Don't you love it when your friends succeed?
I'll admit... George Sotelo is like a little brother to me.
So, when he does well... I feel... well, proud.
He was solving a problem.
Well, guess what?
He just opened his first retail store... in the heart of SoHo... this week.
Not just the world of Thorsun... but a whole travel vibe that will make you want to book a flight to somewhere tropical... A-S-A-P.
But first, what was the fashion problem George solved?
ALINA CHO: I feel like the best brands fill a white space, so what was the white space in the market that you wanted to grab?
ALINA CHO: Exactly.
GEORGE SOTELO: I spent a lot of time at Carnival. I go to Brazil a lot with my friends.
And when you go to Brazil, when you go to Carnival, you have to prepare for being out on the street all day. So, you leave the hotel, and you go to the beach and then you end up in street parades. I had an issue. I carry everything in my pockets — my cell phone, my headphones, keys, whatever I collect throughout the day. My pocket is always full.
ALINA CHO: I remember this so distinctly. You were saying you could not find a short, a swimming trunk, that could fit everything that you needed, like the pockets weren't big enough, they weren't deep enough, they weren't functional. It really started there, didn’t it?
GEORGE SOTELO: Totally, yeah, that's exactly how it started. I wanted to create a short where I could engineer the pocket so when you sit down on a beach chair — where you're at an angle — the pocket tilts forward and your items won't fall out. I wanted to correct that problem.
ALINA CHO: So smart.
GEORGE SOTELO: I was also obsessed with Mexican ceramics, and I wanted to do something to represent Mexico and my culture, creatively. So, my first collection — still now — is very heavily influenced by Mexican ceramics.
GEORGE SOTELO: So, then I started working on high-performance fabric that dries fast. Then, I became really obsessed with print design. I still do all the prints myself.
ALINA CHO: Wow, I didn't realize that. Those prints are your signature.
GEORGE SOTELO: Thank you. I went for the Mesoamerican vibe the first season. I'm from southern California and my family is from Mexico, so I wanted to do my twist on it, make them a little bit more modern. That was a very, very heavy inspiration for me. I'm a conceptual print designer, but I've always been a little bit shy to say that. But it's true. I come up with all the prints.
ALINA CHO: I’m curious to know how you managed to make it all work during COVID, which was a really tough period for retail.
GEORGE SOTELO: When March 2020 came around and everything started getting very serious, all of a sudden, I started seeing my phone [blow up with sales]. I had an incredibly, incredibly busy COVID with sales.
ALINA CHO: How is that possible?
GEORGE SOTELO: It was really bizarre, and I thought it was just going to be just a one-day thing. They actually did a story in the Wall Street Journal on how swim thrived during the pandemic.
A lot of people in warm weather regions. They go to the beach, they have pools.
ALINA CHO: And they wanted to be outside because it was safer.
GEORGE SOTELO: Totally. And that was the only place they could go. They could go to the pool or onto the beach. Yeah, and [swimwear] is a mood enhancer. It’s not crazy expensive. They weren't spending money on evening dresses or suits.
ALINA CHO: Let’s talk about the new store.
GEORGE SOTELO: My original idea when I launched Thorsun was to go more into lifestyle. But it was more of a “down the road” vision that I had. And now it’s finally coming to fruition and I'm able to execute it. People are going back to retail. They’re tired of shopping online. And I wanted to meet the new customer.
ALINA CHO: And it's called Thorsun?
GEORGE SOTELO: The store is called Thorsun La Isla Manhattan.
I really wanted to do it in Manhattan. I'm approaching my 20th year here in the city. We all travel to these amazing locations. We meet in Capri and all these amazing different islands. But at the end of the day, we all come back to this little island, which is the best island in the world.
ALINA CHO: Well, of course, I agree. Tell me more about the store itself.
GEORGE SOTELO: It's going to be a travel narrative. I wanted to bring in other complimentary brands. And I'm really into ceramics, obviously. So, I wanted to bring in actual ceramics from Oaxaca and Michoacán, which is where my family is from.
The whole store is shoppable. All the way down to the flower arrangements — everything is completely shoppable.
ALINA CHO: What will the customer find when they walk in?
GEORGE SOTELO: The customer is going to find the best of resort wear from my brand and other brands, including women's brands. There’s an apothecary, rugs, home decor, healing products.
ALINA CHO: And didn't you say you wanted to create a home line yourself, like tabletop, using your prints?
GEORGE SOTELO: I did, and it's in the works. Napkins, placemats, maybe even curtains. That's coming out in the next two or three weeks.
ALINA CHO: I’m super proud of you.
GEORGE SOTELO: Thank you. It's all these things that I've been wanting to do forever. And right now, the energy feels right in the city. We're out of [the worst of] COVID. I feel mentally up to the task. And I’m feeling creative again. I just wanted to go for it.