Meet Ian Stewart Daniels of Shop The Finest in West Los Angeles

Article by

Today we’d like to introduce you to Ian Stewart Daniels.

Ian Stewart, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I’ve always had a passion for clothing. Perhaps having been born and lived in Los Angeles my whole life this may be considered unusual. However, my mother tells me that my first inclination started when I was less than 2 years old whereby I began pushing her away and selecting my own clothes to wear. This passion continued all throughout school and several years after college having been in other businesses I sort of stumbled into fashion in my later 20s.

At first, I was selling vintage clothing and accessories wholesale when it occurred to me, “How can I risk losing all of my money and have zero free time, I know, I’ll open a retail shop!” Haha The shop was called Planet Americana and opened in 1996 on Abbot Kinney in Venice, that I joke, “Was Abbot Kinney before it became ABBOT KINNEY!” The clothing was a mix of perfect condition vintage clothing, everything even laundered or dry cleaned, mixed with American based and focused brands of new clothing. In 2000, I moved to Main Street in Santa Monica. I kept the store on Main Street until 2006. Simultaneously, starting in about 2001, I began selling luxury goods on eBay as a side business. For 4 years I took $0 money out of the business to try to keep it growing and growing.

Ultimately when I got a new landlord for the Main Street store who increased my rent 250% I decided I don’t want to be at the mercy of landlords any longer. My real passion was in selling very exclusive men’s Italian handmade goods that are quite literally the best in the world. Now, 15 years later, I would say Shop The Finest has the most refined selection at the largest discount with the best service in the entire world. All the goods are from Italy, sold at 60 to 70% off retail, and yet we are still arguably one of Los Angeles’ best kept secrets!

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
If anyone tells you it has been a smooth road, the person is either lying, forgetting, been insanely lucky or a combination of the three! It’s always a struggle as a small business to tap into the right resources. Shop The Finest’s business is 80 to 90% online, the other 10 to 20% is by appointment in our West LA space. Therefore, while the company is born and bred in fashion, we are mostly an internet based business. I started in the days when people would say, “Do you have a website?” Now every single person will say, “What is your website?” The best solutions are at an enterprise level which is hard to reach as a small business because either the cost of the solution doesn’t work with the volume, or the level of expertise that is required to execute is difficult to acquire. Someone I very much admire often says, execution is the game, and the market doesn’t care. Meaning, yes there are tough challenges, but no one really will ever care as much as you and you must face them with complete optimism and determination. If I were to say what is our current greatest challenge, I would have to say not remotely enough people know who we are and the incredible value and quality that we represent.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Shop The Finest – what should we know?
I wasn’t always comfortable saying we are the best. I knew it, but it seemed that it was something you shouldn’t say aloud. It was arrogant, or conceited, or vacuous. However, at a certain point, maybe 5 years ago, I decided that we are, and if anyone says we aren’t then either they don’t know what they are talking about or they are just flat out wrong. I am sure there are people who will think, who is this guy to say that, however, I have been in fashion for over 20 years, I’ve been all over the world and I am completely comfortable saying it to anyone. When I say anyone, I truly mean I would say that to anyone!

We have over 30,000 pieces under one roof of the finest Italian brands in the world for over 60 to 70% off retail. We have a great team of people here who love to help clients get things that they will love to own, wear, and make part of their daily lives. My staff and I would rather tell someone not to buy something than lie to the person, and later on they think, “WTF, those people don’t care about me, they just wanted the sale”. That kind of behavior in retail disgusts me. I view clients for life. For example, we recently had a client in who bought a suit. He said to me, “You know, the last suit I purchased from you was 15 years ago.” I immediately exclaimed, “The black Cesare Attolini, right?” Who cares enough to remember that, virtually no one.

Two of the things that really separate myself which are very innate to me are, firstly, the passion for the clothing. Secondly, the passion to serve. I don’t mean this in a subservient way, I mean it in a way that I truly have a passion for helping people feel like they really “scored”. I joke, “I wish I knew me before I became me.” Meaning, I had to invent this business so it could exist to give our clients an amazing selection, great prices, and wonderful service. This can’t be faked year after year after year, and I love when I see my staff giving our clients this same genuine feeling. It really makes me proud.

Other than that, I think my proudest single moment of the last year or so was when we started to receive the first goods from a brand that I am the Creative Director, Fiori di Lusso. I’ve never opened a bottle of champagne in the showroom to celebrate a business event, but the day when the first collection of shoes arrived, I felt VERY proud and the moment needed to be marked and not just passed by so my staff and I had a toast together on that day to recognize it.

What do you like best about our city? What do you like least about our city?
I love Los Angeles! I think for the sheer beauty and lifestyle that can be achieved here. I still remain extremely appreciative of the amazing weather we have and the openness of the city. I’ll never take it for granted that we can feel the sun on our face a remarkable number of days per year.

What I like least are the insane real estate prices. We have an enormous city, and while I’m very aware of economist Alfred Marshall’s famous economic discussion and graph of price elasticity and demand, the cost of housing in Los Angeles has FAR outpaced what people are earning. It’s nuts, and while I know it is what it is, it’s unbelievable how 1 to 2 million dollars buys nothing here that special.

Do you feel like our city is a good place for businesses like yours? If someone was just starting out, would you recommend them starting out here? If not, what can our city do to improve?
Yes and no. Yes, because we have a population in the greater Los Angeles area of nearly 19 million people. Additionally, our city is easily accessible and a pleasure to visit from anywhere in the world. It is very common for clients who travel here on business or vacation from both the United States and Internationally to make an appointment and/or fly in specifically to see us even only for 1 day. I virtually never hear complaints of people who come to visit, as a rule while people may not want to actually live here, they love to visit LA.

No, because we sell both formal and casual clothes. However, casual in LA is shorts, flip flops, and a t-shirt. Most likely all 3 of them well-worn and very often in need of replacement due to fit and/or condition! Haha Seriously, it is a form of good manners to dress well, and while I know people can do whatever they want, they should not wear the same thing to clean out the garage, as they do to a nice dinner, as they do to visit a friend’s home. It is far too common in LA for these lines to be ignored and blurred. The good news for an emerging brand focused in denim or t-shirts is they have a huge audience because of this.

I think the city needs to aggressively be more business friendly and not tax its businesses as a means of solving the city’s financial needs. The city has to stop burdening the owners of properties financially and therefore forcing landlords to have this incredible increase of unaffordability for commercial properties. Lastly, we need to lead the country and follow through on proposals such as a 24/7 digital ecosystem. It’s already coming, why not get out in front of it for everyone.

Contact Info: