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April 21, 2020
Commerce

When making it 10 years in retail means you haven’t sold out

Cult skate shop Twenty Fifty-Two opened its first store in 2010 and has always put the wellbeing of their customers at the core of their business.

  • Words: Angela Skujins and Josh Fanning
  • Main Image: Al Mawer in front of Twenty's prior home, taken by Andrè Castellucci
  • Additional images: supplied

We were going to start this article celebrating the shop – Twenty Fifty-Two – reaching 10 years in business with notes on the founder’s life, but somehow it didn’t feel right.

Other business owners might take to Linkedin with their Top 10 things I’ve learnt lists or a short autobiography, but Allan Mawer of Twenty Fifty-Two puts all the praise for his business’ success on his customers.

Remarks

This year Twenty Fifty-Two turns 10-years-old. Although the physical shop on Young Street is closed, you can still support local and buy online and stay tuned to the brand’s socials for news of the inevitable party post-COVID.

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“The amount of people that have hit me up, that have been around the store for a long time, that are putting whatever money they have – whether it be on a stale t-shirt for $30 bucks or dropping a full week’s wage to make sure we can keep afloat for the week – I just want to be grateful to them,” says Al.

“I’m thankful for them, because as much as I can put [these products] on the table and open the doors every day, it’s everyone else that comes through that inspires it, and drives it, and pays the bills. They deserve just as much gratitude and thanks.”

But Al can’t open the doors “every day” at the moment and COVID-19 has given him pause to reflect more deeply than ever on his business’ mission.

Twenty Fifty-Two owner Allan (Al) Mawer • Picture by Josh Fanning

The second (of four) locations on Prospect Road

A drop-in centre

To placate the uninitiated, Twenty Fifty-Two takes its name from Al’s preferred wheel size on both a skateboard and BMX: 20 inches on the bike and 52 millimetres on the board.

And initiation is a huge part of the story as this shop defines, at a very molecular level, what it means to be a lifestyle brand.

Just the other day we were speaking to Al about his business model, “a drop-in centre” is what he calls it, “where a lot these heads (Twenty Fifty-Two’s customers) don’t necessarily have a safe place to go, a place where they can let off steam about their lives and also have an ear that hears them and re-directs that energy into something good.”

Since its earliest days out in Holden Hill, this skate store has always put youth and community at the core of its business.

“Skateboading, BMX, it’s always attracted kids with something to prove,” says Al. “But as I’ve grown older and my customers have grown older, what matters most is that there’s this place where people can come and feel supported.

“Some days I might not ring the till, but serve 10, 20 different customers y’know?”

Al switches to counsellor effortlessly. Even in our conversations with him – where we’re supposed to be the ones asking the questions.

“How are you doing? What’s your world look like now?” Al asks us with sincerity.

By providing genuine care and providing a strong example of discipline in a way that his customers can relate to, Al is not only able to sell premium (read: expensive) hard-to-find apparel brands in his store, but also able to nudge and support his community in a way that helps them deal with the world and remain resilient.

Ben taking five at the Hindley Street store

 

On to the next

Al grew up in Hong Kong riding BMX, chasing adventure and mixing with cultures from all over the world. That pedigree is matched in his store, which stocks only the most respected and authentic brands as deemed by the perspicacious connoisseurs who call themselves skateboarders.

In 2018, Al worked with Australian-based, international skate brand Pass~Port to create a capsule range of apparel and products. Al turned this from an opportunity for himself and his store into an opportunity for Adelaide, where he quickly set up the manufacturing for his range.

Sold out within a matter of days, the Pass~Port collaboration was a high watermark in the 10-year history of the store, while two years later the future of Twenty Fifty-Two is all but certain.

The store on Young Street in the city is currently closed, with no open date on the horizon.

As COVID-19 drags on, Al receives more and more calls from customers and friends.

“The reason we closed up was because we realised so many people in our community had lost their jobs and everyone was in this real world of uncertainty,” Al says.

Unlike the national bushfire emergency that struck over summer, when Al and Twenty Fifty-Two mobilised to create some artwork and coordinate with his bushfire-affected friend and long-time collaborator Subterraneous Screen Printers to produce a t-shirt that raised money for the relevant charities (they raised $8,500), COVID-19 is a different sort of problem.

And for Al, the solution isn’t a GoFundMe page, or a new piece of merchandise. It’s simpler than that. Al just wants those loyal to the shop to “take care of themselves,” rather than buy anything from him.

For 10 years, Twenties has made a good fist of selling products with purpose – thousands of skateboards, hoodies, shirts, socks, and caps from brands like POP, Butter Goods, Babylon and Carhartt, as well CityMag favourite – Pass~Port.

As a venue it’s hosted book launches for photographers, gigs for hardcore bands and, as we’ve revealed in this story, Twenty Fifty-Two has been a community hub for people who need someone to hear them, to share a coffee with, or the occasional beer and blowout.

The reason Twenty Fifty-Two has made it 10 years in the retail industry is because what it sells is a signifier of belonging to something bigger. And regardless of whether Al has a shop on Young Street in the city or out in Holden Hill – wherever he is – he’ll support those around him while he does.

 

twentyfiftytwo.com.au

Taking over Hindley Street at the corner of Clubhouse Lane. This picture Tyrone Ormsby

The new spot on Young Street next door to Elementary Coffee and The Commons Studio + Exchange

Lunch break from skating on Hindley Street

83B Hindley Street – where the B stood for ‘basement’

Filmmaker and long-time collaborator Jimmy Barry of Common-wealth

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