Retailer Spotlight – AKIRA

AkiraInspired by the American dream  and the creative freedom that comes with owning your own business, AKIRA first opened in 2002 as a single women’s clothing store in the trendy Wicker Park/Bucktown neighborhood after the young, energetic, fashion-loving Erikka Wang convinced her friends Jon Cotay and Eric Hsueh that they could bring more style to Chicago. Over the last seven years, AKIRA has expanded to eleven stores and an e-tail website. AKIRA now offers a full line of Women’s and Men’s Clothing, Footwear, and Accessories. Taking a more creative spin on marketing AKIRA is known for their high-profile and exciting fashion shows and parties around Chicago. Dubbed the “social butterfly”, in 2009 by MR Magazine, AKIRA’s reputation around Chicago has made its mark as the leader of fashion lifestyle branding. Creative partnerships with their top vendors make fashion in the Midwest unique and something that you are seeing less and less from local Chicago retailers.

Target Market: 18-40 Fashion Focused clients.  Menswear trends towards athletes and celebrities.

Products:  Womenswear, Menswear, Footwear and Accessories, Fashion Pieces and Basics and they are always looking for something new.  “That’s one of the most exciting challenges and opportunities for our business.  We’re not selling the same hammer or the same Plasma TV everyday.  The fashion world is constantly shifting and changing.  It’s a game that we love to play.  At AKIRA, we always say, “there’s nothing more boring than last season’s best seller”.  

How do you find new products to bring into your store?

We look EVERYWHERE. The world has gotten smaller and airplanes help tremendously. The shoe capital of the world is in South America. We won’t tell you where, but we will say it’s somewhere down there. 

In terms of diversity, you can’t beat Tokyo. The Japanese are cutting edge not only in electronics, but fashion as well. Overall, right now, the Japanese are probably on average, the earliest adopters. More and more things get made in China, but they’re manufacturers, not designers.

And of course there’s Europe. Howard Schutz was inspired by his visits to Europe, and that’s because Europeans have great taste for fashion and design.   

What is your biggest challenge as a retail storeowner / manager right now?

It’s never one thing. It’s all the little things that add up over time.  We have 11 stores and 200 employees now. When we started in 2002, we had zero employees for the first 6 months. So our team is probably the most important thing. You get the people right, and things will take care of themselves. You get the people wrong, and you have no chance no matter what you do. So AKIRA’s culture is probably top priority. Luckily, we think we have a dynamic group of retailers- the best in Chicago for a company our size. Does that mean we know what we are doing and have all the answers? No. But the energy, passion, and enthusiasm we all bring to our job each and every day make up for a lot of the mistakes we inevitably make. But as long as you’re learning and improving, we’re ok with making honest mistakes. Good things have happened and will continue to happen. 

I had a security guard that approached me several months ago. He said, “Eric, I think my paycheck is wrong. I think you overpaid me. Since I’m security, and you trust me to make sure your store is safe, I thought I should point this out myself.” 

I had a Store Manager insisting to me that their Assistant Manager deserved a raise. I was reluctant. Eventually, that Store Manager volunteered to take a pay cut in order to put more money in their Assistant’s pocket. How often do you hear that from an employee?

Another Store Manager is organizing a “Sunday volunteer day to get as many AKIRA employees as we can to help out at a Homeless Shelter- after work, IN DECEMBER!”

We put a lot of emphasis on our people and culture. It doesn’t happen by accident.

Location: AKIRA has the following locations around Chicagoland:

Bucktown Women’s – 1814 W. North Ave.

Bucktown Men’s – 1910 W. North Ave.

Bucktown Footwear – 1849 W. North Ave.

Lincoln Park Women’s – 2357 N. Clark St.

Lincoln Park Diversey Women’s – 643 W. Diversey

Lincoln Park Men’s – 662 W. Diversey

Lincoln Park Footwear – 668 W. Diversey

Water Tower Place – 835 N. Michigan Ave., 4th Floor

Downtown Footwear – 122 S. State St.

Northbrook Court – 2171 Northbrook Court Northbrook, IL

AKIRA online web-store –

Block 37 (108 N. State St.) – Store Opening Spring 2010

Price Points: From $30 shirts to $250 denim and everything in between

Contact: or by calling 1-866-477-2299. Press inquires please contact Maggie Morgan at or Aaron Shirley at Customer orders from can be sent to

Retail Minded has partnered with leading, international fashion and retail service business Nolcha for a new section on the Retail Minded Blog, “Retailer Spotlight.”

The Retailer Spotlight showcases independent retailers who stand out in the marketplace for a variety of reasons, including product assortment, store merchandising and their participation within their respective communities. There are many leading boutiques in the marketplace, but with the help of Nolcha, Retail Minded is choosing the select few that stand out amongst the rest to showcase. Make sure to check back with Retail Minded each week to learn about a new, leading boutique in the marketplace. Learn more about Nolcha by visiting


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