Kelly Slater is known for smashing records and smashing formulas. The 11-time World Surf League champion, who changed his sport forever and simultaneously brought it to the mainstream, is breaking the mold yet again with surf-inspired menswear label Outerknown.
No matter your familiarity with the sport or culture of surfing, you’ve undoubtedly heard of Kelly Slater. Few sports can point to a single athlete’s contribution of his stature. Mr. Slater broke every competitive record in every condition, all over the world. And he did it while riding unique boards in new ways, combining power and agility and aerials while hitting lines on waves no one before him could see or even imagine. Slater catapulted the once-niche sport into into the mainstream. Into the public eye. Into international relevance.
So in 2014, after rumors of his retirement swirled, followed by a sudden departure from 24-year sponsor, Quiksilver, the world simultaneously wondered together: what’s next?
It turns out Mr. Slater had a lot more in mind than slipping away into the surf.
Between chasing waves across the globe and commuting between his homes in Hawaii, Florida, and Australia, the nomadic 44-year-old announced last year the upcoming launch of his surf-inspired menswear line Outerknown. Officially released to market in August of 2015, the brand immediately received mixed responses, its detractors objecting to its relatively high price point compared to “typical” surfwear brands. But Outerknown is no typical surfwear brand. Bringing together function, style, and a zealous approach to supply-chain transparency and sustainability, Mr. Slater is doing business exactly the way he surfed: with unbridled passion and supernatural poise.
“I created Outerknown to smash the formula,” says Mr. Slater. “To lift the lid on the traditional supply chain and prove that you can actually produce great looking menswear in a sustainable way…the last two years have been a huge eye-opener for me. It’s clear now just how challenging it is for any brand to put sustainability at the forefront of their business, and I’m proud that we’re one of the few taking the lead.”
Many brands have shown that sustainability — despite being both a powerful force for good and a marketable brand anchor — isn’t actually sustainable if your product won’t sell. So Slater smartly joined forces with acclaimed menswear designer John Moore (currently notable for surf lifestyle label M.Nii) to help design Outerknown from the ground up. The two, who first worked together on VSTR (a short-lived label orchestrated by Kelly’s then-sponsor Quiksilver), have done great work. With the launch of their Spring/Summer 2016 line, Outerknown has released three impressive lineups of surf-inspired products that are coastal and casual, but refined in a way that “surfwear” generally is not. It’s more of a contemporary menswear line that’s reimagined through a surfer’s lens than anything else. It’s inspired and designed with the traveling surfer in mind, but eschews the bright colors, bold patterns, and overt logos typical of the category in favor of luxurious fabrics, a sensibly muted palette, and unique details.
Alongside of Mr. Moore’s design influence, Kelly also brought in the strategic support and financial backing of minority investor Kering — a Paris-based luxury group whose brands include Balenciaga, Gucci, and Stella McCartney. And he’s partnered with two of the more significant players in sustainability. Starting with the Fair Labor Association, Outerknown abides by a strict code of conduct that protects and promotes working conditions all the way through the supply chain. They’ve also joined forces with Bluesign, a partner that helps eliminate harmful substances from the beginning of the manufacturing process, often the place where the biggest negative environmental impact is made.
From organic cotton, hemp, regenerated Italian wool, and a recycled nylon called Econyl (made from recovered fishing nets), Outerknown is doing sustainability right. Even their garment tags and hang tags are water-soluble. And they’re doing it beautifully — alongside a transparent supply chain and exceptional dedication to sustainability, we’re happy to report that they’ve delivered on great design.
From striped baja pullovers and anoraks to pocket tees, slub organic cotton sweaters, and hoodies, the Outerknown line provides both wardrobe staples and interest pieces alike (see: the Arroyo Coat). Perfectly cut 4-way-stretch boardshorts feature pull-on-pull-off ease (in place of the typically bulky, multi-piece drawstring design), bidding you to dive into the ocean headfirst. Meanwhile, the water repellant Evolution Rainbreaker keeps you dry when water is the one thing you want to avoid.
There’s a lot to love about Outerknown. You don’t have to spend your mornings on a board in the ocean to appreciate a brand with equal dedication to design, construction, and Mother Earth. Whether your weekend involves catching a wave at Mission Beach or just grabbing an espresso in the Mission, Outerknown should be a strong consideration for your summer wardrobe refresh.