The Secret to Akira's Success

Clothing empire boasts six locations in Chicago

By Marcus Riley
|  Saturday, Mar 28, 2009  |  Updated 6:49 AM CDT
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The Secret to Akira's Success

Akira's owners first met as students at the University of Illinois.

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The Secret to Akira's Success

24/7 Chicago talks to the minds behind the store that is dressing Chicago.
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So where do many of the stars shop when they're in Chicago? Our spies tell us an incognito Katy Perry in oversized sunglasses and a headband was spotted shopping at Akira Wednesday, scooping up an Akira dress, bangles and shoes. She also picked out a Ben Sherman shirt-dress.

Whether you shop there or not, it's hard not to notice this fast-growing chain. The red signs with black "Akira" lettering seem to be all over the city, especially the two block stretch of North Avenue in Wicker Park.

Akira boasts six locations in Chicago, covering everything from high-end men's and women's fashion, to shoes and urban street wear. But it's not just about the clothes. Akira has become somewhat of a cultural lifestyle in the city. Check out one of their wild fashion show parties if you need further proof.

The brains behind the operation is three friends who met while attending the University of Illinois -- Eric Hsueh, Erikka Wang and Jon Cotay.

But back then, working in the fashion industry was the last thing on their minds. Hsueh and Wang were into computers, and Cotay was pre-med. A few years after graduating, they made the leap into the world of high fashion.

"It started out as a hobby, then over time it became more of a passion, and to this day we breathe and live retail," Cotay said.

But what's it like trying to push cutting-edge fashion in the Midwest?

"I would definitely say that New York is probably much edgier, and L.A. has its Hollywood thing, but our goal over the past six years has been to put Chicago on the map fashion-wise," Hsueh said. "A lot of guys in the Bucktown, Wicker Park area come to get the limited edition shoes. The shoes you can't find anywhere else."

But often, high fashion comes with a high price. But the founders pride themselves on offering clothes at a variety of different price points.

"I think that in this economy people still want to look good, but they don't have the budget for it, but that doesn't mean you can't still look good. We're very conscious of giving a value to the customer," Wang said.

"We take into account what's out there fashion-wise, but we still put in our own value. Would I pay this much money for a certain shirt?" Cotay said. "Coming from a non-retail background I think helped us a lot."

Click here for Akira's locations and to shop online.

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