An interview with Outlier: A brand paving fashion’s future through design

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Outlier. A clothing brand based out of Brooklyn. Since 2008, founders Abe Burmeister and Tyler Clemens have been rocking the fashion scene, digging (and dominating) their own niche where form meets function. They believe that clothing should be liberating. Outlier is no stranger to the site, Bobby has written about them before. But seeing as I’m based in NYC, I decided to pop over last week and have a peek at the studio. Lucky for me, they’re super cool dudes and were happy to oblige. After speaking with Abe, my suspicions were quickly assured: there’s more magic to Outlier than just the clothes.

Originally, Outlier hit the scene making clothes suited to cyclists. The brand quickly grew and adopted an approach that centred around fashion for motion. Since then they’ve been sourcing the best fabrics and applying them to everything from outerwear to backpacks, bracelets, shoes, and much more.

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You’ve probably never come across their clothes in store, they sell almost exclusively from their website, a platform they helped pioneer for clothing distribution. There’s a lot of “pioneering” going on over at the studio. If Outlier had a tag line, I’d suggest “Push It,” not only because Abe said it countless times but also because it appears to be a core value fundamental to everything they do. To shed some light on this, here are some select moments from my chat with Abe.

You were a designer before, yeah? How’d you get into this then?
I just couldn’t find any of the pants that I wanted. It was two sides, really: I was destroying my jeans, which was frustrating. But then I also wanted something I could wear to meetings. There was no substitutes, there was nothing; all the outdoor stuff had logos all over it, it was loud, it wasn’t comfortable. Where was the design?

At that time, did you have any experience with clothes?
Nah. Thinking about them. I was at work, for years with an animation studio. I was in New York, partners in San Francisco. I got rid of everything and had just one carry-on bag. That made me think about clothes a lot, but I didn’t make them.

How did you learn about the fabrics then?
We read textbooks, history books, travel a lot, and are always going to different fabric fairs. A lot of it is just knowing what you want. I guess we had some sort of instinct, or curse for quality [laughs], because we were able to very quickly find the good stuff. At first it was easy, but now we’ve mined the space a little, so we’re visiting these industrial textiles shows, stuff like that. As we’ve grown, we can actually work with mills now, which is new for us. We’re able to develop fabrics, so we’re making shirts with that.

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Testing? Do you test them at all?
Oh yeah, definitely. All the time. It’s a continual process but testing is key. We do these experimental editions where we open up the testing process. You know, there’s only so much you can learn yourself, so we let people buy small runs of the stuff.

Very cool. I’d say you’re very forward-thinking as a company, from pushing the web store to these experimental test-runs. Would you agree?
Sure, yeah. You know, we got lucky. The clothing industry was really late to the internet. We took inspiration from brands like Finnisterre and Rapha. We looked to [Finnisterre] because they were another store who were using online-only to push better product.

How about the web store then? How did that fall into place?
Well, it never launched, but I had basically built this blog driven website for this shop when I was a designer. Thinking if you could sell clothes through a blog, put up a new thing every week, every month… I sorta took the thinking there. So, the internet is a huge part of it really. Allows us to sell direct. Going back to the beginning, I had these pants, I knew they were awesome, I knew other people might be into them, or at least, I knew I loved them and suspected others might be into them too. So, I did the research and quickly realized if I tried to wholesale them these are going to cost like $560 at Barney’s, right? And I had just never bought $600 pants before… That’s not how it works. I can’t make a product that I wouldn’t buy, that just doesn’t make sense to me.

What are your plans for future products then?
We really just want to make amazing stuff. We try to stay focused on a few things but keep pushing. Sometimes it’s about going back to other products and slowly improving, making another version and another version. Focusing on details, trying to get parts of it perfect, always improving, “can we get better buttons? What can we do now?” So there’s that, but also the need to experiment and play around. We always like to play around with different stuff. See what we can create. Just to mix it up.

You guys collaborate a lot, you’ve done the sneaks with Feit and now the Bandana with Dan Funderburgh’s designs. How does that usually come about?
Well, with the bandana, Dan is a friend of ours. We started looking at digital printing, and what we could do with it. Printed t-shirts had gone out of control, they just didn’t seem exciting, there were like a million brands doing silk-screened shirts and we wanted to find a way to do something different. At some point we started thinking, “bandanas, as a vehicle, a canvas” and Dan was really into it. So, fabric wise, we discovered linen versus cotton and digitally printed onto it. That was cool.

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I wanted to ask about the photography you guys do…
Again, we got really lucky. Emiliano [Granado], he was an early customer and wrote to us when we were still working out of our living rooms… He wanted to be a professional photographer, his job wasn’t creative enough for him. It took a little bit to get to where it’s at now, like shooting the right style…

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You’ve got a really cool look, a sort of “action look-book” type deal going on. How’d you end up there?
As we progressed we learned that it wasn’t just about biking anymore but people moving, so we tried to get that organic motion in there. That’s what separates our stuff from, like, your more traditional fashion photography.

We usually shoot in natural light, pretty much always have some sort of organic motion there. With photography we have to keep pushing ourselves too. We went from bikes, to natural light, to motion, and now we’ve just started doing shots at night, which are awesome. So, we always just keep trying to push it, try new things, not become stale and keep challenging ourselves.

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Abe insisted I try on a pair of the Dungarees, and let me tell you, I’ve never worn something like that before. They were weightless, ultra-flexible, and oh-so-stylish. I immediately realized how their philosophy influences their product, and how substantial that can be to a brand. As a team, they believe that the world needs less design, that designers owe it to themselves to wake up and commit to this idea everyday, to truly create things worth creating. “Honestly, commitment, and learning from history are our best tools,” says Outlier. Amen, words any creative can live by.

If you’re in the New York area, Outlier hosts an open studio every Friday. It’s a chance to have a look at the studio and also try on and purchase their products. I highly recommend dropping by, the entire experience was very inspiring. Thanks Outlier.

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Nick Partyka

August 28, 2013 / By

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