, we have a pretty strong Brooklyn base of customers, and a loyal US base and about 20% of our customers are international.
Are you able to use DUMBO or Brooklyn in general as a resource for talent or inspiration?
Over 50% of our staff are Brooklyn residents. It's been really great being in DUMBO from a hiring perspective, people love coming to the office because the area is so beautiful and they love to take walks along the waterfront for lunchtime. It's a really nice place to work.
What is your favorite place in DUMBO?
It's so nice and quiet here. I love walking down the waterfront on John Street to just relax with the view. Even though there are lots of shops and restaurants in DUMBO, it still has pockets that hold a sense of peace that is harder to find in Manhattan.