The view inside the Central Ave.-based Social Status men’s apparel shop. (Photo courtesy of Social Status.)
Located in Charlotte’s Plaza Midwood neighborhood, Social Status is a men’s apparel store, offering an upscale selection of street wear and accessories for the man with an affinity for fashion — one who is not likely to find the garments he is looking for in a typical mall.
“If you want to be different, then you usually don’t find that in the mall,” says owner and self-described “fashion snob” James Whitner. “The mall is kind of wack to me.”
Whitner’s Social Status private label began as a line of jeans, but has since grown to include varsity jackets, cardigans, T-shirts and fleece.
“We define ourselves as a denim brand,” he said. “But we do other stuff. The market pretty much dictates to us what we need to do … For example, if crews are trending, then we will take a crew [shirt], and we will do it our way.”
Whitner created his own line of stain-resistant and waterproof Social Status bomber jackets that are made of wool and premium leather by using NSW Destroyer jackets. These jackets retail for around $650.
In addition to its private label, Social Status also carries Comme des Garcon-Play, Billionaire Boys Club, PRPS, Nike Sportswear, True Religion, Play Cloths, 10Deep, Amongst Friends, Ralph Lauren, G Star, The Hundreds, Penfield, Strivers Row, and a number of other brands.
The boutique also sells footwear.
“Our sneaker business is becoming a machine of it’s own,” said Whitner. “Over the last 12 months, it’s spun out of control. It is its own animal.”
Whitner says about a third of his business is attributed to T-shirt sales. T-shirts at Social Status can range in price from as low as $20 to over $100.
“Yes, some of this stuff gets expensive,” admits Whitner. “But that’s when you go to the sale rack. In retail, something always has to go on sale. That’s the nature of the beast … When our merchandise goes on sale, it goes from regular price to 25 percent off and then straight to 50 percent off.”
Whitner, a native of Pittsburgh, did not have an easy upbringing. Both of his parents battled addiction, and he grew up in a rough neighborhood where many of his friends died before reaching adulthood. Yet Whitner did not use his humble beginnings as a stumbling stone; they were his inspiration. He said growing up in poverty greatly influenced his love of fashion.
“When you are poor, you can get instant gratification from looking good,” he said. “When you look good, you feel good. It takes you out of that state of ‘Oh I don’t have [anything]’ … In that moment when you put those garments on, you at least feel better. That warm feeling you get from looking good. I loved it.”
He said when he came up with the concept for his business, he didn’t think his hometown was the right location for his first store.
“I had heard about Charlotte,” he said. “So, I just got on a plane one day, and I flew down here … I watched the market. I started seeing how some of the areas were transforming. I saw that it was becoming a transplant city. It was a flourishing city.”
He opened his first retail store, Flava Factory, in 2005, which had two locations in Charlotte and closed last year when he decided to reinvent his business under the Social Status brand.
“I think the name [Flava Factory] scared some people away because it had urban undertones,” he said. “The market today is a non-urban market, versus where it was 10 years ago. Then, it was a very urban market, and the word ‘urban’ didn’t have a big black ‘X’ over it like it does now. I think that fashion is now colorless. We’ve come to a point where it’s all starting to mesh.”
Since launching Social Status in Charlotte, Whitner has opened a second location in Pittsburgh and hopes to open a third in the near future.
He attributes his ability to remain relevant in the market to a mixture of “instinct, a little luck and a lot of God.”
“This is a blessing,” he said. “Sometimes, I ride past the store when we are closed, and I thank God.”
Social Status, 1519 Central Ave. 704-632-9902. www.socialstatusnc.com.
Getting There: If you are departing from uptown Charlotte, CATS bus routes 17 (Commonwealth Ave), 9 (Central Ave), 39 (Eastway) can all take you to Central Avenue within fifteen minutes. Or take advantage of the CATS Park and Ride lots, which are located throughout the Charlotte-Mecklenburg region. For information about route schedules or to plan a trip from anywhere in the city, visit www.ridetransit.org.