Leaders that Lunch

Leaders that Lunch

In the weeks leading up to Incu’s 20th anniversary we sit down with

sit down for a long lunch with Brian and Vincent to look back at Incu’s story so far and contemplate what’s still to come as the company continues to serve up its special brand of retail.

Brian and Vincent Wu, the twin brothers who have humbly built Incu into one of Australia’s foremost destinations for designer clothing, have something they’re even more passionate about than fashion: an excellent lunch. In fact, over the 15 years I’ve known the brothers and the 7 years I worked with them, I think we may have spent more time talking about where and what to eat than we did about new season collections. So many milestone decisions at Incu have been dreamed up, solidified, and celebrated over food. That’s why, in the weeks leading up to Incu’s 20th anniversary, it felt fitting to sit down for a long lunch with Brian and Vincent to look back at Incu’s story so far and contemplate what’s still to come as the company continues to serve up its special brand of retail.

The Beginning  
It was 2002, a mixed-up era in fashion characterised by low jeans and big belts. It was the year Rei Kawakubo sent pug prints down the runway to much acclaim and Helmut Lang redefined minimal power dressing at the same time “Legally Blonde pink” was born into existence. 

Brian and Vincent remember this time well. “We were young back then,” Vincent laughs. “We were both in IT and didn’t really like corporate life. We wanted to do something different that we were passionate about. We were very naive and thought, ‘Let’s just do something we love instead of putting on ties and going into our offices every day’.” 

A couple of times a week on their lunch break, the brothers would meet in the park that connected their offices, drink chocolate milkshakes, and dream about starting a shop together. Inspired by their travels and love of international labels, they knew the idea was something worth exploring. “We were lucky to travel a lot when we were younger, especially to Hong Kong where retail and shopping was such a huge part of the culture,” explains Brian. “At the time in Australia, we felt there was an opportunity to create a retail experience that resonated with local consumers in the same way; a place people would love to come and hang out.” With this in mind, Vincent was the first to quit his job and from that moment on the brothers didn’t look back. 

A New Vision for Retail 
Incu’s first store opened in The Galeries later that year. It was a small space compared to the 529 square metre store the brothers opened in Chadstone Shopping Centre in March this year, but no less meticulously thought through. “When we were looking at opening the first store I remember going to our landlord with our concept and a huge business plan,” says Brian. “We were so naive. I know now that no one does that but, for us, it was so important to show we’d considered every detail.” It was this naivety mixed with a drive to build something exceptional that would come to characterise the early years of Incu. “From the very start I think we knew the potential Incu had and we like to think we continue to push the limits of where we can take the concept,” says Vincent. “I’m still very much of the mindset that we lead with our gut feeling and then we back it up with data and insights. We started Incu because we wanted to create an amazing customer experience and ultimately I think we’re still trying to pursue this and perfect it.”

A Collaborative Spirit 
Another founding principle of Incu was the desire to build community; to create genuine connections with customers, brands and, importantly, the team of people the brothers had rallied around them. One of Incu’s earliest employees, Doug Low, is now the company’s Chief Executive Officer and continues to play a defining role in Incu’s direction. “It's hard to find someone who you trust and implicitly know they’re looking out for the business,” says Brian. "Doug understands both of us really well and he’s always found a way to execute our ideas in the right Incu way," adds Vincent. 

Outwardly, Incu continues to work with and represent a stable of well-respected international brands. However, two of the company’s earliest collaborations are still some of the most memorable — with Marc by Marc Jacobs and Topshop taking up residence in a concept space above the original Paddington store between 2009 and 2011. 

On bringing Topshop to Australia for the first time, Vincent remembers: “We knew Topshop had collaborated with the retailer Opening Ceremony who we really respected. We reached out about the possibility of bringing them to Australia and got turned down multiple times. It took a trip to London to finally secure the deal.” These partnerships would solidify Incu as a versatile retailer who understood and leaned into the changing cultural landscapes both in Australia and internationally. They would also open the door for ongoing collaborations with leading designer brands including A.P.C., Rag & Bone, and GANNI. 

An Optimistic Outlook 
As we sit together finishing the last mouthfuls of our fish curry across the road from Incu’s Head Office, it’s evident the business has continued to evolve rapidly over the years. The office itself is currently under renovation to allow for more desk space and the brothers are proud to employ over 230 people who operate 13 stores, including 3 Rag & Bone sites and A.P.C.’s Melbourne flagship. 

It’s also evident that there’s a sense of nostalgia for the early days of the business and a desire to continue building the brand with the same optimistic energy. “One thing that will always remain the same is the dialogue that Vinny and I have about balance,” explains Brian. “In everything we do it’s important that it feels unique and nuanced while also ensuring it’s commercial enough to be financially viable.” 

As lunch comes to an end the brothers fall into an animated back-and-forth about a new opportunity with Nike and a list of brands currently on their radar for the stores. In this moment I think we’re all transported briefly back to 2002. Back to the park between their offices and the countless conversations, not dissimilar to this one, that have propelled Incu forward over two decades.