PSFK Talks to Abe Burmeister, Co-Founder of Outlier Tailored Performance Clothing

With cycling’s recent surge in popularity as a commuting alternative, it was only a matter of time before the clothing caught up. We spoke with Abe Burmeister, co-founder of Outlier, on the line’s inspiration, futuristic textiles and good ideas for public transport in 2009. Describe the inspiration behind the line. Was it born out of […]

Talk us through the creative process of getting the line up and running. How did you pick and test materials and cuts? Any details on the manufacturing process?

We call our design philosophy a “future classic” approach. We are looking back to learn from history, but also looking forward towards innovation. We aren’t “trads”, but often we find we learn as much from how things were done in the past as we do from the high tech “innovators”. We read history books and look at old clothing catalogs, and then we go off to fabric shows where mills and chemical companies show off their craziest new stuff.

We really approach the garment making process in a way more akin to graphic or industrial design than traditional fashion design. It’s very iterative, trial, error and a whole lot of testing. We don’t make seasonal garments in the sense that we only are selling them for 3-6 months. We make garments that we want to be as wearable decades down the road as they are today.

In terms of how we started its all about New York’s garment district. I started out knowing nothing except that the clothes I wanted did not exist. And then I just wandered around the garment district asking questions and roping in whomever I could find to help. The garment district is a fantastic place, a reminder of why people live in cities, because you can make things happen in the course of walking down a block or two and pulling all the pieces together.

The only piece that really wasn’t available in the garment district was the fabrics, none of the core fabrics we use are found at all over there. But oddly enough we take a very old New York rag trade approach when we head off to shop for tech fabrics, and that’s that we shop by “hand”. We touch the garments, rub them, look at them in the light and then look at the tech sheet. In the outdoor industry people tend to read the specs first and make a lot of decisions on that. We care about that side too, but only if we are assured the garment is worthwhile even without some laundry list of features. These are garments you could sell from any angle, based on their style, their comfort, or their technical properties, in short future classics.

What are some of the textiles you’re working with?

We are pretty much 180° away from the mainstream clothing industry, which runs on cotton and polyester. We work mainly with nylon and wool. There are a few European mills doing amazing things with “soft-shell” nylon weaves, creating directional fabrics that wick and breathe on the inside and resist water on the outside all based on the weave of the cloth itself. Add in some of the nano and water channeling treatments that have been developed and you get some incredible fabrics that look great, feel great and perform incredibly.
On the flip side of the high tech is merino wool, which is coming back strong. Merinos are finer wools than the itchy stuff people associate with wool, and it out performs nearly any tech fabric when worn against the skin. It insulates in the cold and wet, cools you off in the summer and wicks away sweat better than anything. All that plus it’s super soft and doesn’t smell.

How will you be incorporating feedback from your audience to inform future lines and products? What has the reception in the cycling community been so far?

We are very active in soliciting user feedback, as well as implementing an official testing program. We are working with Snap Delivery ( http://www.snapdeliverybk.com/ ) our local neighborhood courier and food delivery company, so those guys are out testing our stuff day and night and in all sorts of conditions. I basically wore nothing but our pants for two years so with that product we’ve got a great sense of how it performs, although we learn things from other users all the time.

We also are about to start doing a series of experimental releases. When we are reasonably happy with a product but haven’t been able to test it over the long term we will release a small run at discounted prices for the people who want to get in on the new stuff before it’s official. We should actually be starting that the week of December 15th, so look.

As for how the cycling community as reacted, so far it’s been great although we still are way off of the periphery of that world so hopefully the positivity continues as more people learn about us. We did get our first hate mail today though, from what you could call the “helmet fascists”, who were upset we’ve run some pictures of people on bikes without helmets. For the record though I actually wear a helmet about 80% of the time I ride…

Any good ideas for public transport and/or bike friendly urban spaces in 2009?

First off I can only answer this one personally, not for Outlier. My personal pie in the sky idea is that on street parking should be banned entirely. We devote somewhere between 20-40% of most public street space to parking cars. Make that space into a loading/unloading only zone and suddenly you are going to have much more efficient and smooth flowing streets for both cars and bicyclists. And the idea that we should be using so much public space to subsidize storing cars is a little absurd when you step back from it.

I’m also quite a fan of Hans Monderman, the Dutch traffic engineer who unfortunately died earlier this year. His core theory is that a lot of the traffic infrastructure we have is designed not to actually make streets safer and more usable, but to make us *feel* safer. Walking across a street at a stoplight feels safer than walking across at say a yield sign. But this feeling of safety is actually incredibly dangerous, as it puts people in situations were they pay more attention to the traffic infrastructure than to the situations around them. So if you take a way a mass of the lights and speed signs and what not what you end up with is a much safer place!
His ideas have actually been implemented in towns and small cities in Northern Europe with great effect, but they’ve yet to be tested in big cities or real suburban sprawl, so there is a lot of unknown to them.

On a very different scale, I’m quite interested in seeing what you could call a “helmet infrastructure” develop. Back in the early part of the 20th century, nearly everyone wore a hat, and there was quite a culture and infrastructure developed around hanging them up. Hat checks in restaurants and hat racks on trains, which you can still see on the Metro North commuter trains here in NYC. When cars started taking over though hats made less sense, you were rarely outside exposed to the sun or rain for more than a couple minutes, and hats literally don’t fit well under the low ceilings of cars. So they went out of style.

Now that cycling is rapidly become the best way to move through a 21st century city, we are left with the question of “what do you do with your helmet (and bag) when you arrive?” Right now the answer is basically “deal with it awkwardly.” But if we assume cycling continues to grow at the pace it has been the past decade than you have to assume that cyclists are going to start wielding enough social clout that people will want to cater to them, and you’ll start seeing things like helmet racks in stores and restaurants again.

Thanks, Abe!

Outlier

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