Work Harder and Keep Pivoting: An Interview with Saintwoods’ Zach Macklovitch

Photo from Saintwoods' Instagram

Saintwoods’ co-founder Zach Macklovitch is busy. He has a music blog, clothing line, vodka brand, and multiple clubs that are among the most popular in Montreal and Toronto. Saintwoods is the Montreal-based creative agency behind Apartment 200, École Privée and SuWu – clubs famous for their inclusive environment, cutting-edge conceptual design, and lines longer than Schwartz’s on a Sunday. They’ve booked previously up-and-coming artists like Avicii, Post Malone, and PARTYNEXTDOOR. Now, their small promotions company, founded in 2014, has evolved into a creative powerhouse. I sat down with Macklovitch to talk about his successes, failures, and what’s ahead.  

The following interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

The Bull & Bear: Tell us about how Saintwoods started.

Zach Macklovitch: I always wanted to be an entrepreneur. I started trying to find different ways to make money at a pretty young age. I got involved at Saintwoods when I was about 22 years old. I had already had a nightlife career independent from Saintwoods since I was a teenager. I was working on an event at the time, and I wanted the McGill community there, and that’s how I met my partner Nathan. A month later, we were business partners. After we got to know each other, we both identified each other as driven. We had similar opinions on what made an event great, and we agreed on [the direction] we wanted to be pushing the culture [in]. It just fit. I knew that this was the guy I could grow in my industry with. 

B&B: So, your background was club promoting? 

ZM: I was promoting, but at the same time, I started a clothing line when I was about 18. The line was all dress shirts and skinny chinos, rain jackets and sweaters. It was all made in Montreal. I lost a fortune, I had no idea what I was doing.

B&B: After you established Saintwoods, what were your first business ventures? What did you learn from them?

ZM: Back then, Saintwoods was doing concerts. I learned quickly that as much as concerts could make money, they could lose money as well. One of the first things I remember was an Avicii event we did in a Kingston hockey arena. We also did Meek Mill together, and it caused a riot. We did Waka Flocka together, and again, that caused a riot. 

B&B: What experiences do your venues offer that other Montreal clubs don’t?

ZM: I consider these places a safe space for all kinds of people. When we first opened Apt. 200, we were offering the first place for kids from all different backgrounds to hang out together — at least for this generation. We wanted to provide a place where you could dress up or dress down. You didn’t need to have money, and you could listen to cutting edge music and see artists as they were blowing up. We were able to offer these experiences to our contemporaries, younger people, and older people. It was a matter of creating a space where you could enjoy the culture — music, art, fashion, whatever — in an inviting place where you would maybe not meet your regular people. When we first started working in nightlife, there were either McGill parties, local Italian parties, or Haitian parties. The idea of all these people coming together didn’t exist. I was a local Montreal kid, and I would have never met a girl from McGill because there wasn’t an environment where I could meet her. Apt. 200 doesn’t encompass one culture; everyone can feel comfortable. Nightlife is born in counterculture. I like to say that the Saintwoods culture is a melting pot. 

B&B: You mentioned that nightlife is born in counterculture. Today, bedroom pop/indie artists like Dominic Fike and Clairo seem to be leading the next countercultural wave. How do you think this new wave of counterculture will affect Saintwoods?

ZM: I think it’s important that we offer different ways for people to digest music, and different ways for music to live in our space. I’ve always been trying to get more live music and live instruments at the bar, so I hope this new trend allows me to present concerts that are more that “9 to 11 vibe” where you come and see amazing live music and then stay for the party after. 

B&B: You booked Avicii before he reached international fame with the goal of introducing EDM to the college demographic. How do you manage to continually be ahead of the trend? 

ZM: Back then our whole ethos was a matter of finding artists. Nightlife and concert game was very different then. The only way we could survive in the market was by finding artists right as they were blowing up. Once dubstep got too big, we couldn’t afford to get dubstep artists, so we went to progressive house. Then, progressive house got too big so we moved on to rap and deep house shows. The second [that] mainstream culture gets onto what we’re doing, we need to pivot, which has been a wonderful learning experience for us.

B&B: Would you call yourself a culture company?

ZM: I would never say that myself, but I like to think that whether we are working on our own brands, or consulting for major brands, we try to make sure that if you’re going to interact with culture that you do it in the right way; you’re supporting up and coming artists, giving communities a place to live, and not abusing the culture. I think too many companies take an artist for all they’re worth and then just drop them like they are nothing. It’s not just a matter of booking A-list stars, it’s about supporting the culture you’re interested in. 

B&B: For your clothing line you have collaborations with iconic names like Nike, Opening Ceremony and even Wu-Tang Clan. How do you choose which brands you collaborate with?  

ZM: You don’t really choose Nike; Nike chooses you. Thankfully, the people at the Nike team believed in us, and they still do. They have been incredibly generous over the years. They didn’t just lace us up in new gear, they also brought us to ComplexCon and made sure we were at the right events. 

When it comes to collaborations, it’s always a balance. For example, we recently did a collaboration with Bone Soda. I remember when we released it, some of our contemporaries were like, “who are these guys?” I was like, it’s this amazing record label from London. They are so awesome, they always have their finger on the pulse. We wanted to introduce them to our clientele. The week after our release with Bone Soda, they released their documentary on Virgil’s Coachella set, and after that, a collab with Nike. To be able to have a collaboration with them before everyone in North America knows about them really means something to me. Not that it isn’t exciting to work with them now, but I find the feather in your cap is worth more when you are able to say, “I worked with them when” rather than “I convinced them to work with me now.” 

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B&B: When’s your next clothing drop? 

ZM: Our next drop is going to happen at the beginning of April. The drop is collection 009, and I’m really excited about that. We have shifted our manufacturing up and we’re going to be introducing some new jackets, shirts, and pants. We’re moving away from strictly comfort wear that we do now. I’m excited to see the way people react because the pieces our team has developed are fantastic. I’m really lucky we have an incredible team of full-time graphic designers and visual designers that are geniuses. When there are that many amazing cooks in the kitchen, sometimes it’s okay to take care of the front of the house.    

B&B: In January 2019 you launched Saintwoods Vodka. 

ZM: When Nate was at McGill, he took a business class where he launched the idea of doing Saintwoods vodka. So, the concept is around ten years old. One of the guys who originally founded Saintwoods is in the spirits business, so we had been talking about it with him. It took us almost two years just to find the right juice. When people look at the vodka, they compare it to our gum, where we just buy some stuff and put our packaging on it. However, they’re wrong. We’re extremely proud of the product we developed. The bottle that we’ll release in April is handmade in Italy. It’s super high-quality glass and custom-designed. Trust me, vodka tasting at nine am is not a fun thing … but we did it all. 

B&B: Do you have any career highlights, any moment that defined your career thus far? 

ZM: I have incredibly amazing cousins who have insane CVs and successes in their own right, one being the DJ A-track. I’ve looked up to him since I was eight years old. There was a moment when we were still doing the Fool Gold block parties during the Mural Festival. In the first couple of years, it was hard to get the ball rolling. One year, it just popped off. We did it and had fourteen thousand people there, and I remember he looked back at me and was like, “Bro, you did it.” That’s a moment I will never forget. Also, a couple of our Paris pop-ups during fashion week. [We do that] the pop-up in this small club called Hotel Bourbon. When I was looking around the room, I saw Skepta was at the bar buying drinks and Rae Sremmurd was on the dance floor; people were just hanging out. These people are coming to the Apt. 200 popup the same night as the Louis [Vuitton] after-party. 

 B&B: I know you have recently done pop-ups for Art Basel and Men’s Paris Fashion Week. What have those experiences taught you?

ZM: We’ve been going to Art Basel for seven years and Paris for probably six. So often, people say, “you guys are popping off right now,” or “you are growing so quickly,” when we have really been putting in the time, energy, and hours. These trips are incredible experiences, but it’s overwhelming, and it’s five days of four hours sleeps. You come home, everyone’s treating you like you’re on vacation, but you’re beat. It’s obviously awesome, but to be fully honest, when I come home from those trips, there’s nothing I want to do more than sit on the couch with my girl and my dog, watch a movie, and chill out. 

 B&B: You’ve done pop-ups in Miami and Paris. Are you looking to expand Saintwoods outside of Canada? 

ZM: Absolutely. We’re opening Apt. 200 LA in April. The lease is signed, demolition has started. 

B&B: Lastly, you run multiple venues and have numerous business endeavours. Do you have any advice for college students on how to manage time?

ZM: The best advice I can give to students when it comes to [time management] is that you definitely have more time than you think you do. I was a double major, and throughout my university career, I also worked full-time and had my side business. For me, when you’re in your late teens and early 20s, the excuse that “I’m tired” is only hurting yourself. I’ll be honest with you; I just turned 30 this year, and now I’m starting to get tired. Now I’ll tell you what tired is like. When I hear a twenty-two-year-old saying I don’t have any time, I’m just like, trust me, you have time. Maybe you need to work harder, delete Instagram, whatever it might be, but if you’re making excuses and you want to be an entrepreneur, the only person you making excuses for is yourself, in which case you shouldn’t be doing it.

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