Removing Barriers — Outlier's Approach to Fashion
Brooklyn-based clothing brand Outlier upholds its name with great pride. Its unique perspective on design reimagines how we should view movement. It's a perspective beyond the prototypical approach to clothing. It considers tangible qualities such as physical movement and protection against the elements. More importantly, it integrates intangible characteristics that allow us to navigate social settings seamlessly. Outlier paired an innovative perspective alongside a direct-to-consumer approach. The results, consumers have been able to acquire the well-designed and considered product at reasonable prices. The end goal is, however, much simpler. It's about removing barriers. Where you see is where you'll ultimately be able to go. Outlier is the outlier.
By Eugene Kan
Travel is a powerful mechanism for understanding what makes humans tick. Engaging in foreign cultures opens the doors of empathetic thought as we educate ourselves on the beliefs of others. In preparation for travel, we often go through the motions of packing without heeding to the unexpected challenges ahead. It’s because we rarely see fashion and clothing as an enabler of experiences. Under the vision of founders Abe Burmeister and Tyler Clemens, Brooklyn-based Outlier set forth in defining movement. Their relationship came about through mutual friends but catapulted forward through the similar problems they wanted to solve in clothing. Sitting down at their Brooklyn studios, the tall, lean and clean-shaven Tyler sat alongside the heavier-set and bearded Abe which offered an initial contrast that would further shape as the day’s meeting went on. Tyler’s soft-spoken nature is a further foil to Abe’s confident and rapid-fire demeanor. Just as Abe and Tyler seem to be of contrasting personas, their unified desire to solve problems in clothing are the perfect parlay to rectify the existing and at times disjointed relationship many people have with fashion. It is one often based in a binary approach divided between functionality or aesthetics, rarely both.
Movement is the main proponent of Outlier. It isn’t to be considered in the traditional sense only but through a myriad of interpretations. In the early days, Outlier was positioned by the consumer as a bike-centric brand that offered office workers the ability to comfortably get on and off a bike before waltzing into an office. Abe and Tyler lamented this association. It was selling the brand short in its overall vision.
Abe errs on the side of frustration when he mentions that “cycling was a trap.” It was for the first year, very helpful and it was very deliberate… intentional. We focused on one problem set. If you focus on too many problems, you’re juggling too many balls. Then we got the point where people loved our pants but didn’t want to wear them because they didn’t bike. If we wanted to expand past it, we had to move past it and kill it. We don’t shoot on bikes, we don’t talk about bikes. It was needed [but], it was tough and it was painful.”
We're not selling an identity or way of life. We let you choose your own life. You can do what you want and the clothes will follow you and work.
From afar, you’re unlikely to associate Outlier’s offerings with innovation. Beneath the layers are subtle cues that take into consideration important problem sets based on “movement.” This simplicity sometimes goes unnoticed. Outlier deliberately moved past biking and in doing so are adamant about Outlier’s perception of not being a lifestyle brand. In the words of Abe: “We don’t see ourselves as a lifestyle brand. We don’t focus on it too much. Apple doesn’t care who buys it, they focus on making the best possible product. You can do whatever you want with it. It’s not like if you buy it you’ll look like a surfer or the hottest skater. You buy Outlier to open the range of your possibilities. We’re not selling an identity or way of life. We let you choose your own life. You can do what you want and the clothes will follow you and work.” It’s an interesting take when most strong brands in the modern era are predicated on selling a particularly idyllic way of life.
Outlier is about removing barriers to living your life as you see fit and never about influencing how anything should be worn. The brand is about enabling opportunity and redefining how we value and utilize clothing. The design rules upheld by Outlier are fairly understood when assessed individually. Woven together into one narrative, it crystallizes the path Outlier has chosen.
Each Outlier product often has three touch points in design: Body Movement — How clothing handles movement such as cycling or running for a train. Liquid Movement — How clothing handles elements such as sweat, rain and dirt. Social Movement — Moving between social spaces and how one interacts in an office versus a coffee shop or a park.
The first two components in body and liquid are obvious ones. Most offerings in any outdoor store fulfill these requirements with ease. That means jackets cut for climbing or the snow with waterproof breathable functionality that often embodies a very utilitarian aesthetic based on performance. The integration of social movement in fashion is a relatively new phenomenon. As Abe’s fun-natured persona comes through in explaining the product: “If you go into a restaurant like you just came off a mountain, they’re going to look at you funny.”
There’s a set of societal norms that dictate what dress is acceptable and what is not. To rewrite these rules are very difficult and to succeed, Outlier must operate within these parameters. But the space to experiment and engage is large.
It's painful when you're running a brand. People don't understand the act of creation. It's an insane amount of energy. It's not just a burst of energy, it's a sustained push.
Outlier’s self-instilled rules to design offered an unanticipated solution to one of creativity’s greatest inspirations, travel. Creating a product that serves multiple functions allows one to effectively reduce the number of items you travel with. You can’t say that Outlier pioneered the philosophy of traveling light. But respect is due to their desire and energy spent to provide the tools necessary to make it all happen and to paint a tangible picture of what it means to be hyper-mobile. Blending in seamlessly with the crowd with a minimum footprint is the true enabler of experience. The traveler who can maneuver in discrete fashion can elicit a more natural experience while never being deterred from moving off the beaten path due to unnecessary bloat.
The growth and development of Outlier have not been without further parallels to the world of travel. The unique problems that come with exploration have become a tangible way of expressing Outlier’s positioning. Abe begins by saying, “We’re always thinking how we can make our lives better. Travel is a big one. Being able to move freer and lighter,” which then gravitates towards his style of packing, “I’m a big believer of half-bag travel. If you travel with one full bag, what do you do if somebody gives you a book or a gift? I don’t believe in wheels because it slows you down. It speeds you up in the airport but slows you down [outside the airport].” This immediately makes sense as you think back to that last time you got lost on your way to finding your hotel in a foreign land.
An innate desire towards efficiency and choosing an uncommon route extends into other facets of Outlier. A core program of season-less bottoms and shirts among less-frequently-updated and restocks of outerwear anchor the brand. All items are sold outside a more traditional wholesale model. The idea of direct-to-consumer clothing was a rare concept when Outlier burst on the scene. It still isn’t as widely adopted amongst established brands who hold many years of wholesale networks and relationships. At the get go, Outlier had the vision (and in part the necessity) to trim the fat and provide an amazingly functional product with great fabrics, at a suitable price. The resulting effect is a product that exceeds the specs of a traditional wholesale brand that’s constrained by price. The clothing yields high value, but one that’s cautiously explained by Abe, “When you’re in that system, the best brands find their own hooks and angles but they can’t do performance without pushing the price. We decided to route around that [and] use higher-quality materials and go straight to people. Our stuff is not the cheapest but we deliver value. Some people confuse value and price. We want to give the best product for the price. We try to make sure there’s incredible value. If you’re buying a $200 pair of pants, you’re getting way more than what you’re buying down the street.”
A brand without a clunky wholesale program enabled an expedited evolution of the brand. It combined the deeply sowed seeds of discovery and experimentation with a platform that allowed for rapid iteration. Abe effortlessly states, “We’re trying to make stuff that resonates and persists. But some things are quick experiments. We play around with Outlier Public Prototypes that’s only on social [media]. It’s super fast and loose, and we can experiment and take risks and we don’t have to worry about it messing up the collection. We can do 30 [pieces of a run] and put it up on Instagram and our subreddit. ” Abe’s activity on the Outlier subreddit culling feedback goes straight into the release of new improvements and product on a season-less basis. The brand’s open approach with the Outlier Public Prototype program allows them to unveil a small run of items with the expectation of garnering insight and feedback while trying out new materials and new fits. Lasting memories are often established through a trek into the unknown, but this continual need to push into uncertain environments can bring with itself some emotional adversities to overcome. This can leave one lonely with questions that only they can answer.
In a series of stark words, Abe and Tyler nod in unison: “It’s painful when you’re running a brand. People don’t understand the act of creation. It’s an insane amount of energy. It’s not just a burst of energy, it’s a sustained push.”
You gain a strong sense of consideration from Abe and Tyler. Every move and every stitch operate not in a vacuum, but as an interconnected chain of events. The complexity of it all pushes them to adopt a mentality resilient to difficulty. From the sounds of it, their success has been built on the back of problem solving of big and bigger varieties. “I hate blaming other people but there are times when other people’s mistakes almost cost the business. Sometimes you just need to suck it up. We have factories that do crazy shit and looks like a $10-$20,000 mistake but it turns out being a $70,000 mistake. We just have to find a way,” Abe annoyingly states.
Choosing a brand’s name can often contextualize their meaning from the minute you’re introduced. Maintaining a valid brand that earns the respect of its peers and consumers is no easy feat but Abe and Tyler have taken it upon themselves to push the world of clothing and textiles forward in unexpected forms of movement. It’s true in the sense of design, its direct-to-consumer approach to retail but more importantly, it’s true in its philosophically different and complex definition of movement. Outlier is the outlier.
Tyler and Abe have uncovered problems and embraced the challenge and difficulty of creating something that “pushes to real problems.” Taking a role in helping to recontextualize fashion and travel is no easy feat. Its achievement allows for enhancement and more thoughtful engagement. Important goals and factors are surmounted and focalized. Running through Rio, stepping through the sidestreets of Seoul, or wading waist deep in water, Outlier removes the barriers to movement.