Q&A by Lexi Deverich and photography by Huey Melendez
Located on a charming, tree-lined street in the up and coming neighborhood of Roma Norte in Mexico City, is a boutique shop called Headquarter. We had a chance to sit with the store’s owner and buyer, Ricardo Campa, at his favorite nearby coffee shop, Constela Café, where we talked at length about his compelling story of over two decades in the fashion industry.
Ricardo would share with us moments of success and pitfalls he’s overcome along the way. We learned about the friendships he’s developed with some of the most notable names in fashion today like Eddie Cruz and Chris Gibbs, how he secured an account with his favorite brand, Jun Takahashi’s Undercover, traveling 20 hours to Japan only to be put on a 2-year waiting list for Neighborhood, his intentions to establish a name for Mexico City in the world of fashion, and much more. Check out our full interview with Ricardo below.
Lexi: Would you introduce yourself and tell us a little about yourself?
RC: Well my name is Ricardo Campa and I’m the owner of Headquater in Mexico City.
For me, fashion was always the way to represent what I want. I remember being in high school and we didn’t use uniforms, so you could see the difference between one person and the other. Some people have more money, have more style, and at that point in the 80’s there wasn’t many chances to buy good brands in Mexico. What’s funny was the people that had money in Mexico went to McAllen, or Laredo, or like someplace that –nobody does that right, I mean at least for this kind of fashion– but at that point I remember they said, ‘I’m going to go’ and I said like, it’s amazing. So I saw the difference between them and me. I used just Mexican clothes because my parents were probably like normal medium class– but I saw they wore some crazy Levi’s and pants that I never seen. So for me it was like, wow. Who are those guys that have the opportunity to dress like this, you know? So since then for me that’s what’s really important, like, if I can make money I will have a chance to buy brands that I like, to look different than the other ones. That was my first approach to fashion.
I started making my own T-shirts in the 90’s with my brother and selling them in the flea market that was only open during Christmas, like from the end of November to the first week of January. It was fun for me, you know because I was like 16 or 15, I met a lot of people, it was fun. And yeah since then I never stopped. I’ve had the chance to travel and that’s the reason my mind is more open. Because if you just like think only local, it’s like your mind is just staying in one part of a big circle– and for me it’s really important to think in complete circle. When I have the chance to go to the States I discover a lot of things, later have the chance to travel to Europe and have the chance to see other stuff that is totally different than in the States and totally different than Mexico. My first trip to Japan was like amazing, it really impressed me in every single way. One of my favorite designers is Jun Takahashi from Undercover. For me it’s not just the story telling he has in every collection, it’s the quality he has in all products. And that’s what I learned from Japan, that for them it’s very important that the quality is there. I don’t want a customer spend a thousand dollars then after the first wash its quality isn’t there anymore you know.
So all the experiences taught me what I want to show in Mexico. I want to be the best store in my country.
Lexi: Can you tell us what it’s like to be a buyer?
RC: I remember my first time in the United States trying to buy brands legally. Here, a lot flea markets they would buy illegally and sell it here. I wanted to be official of course, but when I first was talking to the brands in the United States they wouldn’t sell to me because I’m from Mexico and a lot of people copy brands and they don’t want that– so I remember showing them pictures of my shop and they said, ‘are you sure this your store,’ they didn’t trust me. In the late 90’s and 00’s I sold more Euro and American fashion at that time, and it was good for me. So when I discovered more stuff I kept moving, I never get stagnate on one area or thing.
When I first opened [Headquarter] I said, I want to buy stuff that I like so if I can’t wear the item then it’s not on the shelf. Over the years I understand that the customer is just important as me. So I think, like, I might like these three pieces, but they might like the other ten. So I would get like three of the pieces that I like, and then five that I feel like they would like, and always changing you know. Like now, in 2021, I think about everything. I talk to my girlfriend a lot, and I like to listen to my employees and customers a lot.
For example, I’m 48 and most staff is late 20’s early 30’s, so they’ll come to me and say ‘check this brand,’ and of course I check it and look. So what I’ll do is buy three pieces to check out the quality and check out the details. Images can be really nice, but for me the story and images isn’t enough. I need to be able to actually feel the product to make sure it has a good quality to be at the shop. So that’s the way I work. I listen to people then check it out on all platforms, and I travel. I started to go to Japan to check out brands, then people told me go to Paris to check out all the showrooms, so that’s what I do. And as I’m doing all of this I discovered Ader Error, A Cold Wall– I was looking for brands. But for me, the interesting part isn’t having a bunch of brands at the shop. It’s to build long term business relationships. Some shops like to work with 40-50 brands, but for me it’s better with only 15-20 so I can have a good appearance of the brand in the store, not just a few pieces you know. I want to have a collection so it represents the brand properly in the store.
Sometimes the pieces I really like I can’t sell here, for example the Undercover collab with Evangelion. The jackets will be 6 to 7 thousand U.S. dollars so nobody can buy it here probably. You see their website, and yes it’s sold out, but here it’s 120,000 Pesos, and that’s some people’s 6 months rent or more. I want to have Evangelion here but I can’t just buy T-shirt and crew neck, because then people will only be able to see a small part of the collection and not the full thing you know. So that’s how we work– we check the collection see what’s affordable and what I like there. But now brands are also hardcore sometimes because they’ll ask for minimum so you can’t buy whatever you want. They make you buy a certain amount to have them in your store.
Lexi: Can you talk about the importance of the networking, relationships and developing them with the liaison of the brand?
I developed trust and a relationship, you can’t just ask for favors.– Ricardo Campa
RC: People sometimes think opening a store is easy, like just have money and that’s it. I have luck because I met people when I traveled. I met with Eddie Cruz from UNDFTD and Chris Gibbs from Union, so they helped me a lot. I invited them to my opening here in Mexico. But in that travel it was Peter Arbelaez, he worked for SSUR in New York – he’s from Colombia so he speaks Spanish – I met him in the 90’s in New York, and he would talk to me about Bearbricks, and a bunch of stuff I didn’t really know. He also introduced me to people like Berto from Supreme, Chris, Eddie. At that time Eddie was the Union owner and Chris was apart of the Union Stüssy team. I remember at one dinner Eddie asked me what brands did I want in my shop, and I said, well, I really want Neighborhood and Visvim. So he sent emails to them. And that’s the way it works sometimes you know, one door opens three doors. So when I met the people from Neighborhood I developed trust and a relationship, you can’t just ask for favors. They realized me and my shop are for real and legit, so they began introducing me to other people. Now it’s easier because people see I have Undercover, Neighborhood, Visvim, Kapital, Comme Des Garcons. It’s easier to trust because for them they can see ‘ok there is something there.’
“and that’s the way it works sometimes you know, one door opens three doors.”
But back in the days I would ask for help and get rejected. I remember sending 30 emails to Neighborhood and they didn’t answer. They honestly didn’t answer until Eddie Cruz contact them for me. I remember a crazy story going to Japan to visit Neighborhood. They ask me ‘how long was the flight,’ and I told them 20hrs – and they said ‘oh you’re crazy so you just came to visit us?’ And I said, no like I really want Neighborhood in my shop. So they ask ‘what other brands are in there,’ like, ‘do you have Supreme?’ And I said no. Then he said, ‘right now we’re not selling to other stores, you’ll have to wait until I can travel to Mexico and feel the vibe there because for me I have to make sure Neighborhood fits.’ And I said [to myself] like dude, I traveled this far because you asked me to and now you’re telling me no until two years from now. He said, ‘I can’t travel until two years from now, but we can start a relationship. You can contact us if you need pieces for yourself and let’s just keep our relationship.’ I said this is crazy because this isn’t the way we do business back home.
So after I return to Mexico, I didn’t really contact them much, just every now and then to check in… and I remember one day on the second year he contacted me and said, ‘we’re opening new accounts three in the world and one is in Mexico so do you still want it?’ And I said yeah and he said, ‘ok cool so the first rule is we don’t sell by email. You have to travel to Japan every season to see the collection in-person and you have to come every 6 months, do you agree?’ And I said yeah– But the way to work with Japanese brands is it’s difficult because the Neighborhood exhibition might be today, and WTAPS next week, then Wacko Maria a month from that. So it’s difficult for me because I cannot go to Japan 3 or 4 times in 2 months, it’s almost impossible. In Europe they put all brands together. You go for week and you see everything. Now, with the pandemic, they did bend some and decide to work by emails.
Lexi: Have there been difficult moments that you feel you learned something from?
RC: In this industry I learned a lot, and it’s like, when you make a mistake it costs you a lot. I made a mistake once with one brand and they treated me bad, they were really upset. They said, ‘you asked for this brand and we give it to you for 4-5 seasons,’ and then one season I couldn’t buy, and they said, ‘NO you placed the order so if you can’t get it you’re out of every line we have.’ So I waited until they got back to the level I wanted and I contact them, but they remembered me. And even after I explained I understand their feelings and apologized and asked for another chance, they said ‘we’ll see.’ So after a process of sending stuff around, luckily they did give me the chance so now I’m working again with them. It’s not easy. Sometimes the store sells really well or sometimes it doesn’t. The Mexican Peso fluctuates a ton so it’s difficult with conversions sometimes selling to the consumer. I’m constantly checking the value of the Dollar, Euro, Yen, etc. because the Peso always seems to be going up and down you know. I remember talking to companies like, yesterday my Peso was $18 and now it’s $22 so can you understand, and they said yeah they understand but they still say ‘you placed the order so you have to buy it.’ But what I learned in Flea Markets is that you have to be fast and smart and see everything and understand everything.
I moved to Canada to open a Headquarter in 2004 and I remember one guy told me ‘dude opening a business there is a lot,’ plus I didn’t understand the rules. I brought workers from Mexico and they sent them back. I was thinking, why pay $20 an hour when I can pay them Mexican Peso? But of course that didn’t make sense in a first world country. I remember a guy telling me though that you have to wait until the fifth year to make money. If you can go for the first 4 years working the business in the 5th you’ll make money. So I developed rules for myself. When I opened the shop it was only sneakers and toys, but Canadians thought it was a gallery and I would tell them it’s a store. The Asian people of course understood and they would buy the stuff, but sometimes it would be one or two customers for an entire day. So I exercised the rules for myself and wouldn’t eat until I sold something. Sometimes that would be afternoon, and sometimes it wouldn’t be until about 8PM. It all depends on when the first sale was. I was there for 10 years and I appreciated the way I worked there.
I had to leave because the rules of the country. They sent all the Mexicans away, so when I tried to get a work permit and return they wouldn’t give me the permit, no matter that I had a business there. I understood because Mexicans had done some illegal things with the permits– asking for refuge benefits even though they might not be. So when the Government put all Mexicans out, I went through the process of getting the permit again this time in Canada and they kept saying no, so I went to Seattle to see if America understood my case– I had my business in Canada and couldn’t even go there and they said, ‘no worries you can have your company there but you cannot go to the country.’ So I became depressed and eventually closed the shop there. I thought about it and said I was appreciative of the experience and enjoyed it, but if it’s not the time for me there it’s not the time for me. So I decided to just focus totally on my Mexico shop. I came back from Canada in 2015, but yeah, those are some of the problems you sometimes have.
Lexi: Do you have an opinion on the term “streetwear”?
I grew up on the street, I sold clothes at the flea market you know. I love the idea of the fashion when you walk on the streets because the fashion there is different than at a fancy concert or dinner.– Ricardo Campa
RC: I grew up with the term so I like it. I grew up on the street, I sold clothes at the flea market you know. I love the idea of the fashion when you walk on the streets because the fashion there is different than at a fancy concert or dinner. So for me that’s the idea. I like to skate back in the day. I loved the wheels sound on concrete. For me an important term was always “Tribe” you know that Stussy says, and it always made sense just to be on streets with your friends and talk for five six hours. That made me be a part of the street and street wear. In the 80’s and 90’s there was places you could go to discover music, it was a little bit of everyone – all the punks, people that like ska, cyber punk, industrial music, but everyone dressed different and the reason everyone was there was connected through music. I remember discovering Nirvana there, Ministry, Front 242. I have a friend in Los Angeles that is Mexican, and he’s been there for 15 years, and it’s funny, we were talking and were saying, in life what makes you interesting is knowing about everything – music, fashion, food, travel – because it’s what makes you different. If you only talk about one thing it gets boring. You want to tell people go check out this food, this new album, new brand, a new place. I travel to this small place in whatever country, and the opportunity to share that knowledge makes people a part of the tribe you know, and I like that the fact that people can be a part of the circle.
Lexi: Do you have any predictions or hopes for the future of fashion in Mexico?
I want to make my store better, make the people that work with me better, make people know my store in other countries…I want to do everything I can to change that and make the difference. The problem is the companies don’t help much.– Ricardo Campa
RC: It may sound selfish but I want to always be productive so I don’t think much about the scene in Mexico. Of course if a new store opens I go check it out, but I try to focus more on ‘what can I do’ because I can’t change everything, only what’s in possibilities. So I want to make my store better, make the people that work with me better, make people know my store in other countries, I never want to be only local. For example when I say Slam Jam people know they are from Italy, when I say Haven people know they are from Canada, if I say Union people know they are from Los Angeles, if you say Headquarter not a lot of people know that we are the store from Mexico because we’re not as known on the global scene as we deserve. I want to do everything I can to change that and make the difference. The problem is the industry doesn’t help much.
In Canada, I met all the people from Hypebeast and some of them hung out with guys from Haven, and I remember how much promotion Haven received, so I asked, do you pay for that help? And they said ‘no it’s more of a friend thing.’ But back in those days Hypebeast would always post Collette, Union, Haven and that makes a big difference. I always send information to them and they’ll say we already posted from whatever story Union, Haven, etc…and I said yeah that’s the problem. If you start posting a store like Supply from Australia or Headquarter in Mexico, Belief in Russia etc, the scene can be more complete.
I also say to companies in the sneaker game, like, why would some stores have like 10 collaborations with you? I love them and enjoy them but they get 10 shoes and we’re in the same industry at same time and working as hard. But the companies don’t look at Mexico at the same level for some reason. Now, actually, a lot of people are beginning to say Mexico is a key city and I always ask, if we are a key city then give us what the key city needs– check out the Mexican stores, designers, culture. I have a lot of fans that love Ronnie Fieg, and for me I’m not the biggest fan, but I respect him because he has something. Every brand works with him and it’s success– but why not look for things in other places? I told Nike in a meeting one time, this guy [next to me] does all the concerts in Mexico, so what if we do a curated collection influenced and inspired by music and do limited edition stuff you know? He’s sitting right here but you don’t do anything. Why do we have to wait for someone from somewhere else to do something first? Imagine Adidas Mexico, Nike Mexico– of course it’s a win win because people will notice who is this bringing new ideas. Maybe in the future. That’s my dream. So we will keep working, keep knocking on doors, doing collabs – maybe with Angelo Baque, maybe with Chris Gibbs. We can just continue to push things to be bigger. I think that’s so important.
“Maybe in the future. That’s my dream. So we will keep working, keep knocking on doors, doing collabs – maybe with Angelo Baque, maybe with Chris Gibbs. We can just continue to push things to be bigger. I think that’s so important.”