Two brothers who have successfully built their Sunderland men’s fashion business are celebrating its 20th anniversary with significant expansion.
Duncan and Andrew McKenzie run city centre-based men’s fashion store Aphrodite 1994 and its accompanying ecommerce business.
Now in operation for 20 years, Aphrodite is set for significant expansion in its existing Vine Place premises, close to the city’s Bridges Shopping Centre.
As owners of the premises, the brothers had previously leased other units to barbers and jewellers, but now, given the business’ growth, the shop is expanding to accommodate a workforce of 20 and an increasing number of lines.
The brothers have found success by stocking niche and exclusive brands not available in rival North East stores.
The re-emergence of retro brands like Fred Perry along with the growing popularity of contemporary labels like Pretty Green has helped Aphrodite to target a growing market for casual men’s fashion.
Duncan McKenzie said: “We started with 450 sq ft in 1994, with just three of us in the shop, and we’ve continued to grow ever since.
“In 2007 we launched the website and then went on to convert part of the premises into a photographic studio and office to cater for the demand online.
“In terms of the online business, only 70% comes from the UK. We’re sending product all over the world - with particular success in the US and Western Europe.”
Duncan said the online business has only served to bolster Aphrodite’s bricks and mortar trade.
He added: “The website is really a fantastic advertising tool. We find that customers will browse the products online, and come in to the store to try them on and buy. People like to walk away with their purchases immediately.
“We’ve carefully selected brands that aren’t available elsewhere, alongside top brands. That has helped us to stay competitive.
“The business has always been about reinventing itself. There’s been a lot of change on the high street but if you focus on the negatives you don’t get anywhere.”
Duncan is also enthusiastic about the growing number of independent shops and cafes springing up in Sunderland city centre.
He added: “Ventures like Frankie & The Heartstrings’ Pop Recs Ltd on Fawcett Street, and Holmside Coffee, have been absolutely fantastic for retail in the city - particularly our market. I’ve always said that if Sunderland is going to establish itself and its own identity, it needs to grow independent businesses and give people something they can’t get elsewhere.”