11-time World Surf League Champion, Kelly Slater and acclaimed designer, John Moore founded Outerknown with the determination to design clothing with the highest regard for our planet and the people they work with. Products from Outerknown not only reflects the wearers’ styles but also their values. That’s why it is ranked one of the highest in our list of Remake-approved sustainable brands.
After a successful start in menswear, Outerknown just launched their women’s line this March. We are so thrilled to share with you our interview with John Moore and Bethany Mallet, co-founder and head designer of Outerknown. Scroll down and get inspired by the stories of them being part of this great sustainable fashion brand.
Tell me more about Outerknown. What inspired you to co-found this brand?
JM: You can’t unknow what you know, and I’ve seen a lot of ? over the last 25 years. The negative impact fashion can have on the environment and the people making our products is immense, so the opportunity to reverse some of our wrongs and start making a positive impact is our driving force. I’m looking my kids in the eyes every day, and it’s their future we’re messing with.
How would you describe the Outerknown aesthetic?
JM: Clean, unadorned, and easy. There’s nothing complicated about the Outerknown aesthetic. Throw it on and go! Extreme versatility is what we do for men, and that’s what we’re doing for women.
BM: California’s southern coastal cities have an ease to them that is reflected in how we style and color the clothing at Outerknown. We want to make effortless basics that our clients can dress up for the office, or dress down for the weekend. We strive to craft the perfect fundamental pieces men and women want in their wardrobe.
What were you doing before you co-founded Outerknown?
JM: I’ve been working in and around fashion since the mid-nineties, and I was operating my own design agency when we started talking about launching Outerknown with Kelly Slater back in 2013.
When did you first become interested in sustainability?
JM: I originally started sniffing out more responsible practices around 2008 when I went into business for myself. I began collaborating with artists and designers that shared a vision for more meaningful and lasting products, and only sourcing and making products locally with suppliers I knew. Around 2011, I began collaborating with Kelly Slater and that’s when we really started talking about all the ways we could incorporate sustainable innovations into our design process. I credit Kelly with driving this uncompromising sustainable vision as a priority for us when we originally started talking about Outerknown in 2013. We started looking deeper at the materials we were using, the harmful waste we were creating, and we began looking for solutions and ways to minimize our impact. Today, sustainability has become the core of everything we do at Outerknown.
It was at the inception of Outerknown that the sustainability conversation became more than just design integrity and quality of our products. Sustainability became something much more about the well-being of the people making our products and questioning the traditional norms of manufacturing.
What has your journey been like as a sustainable designer?
JM: At the beginning of the Outerknown journey, there weren’t many sustainable resources available. We began talking to everyone we could, visiting factories and suppliers, meeting with industry organizations like Fair Labor Association and bluesign®, and attending the various conferences where other brands and designers were congregating and looking for answers. Each meeting and factory visit was a new learning opportunity.
We have a saying, “don’t expect what you don’t inspect,” and this started in those earliest days.
Most importantly as a designer, you are only as good as the team around you and I’m really thankful to work with a tireless team of individuals (designers, merchants, artists and developers) that bring the Outerknown vision to life every day. Bethany Mallett is our head of design and she’s been committed to sustainable innovation long before working with us at Outerknown. Kelly and Bethany (and the rest of our team) live their lives the same way we build our clothes. That’s the key—surround yourself with the right people!
BM: A few years before joining Outerknown, I lived in New York and owned my own sustainable brand that was made in the USA and Peru. I designed the line with my little sister Jenna from 2008 to 2013. It was an amazing experience to craft well made products that were 100% sustainably and ethically made. At that time the options were very limited. It has been so exciting to see in 5 years how sustainable fabrications have really expanded. Experiencing an ongoing education in sustainability at Outerknown is amazing. Beyond the basics like organic cotton and hemp, there are some really cool things happening in eco fashion right now. We’re striving to be among the first to use technologies like biodegradable polyester. As much as I may know about sustainability—there’s always something new to learn on the journey.
Can you describe your daily routine? What’s your typical day like?
JM: I’m an early riser, 5:30 AM ish, so I get started early and don’t stop all day. My days are so incredibly overwhelming with family, school stuff, and back-to-back meetings that usually start at 10 AM until I run out at 6 PM. And hopefully a surf when the waves are good. My role is essentially working across the brand in all aspects of creative and artistic direction which usually includes conceptual design such as the visual storytelling of the Outerknown experience, launching new products, and brand collaborations. I ferociously take notes, and document everything around me with my iPhone…
BM: Some days the number of design choices I make in the office are endless. A typical day for me starts with yoga before work. Landing in the office with calm energy in the morning helps me dive in and be very focused on the day’s tasks at hand. A typical day in the office might involve: sketching, picking colors for the collection to review with the merchandising team, selecting fabrics for the collection, picking trims, leading fittings with comments for samples on models, reviewing tech packs and taking appointments to look at new fabrics from mills.
What is the best piece of business advice you’ve ever received?
JM: A wise leader I once worked for told me: “Don’t fuck with love.” Now I push forward daily with the following considerations—exceed expectations. Over deliver on your responsibility. Be there for others.
BM: “Life is like a coin—you can spend it any way you want but you can only spend it once.” Love what you do, and love how you spend your time.
Do you feel like marketing Outerknown as sustainable has helped or hindered your brand?
JM: Both. There’s a big responsibility that comes with committing to sustainability. Fashion is a challenging business and we made it a lot more difficult by committing to making all of our decisions with the highest regard for the people building our products and the planet we call home. All of these efforts require additional investment, so our products can cost a little more than conventionally made goods. With this in mind, we need to educate our customers and tell stories on why our products are made better, but not to the extent that we turn folks off. We can’t be preachy. It’s a very fine line. Make great products, tell inspiring stories, and have fun.
BM: I like to look at sustainability as the icing on the cake. The clothing is well made, looks great, fits great AND it’s responsibly made.
What are your thoughts on today’s fashion cycle?
JM: Smash the cycle. We work on our own calendar. Create without an expiration date. We design products we believe in and put them out when they are ready in monthly drops. We make great items, not extensive collections. We aren’t beholden to seasonal shipping windows, which allows us to make more responsible buying decisions.
BM: Outerknown is the fifth direct-to-consumer brand I’ve worked with. By having a focus on a direct relationship with your clients, you can deliver them higher quality goods at a better price. Although I do love the in-person experience of retail—direct-to-consumer is the wave of the future business.
How do you believe the fast fashion industry can begin to fix itself?
JM: By thinking about the end at the beginning.
BM: As textile mills with sustainable options scale and the prices become more affordable, more brands can adopt options that are both affordable and good for the planet. I hope even from mass retailers, clients will start to demand materials that are better for the planet.
How can brands manage their waste?
JM: Set achievable goals and start with small things internally, before you work all the way up. We have a company-wide composting process that everyone participates in which is fairly easy. Our long-term goal is to do away with all unnecessary packaging including plastic bags which is extremely challenging with global logistics and retailer compliance.
BM: Starting in 2020, we are partnering with a mill called Circular Systems to take our cutting room scraps at the factory and recycle them into a new material to make chinos. Nothing is wasted! It’s our hope to be able to roll this into more divisions and factories in the future so we can take full accountability for our waste in the supply chain.
What brands do you look up to?
JM: There are many brands, big and small, I look up to. Brands with a heart and soul using their platform for good. Too many to mention here, but Patagonia would be high on the list. I’m also quite inspired by larger brands like Levi’s and Breitling who are brave enough to break the mold of convention within their categories. We’ve been collaborating with both of them on various projects and their brand names transcend the industry. It has become very clear that real change and scaling sustainable practices will happen when big name brands lead the way. Also, look up Lauren Singer aka @trashisfortossers. Lauren’s vision for the Package Free shop in Brooklyn inspires me every time I consider the waste I’m responsible for, and the packaging of the foods I’m eating. Lastly, I’m a surfer and I use Manda Naturals when I’m in the water! I’m proud to ride Firewire surfboards because of their commitment to responsible innovation. Firewire is upcycling foam waste into paving stones, incorporating recycled materials and algae bloom into their accessories, and their surfboards will be Fair Trade Certified by 2020. How good is that!
BM: I’ll second John’s sentiment. To be thoughtful from the start to the end of a garment’s life cycle is a valuable lesson to take away from Patagonia as a business role model. Although we have really different clients, I think Eileen Fisher’s commitment to be 100% sustainable in fiber choices and waste free by 2020 is an amazing business goal. As good as we are, that push to absolute and ultimate sustainability is really inspiring!
What advice do you have for other designers interested in sustainability?
JM: Work hard. Work hard. Work hard. Commit to sustainability. Be prepared to fail. Pick up the pieces and try again. Relish in the little wins. You are making progress.
BM: Start by educating yourself. Sustainability and ethical fashion often go hand in hand, so knowing the right questions to ask for both people and the planet matters. There are fashion courses online that can help kick start a sustainability education; many are free which makes the process very accessible. For young designers, interning for a sustainable brand is also a great way to learn responsible buying practices and start to expand your network.
And now for some fun stuff. If you weren’t a designer, what would you be?
JM: Lost. ?
BM: Farmer. ??
What are some of your hobbies/things you do for fun?
BM: Camping, hiking, gardening… All the typical outdoorsy things that draw one to live in Los Angeles. ?
What is something nobody knows about you?
BM: Well, if I tell you then everyone would know.
Who would you love to see in Outerknown?
JM: Intelligent women everywhere, and my daughter.
BM: Me too! I want to see all of womankind in Outerknown.
Where do you like to shop?
JM: Outerknown.com, Rose Bowl Flea Market and various vintage dealers I have relationships with… Japan too.
BM: Tokyo and New York City, always.
What is your most favorite thing to wear?
JM: Pretty much always wearing something old with something new. Lots of vintage favorites and Outerknown staples like our Sojourn Tees, Blanket Shirts and S.E.A. JEANS.
BM: I have an insane dress made of vintage indigo fabric I bought at Ron Herman while travellng in Tokyo. I think I wore two to three times a week almost all of last year. I had no shame wearing it on back-to-back days in the office a few times. The vintage fabric is just that good!
How do you wear your values?
JM: We should strive to build beautiful lasting objects that capture the very essence of our current perspective, but will still look beautiful as vintage objects. Something that you can wear forever, pass it down, or just admire for its beauty. A carpenter recently told me that the trait of a kind soul is “taking time to acknowledge the small things when other bigger things are more important” so I’m trying to take the time to acknowledge the smallest of details in everything we do.
BM: Owning less and wearing vintage are key for me. As a general rule, I avoid “trends” and select a few well-made pieces every season that really speak to my personal style. Vintage clothing often is made with better materials than modern fashion—investing in vintage pieces and tailoring it for a custom fit is a great way to buy quality items and practice sustainability.
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Images: Courtesy of Outerknown
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