New York Islanders merchandise sales are skyrocketing. They’re three times projections, up 700% online and continually seeing double-digit growth to this day, even after the team opened the new UBS Arena in 2021. Don’t just credit a new team store, credit how the Isles Lab concept curates the fan experience.
Isles Lab, a concept led by Paul Price, now a fashion consultant following stints with Burberry, Topshot and others, and Jason Katz, chief brand officer and senior vice president of Value Retail (Islanders co-owner Scott Malkin owns Value Retail), created something new in the world of sports merchandise. And especially new for the NHL. Isles Lab combined sports, fashion, streetwear and fan involvement to build an ever-changing retail experience, both in-venue and online.
Even for a season ticket holder who attends every Islanders game, there’s always something new in the store. It could take the form of one of the 100 uniquely designed Islander patches to add to a customizable jersey or a one-of-a-kind hand-painted leather bag. Maybe it’s a candle the Islanders collaborated on for a team-specific scent or a team fan who’s now a vendor with her unique cap designs. The list is constantly growing. And changing.
“There is a great experience going on at the actual arena, and we wanted there to be an additional experience when you come visit the team store,” Price says. “Every single game we have new products. Whether or not people buy them or not isn’t the point, but they can experience something new and exciting.”
Isles Lab started even before the retail space built out. Katz says in early 2021 they noticed a major gap between NHL team merchandise and the popularity of luxury fashion and streetwear. So, they created a small online test, an initial collection of unique items designed with streetwear in mind put together in a couple of days. It sold out immediately. “The concept was much more popular than we had ever imagined,” he says. Isles Lab then debuted in the arena and by the end of the 2021 season it had exceeded projections by three times and was exciting the fan base. Celebrities—Maluma wore a custom Isles jersey during a concert and Shaquille O’Neal wore a 5XL jacket—and influencer culture have taken notice of the fashion and streetwear appeal.
The in-venue experience starts with the creation of the “boutique” concept retail. Taking inspiration from the 1905 Belmont Park, where the arena now sits, the shop is outfitted with vintage pieces that celebrate New York. Giant library tables from the 1920s make up showpieces, old library shelving houses Islanders jerseys. Paintings on the wall showcase vintage hockey and sections of the store feature pieces dedicated to the history of the team.
“You are not just shopping, you are traveling through time and getting the history of the sport while being entertained,” Price says.
Then come the products. And the range is intense. Customization sits at the center. With three different jerseys available—home, away and reverse retro—each one comes customizable with the ability to add names and numbers, along with 100 patches fans can place on them. But Isles Lab also wanted to turn traditional merchandise a different direction.
“How are we going to make the product interesting and exciting and engaging not only for existing fans, but also new fans? We are inspired from the street and fashion,” Price says. “You can go in and get your commemorative hockey puck or your jersey, but we wanted to add on a layer to that. How do we make that incredible and add in a sense of fashion that doesn’t exist elsewhere?”
It comes from a mix of collaborations, limited-edition products and one-off designs, ranging from $10 items to over $2,000. Collaborators come from designers in the New York area. Or Italy. They’ve repurposed vintage jerseys and made them into blazers. They have cashmere pillows, jewelry and hand-painted leather jackets. Many of the items only last a game or two, selling out because of the limited run and making way for the next collaboration or concept.
“We like to sell out,” Price says, adding they do always have the customizable jerseys on hand. “If you didn’t get it the first few games, chances are it won’t be there. We don’t want to see a bunch of product sitting there for eight games or 10 games.”
While not common, the team has even taken designs that didn’t sell and recrafted them into new products.
The fresh ideas keep coming. Price says they have a list of collaborations lined up for next season, from New York fashion students to big-name designers. “The more we get into it, the more ideas we have,” he says. “We have ideas for the next five seasons.”
Along with the small batch runs also come larger collections. The team’s 50th anniversary collection included a list of themed items. There was also the reverse retro jersey launch, a monogram look as seen in luxury design and a collection that repurposed old jerseys, bags and products.
“I think it makes it more authentic,” Price says about the constantly changing array of product and having Isles Lab as a storewide philosophy and not just a small corner offering. “There is something for everybody. An idea or collection is not designed for one group. If someone doesn’t want to spend $2,000 on a hand-painted leather varsity jacket, they can get a great T-shirt for less than $50 and be part of that and feel it. We make sure we have 100 times more T-shirts than the one hand-painted jacket, but when you walk in there are enough really special items scattered around that it makes you go, ‘oh, wow.'”
The new ideas come organically too. Recently the team did a jersey featuring hand-crafted crystals. It was an intensely expensive one-off, but Price says he saw people marveling at the sparkle. Then the team noticed a season-ticket member had a fun sparkle design on her Islanders hat and they found out she made it herself. Now the team has partnered with her, selling her sparkle-forward hats for $45. “One of our biggest fans is now one of our vendors,” Price says. “It is really fun working with her.”
For International Women’s Day in March, the Isles will team with a popular women’s jacket designer to sell the label’s signature blazers at an Isles game with specially developed patches. “Something like that is a fun collaboration,” Price says. “You just have to see if that feels right and if nobody has done that before. We are excited about trying new things, always.”
The Isles Lab concept extends online, where between 70% and 80% of the in-store product is also available. Even after a giant opening year, sales in the arena flagship are up 50% this season. Sales online are up 700%. Katz says it shows no signs of slowing down.
“It is its own event,” Price says about the store. “It is an event before, during and after the game. It is exciting.”