Window shopping can tell you a lot about a store, even before you step through the front door. The energy and style can be pulsating, spilling onto the street, or it can be quiet and tranquil. While stores may carry the same merchandise, it is often that extra attention-grabber that can make or break a business. Context, a shop started by locals Sam Parker and Ryan Huber, has that particular “it” factor. The hip Soho-esque store, which has been serving fashionable clients for barely a year, is an up-and-coming men’s boutique located in the heart of Madison. While my previous columns have focused primarily on women’s fashion, I now want to address the other side of the fashion spectrum. Although many successful styles have been attributed to women in the past, it would be ignorant not to recognize the tremendous rise in men’s fashions over the last couple years. “Metrosexuals,” as the few stylish men in the world used to be called, are now nearly the everyman. Context is just one store that caught my eye while venturing along the outskirts of campus near the Capitol. The store specializes in premium raw denim, featuring a wide selection of specialty and foreign jeans that are hard to come by and rarely seen in American shops. The selection does not end there. The store also carries a variety of men’s fashions that project an air of individuality while being socially conscious. By carrying clothing brands such as American Apparel and Nudie Jeans Co., Context is active in supporting a greater cause: fair labor practices and social awareness. In sticking to the idea that “denim is a skilled craft,” Huber believes clothing should not be made in a sweatshop. Apolis Activism, one of Context’s popular brands, even produces jackets made from actual tarps dating back to the Vietnam War — talk about making a radical statement. Through their socially conscious clothing, the modest 780-square-foot boutique showcases one of the finest men’s collections available in Madison. The clothing, which Huber says was originally designed to target “young professional Madisonians,” is actually appealing to an array of men who like to dress in durable, stylish clothing. The up-and-coming generation, as Huber has observed, is diverse and well-traveled; Context wanted to sell denim that reflected a global lifestyle. “Nudie Jeans denim is made in Japan, while the company is based in Sweden, but all tailored production is done in Italy,” he says. The 113 King St. store, comfortably positioned in the midst of Madison’s dining and nightlife scene, attracts a great deal of foot traffic. Before Context, there were few stores in Madison with quality men’s clothing, especially denim. Now locals have access to some of the best jeans in the world. Context’s bestsellers include Nudie Jeans ($265), A.P.C. ($140) and Earnest sewn ($198). The store also carries an item vastly different from the everyday man’s jeans: Japanese Selvage Denim. The secret to their unique look lies in the rarely used shuttle looms that produce the denim. After it comes off the loom, the fabric is cut into narrow pieces and then indigo-dyed — creating a “dry denim” look. The looks created among the racks of Context are not its only visual appeal. Two huge projection screens hang in the store’s front windows, while work from local artists cover the interior walls. Like the pictures on the walls, Context showcases their clothing to be, in the truest sense, “displayed art.” Huber and Parker (with the help of Parker’s brother Ben) have successfully created a men’s clothing boutique that encompasses all that a young, up-and-coming Madisonian represents. Context has style, versatility, conscious consumerism, progression and ambition. With the launch of their new website at the start of the New Year, it is safe to assume that what started out almost a year ago as two friends working together at a bar with one big idea will soon become much more than just another men’s clothing store. Sydney Burdick is a freshman intending to major in fashion journalism. Direct questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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