The leather accessories brand J.W. Hulme has operated out of St. Paul for more than 100 years, and now it has finally opened its flagship store right on Grand Avenue. Although the brand had a small merchandising store attached to its local manufacturing facility—both closed in 2018—this will be the first brick-and-mortar shop.
“We have wanted to let people experience the quality and beauty of our bags for a long time. Now we have the right business conditions and the right location coming together at once,” CEO Claire Powell says.
St. Paul and Minnesota may not feature in the brand’s aesthetics in an obvious way, but they have stayed with the brand’s identity. In creating the store, creative director Ernest Sabine made it shine even more. Local woodworker Evan Postier created some of the display tables with organic wood, and the center table (not made by Postier) is made of native Minnesota ash wood. The third-party products paid tribute to the area with the (of course) Faribault Mills blankets and, less expectedly, books by native Minnesotans like David R. Coggins, whose books Men of Style and Men and Manners reflect on what carrying yourself well as a man could and should like today.
Perhaps the most personal touch are some of the wall photos framed throughout the store. Through a social media contest, Sabine and the rest of the team solicited photos that represented the brand or fit themes such as “travel, the great outdoors, epicurean delights, the beauty of natural materials, [and] living life to the fullest,” their brand values lived out in the modern world. Three of the four winners were local; you can see the menu of Saint Dinette even peeking out in one of the photos.
All over, stores are becoming more about experiences, and J.W. Hulme is no exception. The new store has a monogramming bar, and the team is looking to schedule monthly events such as local wine tastings and book signings. Still, the experience that Sabine is truly trying to highlight isn’t an event but the physical interaction with the product.
“Given that it’s all about the leather and the beauty of the actual product, so much of it is touch and feel,” Sabine says. “[The product] is a lot of money to most people, so to be able to have people stop and pick up the product, feel the weight, feel the leather, I think, is a really special thing.”