Numbers in a business context help us de-risk, strategize, and decide. But when we script, calculate, and plan everything to the nth degree, we lose something valuable. The excitement of uncertainty, the unexpectedness of connection, and the beauty of human inefficiencies are what make life enjoyable. The physicality of human imperfection is something many people return to despite all of modernity offerings and it couldn’t be more the case despite all the distractions coming through our little black mirrors.
A digital-first world has certainly aided certain aspects of retail, but it’s neutered the things that have made it interesting. The endless scrolling of thousands of products, merchandised against a white backdrop, abstracts away intentions and the reasons why somebody felt compelled to put an idea out into the world in the first place.
Tal Silberstein’s Colbo operates as a multidisciplinary story that beats to an entirely different drum. It’s not a concept fabricated through substantiated metrics but rather the perfectly imperfect approach that starts with translating personal interests and passions. Taste combined with a story underpins whatever makes its way through the door at Colbo. Located on Orchard Street in New York City’s fabled Lower East Side, the space is a coming together of clothing (both Colbo’s own label and those of friends), coffee, community, and a light draping of vinyl music, which ties everything together.
The beginnings of Colbo arguably started many years ago in Tal’s home of Tel Aviv. There, he ran a small record store that enabled him to turn a passion for collecting vinyl into a business. In Tal’s eyes, combining retail with vinyl collecting turned a hobby into a potential career. It was a hobby meets entrepreneurial opportunity that enabled him to sustain his love for music. These early retail and community experiences around music have followed Tal around. As you lay eyes on the store’s interior, the musical setup announces itself first. All laid out accordingly, speakers, vinyl, and turntables serve as a not-so-subtle hint that it is part of Colbo’s preferred method of connection.
His entry into music came through a pretty typical route: Tal’s father would make the most of his business trips out of the country, often bringing back a curated selection of vinyl that didn’t look or sound like the norm. It wasn’t your popular Top 40s but rather eclectic dance and disco music that would infiltrate Tal’s home system as his father turned his adoration for music into home buildouts and his DJ sets.
Tal’s musically inclined life would continue after leaving Tel Aviv for New York City. A career-defining stop at Public Records gave Tal more than enough to chew on. For many years, Public Records has been been a stunning example of how strong communities trump the inconvenience of a trek out to nowhere. These communally-minded moments with Public Records would fold in with Tal’s background, for Israeli culture is one steeped in hospitality. Colbo is the outcome of something that puts community and hospitality over financial motivations or ego. It’s a canvas for people to unite and connect over the loose parameters set out by Tal.
If the Colbo space is a place to enter and exit into a world built by Tal and the Colbo team, the in-house label takes it further past the events, the coffee bar, and the curated brands. It’s an opportunity to convey a sense of permanence to a customer. The meticulous detail further represents that in a sea of unlimited clothing choices in this world, there’s always room for something slower, something more methodical. Colbo’s label is meant to communicate the feelings and touch of another human on the other side.
The clothing to the touch is a mix of fabrics from all over, but most specifically Japan and parts of Europe. The hues speak to the landscape of Tal’s past in Tel Aviv. When you see the items displayed across a range, there’s a certain calmness in their cohesion. The hues are beautifully organic and never entirely forced. Everything fits together, and the consideration becomes apparent when Tal shares his process. Despite initially attending art school, Tal mentions, “I was very interested in making the clothes from scratch, choosing the fabrics, and choosing the fits. It’s so crucial for me to be around it, and just to be able to oversee the production, the development process and be there all the time, because also I work very intuitively.”
This idea around intuition emerges as the relationship of several key interests for Tal and subsequently Colbo. The hospitable nature of Israeli culture and Tal’s time spent in the country create a critically important foundation. Coupled with Tal’s self-professed interest in cults, including a half-year stint at a Hare Krishna community in Australia, a connective tissue begins to emerge. The clothes feel uniform-esque, perhaps with the monochromatic palettes. The openness of the space ensures all are welcome. Spirituality, religion, and hospitality all operate based on humanity. It’s the enjoyment of creating connections that, evidently, serve as the backbone of Colbo and Tal’s own mantra.
Much of Colbo is inexplicable and non-linear. For Tal, Colbo is a coming together of various intangible and cerebral perspectives. It’s about finding a way to connect the unexpected through multiple avenues and lanes.
“I couldn’t just do one thing. I can’t be just a DJ or a fashion designer, for example. It was always to have a holistic career.”
It’s multi-disciplinary for sure, but the exact connections will never hit you in the face. It’s about the weaving and creation of a story that one experiences as they walk through the doors.
As we turn back on the very thing that caught our attention the minute we stepped in, Colbo’s physical approach towards the speakers and setup is a reminder. Vinyl, turntables, and, of course, music are more than just the notes and lyrics emitted. “It’s cultural, and it’s the physicality of music. You can listen on Spotify, but you don’t get anything except the actual sound of your ear.” At a time when we’ve been told that an increasingly digital world will take over our lives, Colbo is a reminder that physicality is still a preferred method to connect.
It wasn’t that long ago that we questioned whether we would return to old habits post-COVID. And for the most part, certain things did. No, we didn’t want to report to an office that filled our schedules with mindless meetings and mediocre interactions. But time spent with exciting experiences, good friends, tasty food, and outstanding retail? Bring it fast and furious to make up for lost time. There was undoubtedly a gamble that Tal and the team took when Colbo opened in times of uncertainty. But the ability to connect and serve each other will never lose relevancy.