To many, Holland represents a land of eccentricity, from its extremely liberal take on prostitution and cannabis to its wacky idea of what makes for proper footwear. This outside worldview of the Dutch is likely what has inspired their well-known axiom, â€œDo normal. Thatâ€™s already crazy enough.â€ The owner and founder of Amsterdamâ€™s shop 290 Square Meters, who goes only by the name Ido, works hard to both cater to those who live by this proverb and at the same time convert them.
290 Square Meters, located in the heart of Amsterdam near the Fleamarket, is a Mecca for brand names like Nike and Leviâ€™s. In fact, 290 Square Meters was the first store in the world where consumers could create their own custom Nike sneakers. But what this shop has to offer goes far beyond the Dutch comfort zone.
290 Square Meters is dedicated to introducing Amsterdam to unique street artists and designers. The store has been home to art shows by the street art collective The London Police, French artist Miss Van, Japanese collaborative Kami & Sasu and many more. Ido thinks of his shop as a â€œdestination store.â€ Itâ€™s a place for discovery, where customers can find a unique selection of urban clothes, sneakers, art, cosmetics and bikes. And its location, underground in an old bank vault, makes it a true Dutch hidden gem.
â€œThereâ€™s not really a concept behind 290 square meters. We just sell what we like.â€
Format: Please introduce yourself and tell us briefly about the history of 290 Square meters.
Ido: 90 square meters was founded in 2001. Amsterdam needed a place where anything could happen and I was really disappointed in the stuff that was available in Holland. The shop was named 90 square meters because it was the size of the space that was open to anything. We did about 30 art shows, product launches for several brands like Nike and Leviâ€™s, lectures and much more. In April, 2008 the store [was renamed] 290 square meters; we [moved and now] have triple the size of the old space.
Iâ€™m just Ido – I never use my last name. Iâ€™m the founder/owner. I do the buying and Iâ€™m in the store three days a week. At the moment Iâ€™m busy with running the agency. We do communication, concept, product launches, etc. Thereâ€™s not really a concept behind 290 square meters. We just sell what we like. Itâ€™s all about passion. These days itâ€™s easier to get products from all over the world without traveling. Not only for me but also for consumers. To be honest, we do what we like and we donâ€™t look at others.
Format: How did you come up with the idea of blending an urban retail store with an art gallery?
Ido: In the network that I have there are a lot of artists that need a place to show their work. Eight years ago street art didnâ€™t have the status that is has now.Â
Format: What status does street art have now, in both Amsterdam and in the international art world?
Ido: Eight years ago street art was mostly on the streets and sometimes in bigger cities in well know galleries. Most people saw graffiti on the streets and that was it. Now itâ€™s well known all over the world and by a bigger group. Brands have done so many collaborations with street artists that almost everybody knows who Futura is.
Amsterdam is a very small city and the group of people that know a bit of art is small. They know who Futura is, but Barry McGee is a name that they donâ€™t know. Itâ€™s not just with art, itâ€™s with a lot of things. Thereâ€™s a saying in Holland which is, â€œDo normal. Thatâ€™s already crazy enough.â€ People here judge each other on how they look and what they do. That means not so many want to stand out and dare to do what they really want. Itâ€™s all a bit on the safe side. Most people buy the brands they know and not so much what they donâ€™t know. The logo is more important than the style!
Format: How many art shows per year do you hold?
Ido: We havenâ€™t done any in the last year and a half. People like to drink beer, listen to music and socialize during the openings. That means the attention to the art was very little and after doing so many it was time for something different.
Format: So now that youâ€™re not holding art shows anymore, what new things are you incorporating into the store instead?
Ido: We have a dedicated Nike space where we tell a story about a product. Every six to eight weeks we have new items on display and sometimes we have an artistâ€™s interpretation of the items. Weâ€™re also the middle man between brands and artists. We organize events for brands and do product launches. As it looks now weâ€™ll do two or three shows this year.
Format: How are your sales doing these days? Â Has the recession that has hit the States hard affected you in any way?
Ido: The sales have slowed down a bit but itâ€™s still ok. The recession is in the U.K. now and nobody knows what will happen. We all have to be positive !
Format: Do you have plans to open any other locations?
Ido: We may start something in Tokyo at the end of 2009. I love the city and there are a lot of U.S.-based brands and almost no European brands. I have a lot of Japanese people coming to the shop who really like it and buy a lot. I have the connections to do it and most important I think I can contribute something to the retail landscape in Tokyo.
Format: Whatâ€™s coming up at 290 Square meters? Â Whatâ€™s new?
Ido: The assortment of the shop will be more sophisticated and cleaner. Weâ€™re working for the first time in eight years on a few items together with some well-respected brands. Weâ€™ll keep you updated on that.