BEHIND THE HELM WITH CHAD HELM
Get to know the faces behind The Helm.
Chad Helm is (obviously) one of the co-founders of The Helm. Since day 1 he has been traveling the globe to find unique, interesting brands to bring back to our home base in Edmonton.
We asked Chad a couple questions so you can get to know him a bit better.
How long have you worked at The Helm?
We opened The Helm in August of 2012. I’ve always liked retail, and especially men’s clothing. This industry has always been fascinating to me.
After 3 years working in Europe, I realized that there was a sense of complacency amongst the established menswear in our city, and I thought the men in Edmonton deserved better. But for the most part The Helm was a passion project.
A lot of people would look at retail as being lower on the rung as a career choice, but consumer retail is one of the biggest industries globally. I thought it was very interesting that someone could make a living selling things that are cool and unique.
What got you into the world of menswear?
Ever since I was quite young--probably grade 6 or so--I started taking a keen interest in clothing. As I became older my interest in men’s fashion continued to grow. When I was 18 I was offered a modelling contract in Greece, which I took.
I flew to Athens and was there for 2 months, but the contract didn’t go well. I didn’t work much, but the experience was amazing. After that I came home and continued my career path in the trades for about a year, expecting that my modelling and fashion opportunities had expired. But I was offered another opportunity to travel to Milan for fashion week in January of 2006. That trip went extremely well. I worked Giorgio Armani, which ultimately was what opened my eyes wide to this business.
I ended up staying in Milan and working with Armani, Zegna, Gucci, and other designers for about 2.5 years off and on, and that got the ball rolling. When I came home it was right after the financial crash of 2008, but I still had an interest in retail and fashion. I went back to school with the intention of getting a business degree and opening up a retail store. 3 years after that, The Helm opened.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I start around 8-8:30 in the morning, and the first thing I do is try to make a list of all the things I have to accomplish so I don’t lose focus.
The first hour of my day is spent planning and responding to emails, then I typically have a chat with the marketing team, and then the store opens. Mornings can be quiet, so I use that time to catch up on buying. As the day progresses, I’ll help with customers, making sure that their needs are met, and all of the goods are flowing in and out of the store accordingly.
What’s your favourite part of what you do?
I love the relationships with the clients and with the vendors, I also really like the business side of retail. The flow of product, the planning and strategy that goes into it.
The travel aspect is big, too. When I was younger and working in the trades there was a lot of travel to places like Rainbow Lake and Firebag. They were spending weeks on end up there and I remember thinking to myself that if I got into retail, the travel would take me to different destinations. Being able to see new things every few months through travel is great.
What’s your favourite item in the store right now?
The Ermenegildo Zegna down-filled overshirt. It’s super understated but anyone who puts it on instantly feels masculine and sexy.
What’s one of your favourite memories of working at The Helm?
I vividly remember the first two weeks of business--the amount of fear and excitement that was swirling over those two weeks. I remember having our first busy Saturday 2 weeks in, and it relieved some of the pressure and validated our efforts. It was exciting.
Most recently I think our trip to Solomeo and up to the Zegna mill in northern Italy were some of the best experiences to date that we’ve had. Seeing these people who are taking what was a passion project of theirs and turning it into enormous, well-run businesses is really inspiring. I love seeing how it all operates and how the people at their side are helping them execute their vision. I found it exciting to see what the possibilities are when it comes to this business.
What's the meaning behind the rooster in the logo?
The rooster symbolizes the dawn of a new day--a fresh start. If you dig into Portugeuse and Chinese culture, they look to the rooster as a symbol of prosperity and integrity. It really resonated with me
The rooster reflected our vision in a very precise way. Men deserve better, and we had an opportunity to step up and show men in this city something that was new but that they could relate to. The rooster encompassed all of that.
What do you look for in a brand when it comes to buying for the store?
Purpose, substance, and depth. Every quality brand has a story, and they’re doing it for reasons that are beyond just making cool products. That’s crucial. With casual wear I’m looking for things that are fresh, new, unique, but also approachable and relatable.
Quality takes the forefront in all cases. We’ve had a lot of calls from manufacturers that do well globally in the younger, more contemporary sportsworld that we’ve turned away. Even if the look and price point were there, the quality wasn’t up to our standards. We have made a point to stick to our laurels when it comes to quality.
Do you have one foolproof style tip?
Tuck your shirt in when wearing a blazer, please.
An overall philosophy of mine is that clothing, for the most part, should be kind of fun. Often people are too worried or they overthink it. Your clothes should express different sides of your personality, so don’t be scared to try things that are a little outside of your norm. It’s not permanent.