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Q&A with Bureau of Trade

by Jessica Hundley June 14, 2018
ReadQ&A with Bureau of Trade

Looking to find an antique Moroccan dagger, a 1971 Royal Enfield motorbike or an adorable Dalmatian-Bulldog named Ace?

Bureau of Trade is your place.

A collection of merchandise that “men want most – whether or not they’re yet aware,” Bureau of Trade is the e-commerce brainchild of former Middle East analyst, menswear designer and editor Michael Phillips Moskowitz. Scouring online auction houses and traveling the world, Moskowitz’s refined eye searches for the exquisite, the eclectic and the elegant. These globally sourced scores become the ever-evolving selection at Bureau of Trade. Each is accompanied by a witticism and erudite conversation in lieu of pedestrian product descriptions. The combined result is an online boutique of clothes, cars and canines (and more) as unique as its creator.

What was your initial impetus for starting Bureau of Trade?

I was and continue to be quite an orthodox magazine reader and devotee. I worship print, but I live overwhelmingly online. Before starting the Bureau I found little coverage of the pieces I love and care most about: unique one-offs and oddities, story-worthy rarities new and old at prices people can actually afford – the local and the global flea. Men’s lifestyle titles cover everything new, but I wanted to leverage the power of humor and storytelling to deepen (or broaden) people’s appreciation for objects that really enrich our lives. Sites like eBay, Gumtree, Le Bon Coin, even Craigslist are vast repositories of cool finds, but they feel common and look unconsidered, cluttered, virtually un-navigable and sometimes maddening. I wanted to kill ugly, eviscerate ordinary and champion provenance, craft, design and beauty, and do this through a more approachable prism courtesy (chiefly) of humor. If I could – indeed if I can – help people learn something every day and laugh just a bit more, I’m convinced that we can earn people’s permission to make them lust after tangible things that really matter.

What draws you to a particular item when selecting for the site?

It has to be story-worthy, or a steal, or simply, patently beautiful. One of the three, and it ought to appear tied intuitively to the rest of a collection.

What is your background and how has that past experience played into this latest venture?

I started my career as a Middle East analyst and worked at think tanks in New York, Washington, D.C., London and at Stanford before abandoning the fold in favor of something less taxing: men’s fashion. In 2004, I co-founded a label called Gytha Mander that was acquired in 2006. I then co-founded a magazine where I served as editor-in-chief, followed by a short stint as a brand strategy consultant. I later joined IDEO, which I loved. To them I remain loyal and grateful. The path from analyst to designer to editor to consultant to this blend of e-commerce and content creator might look a bit peripatetic, but the unifying thread was always a deep, unequivocal desire to reach people – to write, to entertain, to sometimes provoke, hopefully to create a bit of thoughtful commotion.

Describe a Bureau of Trade client.

We don’t have a specific demographic. I’m inclined to think of our readers as more of a psychographic that’s skewing masculine to be sure, but not an army barracks in terms of gender balance. The Bureau is for people with a well-articulated sense of themselves: People who share a belief that purposeful purchases are important. Forget retail therapy. It’s about intelligent acquisition. I think Bureau readers share my view that what you consume (eat, drink, drive, wear and even sit in) telegraphs a message about who you are and what you value. (Or who you purport to be, as long as it’s conscientious.)

How does Bureau of Trade differ from other e-commerce offerings?

The sheer range of available products wrapped in our specific manner or style of storytelling isn’t found elsewhere. I think our voice, values and perspective make us recognizably different from other retail and editorial sites. Where else can you find an adorable Afghan hound to adopt, a ’67 Porsche for $15,000 and a taxidermy werewolf hand with which to wave at the moon or reprise Michael J. Fox’s famous role?

Are you the sole curator of the site? If not, how do you select and work with your curators?

At the very beginning it was me and me alone, but these days I’m in considerable debt to talented contributors around the globe. Some are generalists, others specialists, but everyone comes equipped with a superlative eye, courtesy of work, travel and study. They’re a phenomenal group and the Bureau is a reflection of us all rather than one single person.

How do you see the site evolving in the future?

The Bureau can’t just exist in the fleeting or ephemeral realm of digits and pixels. We have to bring it down from the ether to the corporeal realm that you and I inhabit every single day. At the moment there’s a cable TV show in the works, a private dining series and a quarterly publication under discussion. There will also be a series of live auctions in cities across the globe, slated for 2014.

You offer dog adoptions through the site as well.

Samuel Clemens put it succinctly, “Heaven goes by favor. If it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would go in.” We don’t have any commercial motivation or incentive here whatsoever. We just want these lovely and loving orphans to find forever homes. Is “life, acquired” (our tagline) a life really worth living without a devoted companion?

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