Loving cycling and looking good as we do (and, of course, people who’ve seen us can argue our success in either), one of the brands that has really caught our attention is Outlier. Making “Tailored Performance” Pants in New York City, the company balances the needs of the office with that of the road. There’s ample true style thrown in, so the bar isn’t far off the mark either.
Today, Outlier has released two new items, the Wool Lotus Trouser and Cap. Wool just happens to be a traditional cycling fabric (and dress pant fabric to boot), and Outlier have supplied the performance portion in the form of a Lotus treatment that keeps them dirt and water resistant. The cap is lined in a cotton and poly and produced by Victor Osborn.
In celebration of these new items and to learn more about Outlier, we caught up with Tyler and Abe the guys behind “Tailored Performance.” Head to the jump to read it and view further details of the new products.
SL: The basic impetus for the Outlier Pant is pretty simple. A balance of looking good, and grappling with the elements. Tell me a little about your backgrounds, and how needs have manifested as a collection of trousers.
Outlier: The simple answer is we both we were looking for these clothes, couldn’t find them and we decided to make them.
Abe: Neither of us has a background in the industry. I started thinking about these pants years ago, when I had an animation company with partners on the other side of the country. I basically lived out of a carry-on bag and was always looking for garments that both matched by style and traveled well. After that company shut down I settled back in New York and started riding my bike everywhere. I also started destroying a pair of jeans every month or two. It was those days when I wanted to ride to meet clients and wound up on the train instead because I couldn’t show up looking like I needed too if I rode.
I basically started by wandering through the Garment District and asking questions. I was totally clueless, but it’s a pretty amazing place over there. When someone didn’t know an answer, they’d point me to someone half a block down and three floors up who did know. Eventually I had a couple sample garments made to fit me and wore nothing but those pants for almost two years, slowly tweaking them until they were good enough to start a real company around.
I had a name, a logo and a product, but I wasn’t quite ready to dive in. Then the manager of my local coffee shop, Gimme Coffee, connected me with Tyler. She somehow had figured out we were dealing with the exact same sort of issues and technology. I’ll let Tyler tell his side, but within a few weeks of that we went from some rough outlines to real company and it’s been crazy ever since.
Tyler: I was coming at the same problems at the same time, but with a different angle. My goal was to make clothing versatile enough to wear in NYC but technical enough to hold up to extreme environmental conditions. I wanted to make clothing that could perform for rock climbers, cyclists and travelers, yet with a classic tailored look. So I started development and coincidentally was using the same Schoeller fabrics as Abe. By the time we had our first official meeting it was very clear that we complemented each other very well.
I wear my OG’s to climb at the gym, cycling or whatever I’m up to.
SL: “Tailored Performance” follows the previous question — tell me a little about the fabric sourcing and technology testing process that has gone into the creation of Outlier.
Outlier: One of our suppliers once told us we shop like old New York garment industry buyers, with our hands, while most of her customers just read the feature list. It’s sort of true, we do lead out with the hand, if it doesn’t feel right and drape right forget it. But we really are for sense fabric buyers, it needs the right hand feel, it needs to look good, it can’t hold stink like many polyester tech fabrics do, and we don’t do loud laminates like gore-tex either. We haven’t quite got to the point where we care what our fabrics taste like though…
That’s basically it, there are tons of tech fabrics out there with feature lists long enough to make John Holmes jealous, and we go sort through them and find the diamonds in the rough. On the testing side it’s pretty simple, make a sample and put it on people who ride their bikes hard. Because we do it all locally we can iterate and test very quickly and we take advantage of that. When a garment survives a few months and riders are still saying “this is great” then we can go forward.
SL: We are unabashed fans of Rapha, a company that you may draw some comparisons to. How do you feel you fit into both the fashion, and more importantly perhaps, the cycle market?
Outlier: We actually look a lot more to a different clothing than either fashion or cycling, and that’s workwear. Our philosophy is that we are striving to create future classics. Garments that don’t just last for a season but last for decades. The Levis 501 is the gold standard here, it’s a garment that’s been copied a million times and with just a few tweaks, works just as well today as it did in the gold rush. Company’s like Filson, Pendalton or Pointer Bros are similar, they are making the same core products they always have, and they are still great.
Our core market is right at the intersection of a lot of vectors. At the core we are about two things, living in the city and moving freely through it. We strongly believe that bicycles are the best form of transit for the 21st century city. They get you there faster, and they get you there feeling better. You need to look good cause in the city you are surrounded by people who have nothing to judge you by but by how you look, but they also need to perform if you are caught in the rain, hold up the stress of circular motion, and be able to resist all the dirt and grease bicycles occasionally kick at you.
Market wise we are starting with a tight core, people in cities who ride and reaching them via the web. From there we are looking to grow organically. We’ve already started talking to cycling shops and are working with the ones that understand our style of cycling as transit. A lot of the industry is focused on races, long rides or blasting down mountain. Of course we are down with all that, and occasionally participate, but that’s not how we relate to bicycles on the daily so we are working on carving out a small little niche in that industry. We actually think our products will be great for people well outside that core, we already have customers who buy them for things like capoeira or simply as better pants for business travel, but we want to keep our focus tight on cycling in the city so that we can really tackle the problems involved properly.
We haven’t pursued working with anything on a more fashion orient tip yet, and right now we are taking a wait and see approach. With the right partners we think we could thrive in that space, but we are looking to build something long term and not dependent on that constant season after season demand for quantity and surface change. We are building our brand around quality and craftsmanship and we think we can build relationships with customers that don’t fit into many boutique business models.
SL: Pants are in, hats on the horizon… what’s next?
Outlier: We don’t like talking about too much until we’ve tested it well enough, so there is a lot in development we can’t get into. But we can tell you to expect a few things. One thing we will be doing is releasing some of our experimental stuff in limited test runs, so that people have a chance to get in on stuff early. This will be stuff we are 90% certain is great but it needs more testing, and if you are willing to take a risk on it, you can get in on that testing before it’s widely available. We’ve got a couple of things like that dialed in for December so stay tuned.
We also are moving towards making clothing that works for different body types. There has been a huge demand for a woman’s pair so we are working on that. But we’re also making versions that are molded around a couple common cyclists body type. We have a “kierin cut” in the works for the sprinters, the dudes with major thigh muscles that have trouble finding any pants that fit at all. Then there are the climbers, the crazy skinny mountain goat dudes that blast up mountains like it ain’t no thing.
Can’t say much more except that we aren’t going to release things just cause, an Outlier product is always going to exist for a reason and that it fills a need and works better than what is already out there.
SL: Making everything close to home (in this case NY) has obvious appeal. What, though, are the difficulties associated with keeping it all local?
Outlier: Well we are really lucky to be in NYC cause the old garment district is just a fantastic resource. The only real draw back is price, and the fabric we work with is high end enough that even that isn’t a major issue at the moment. Working local means we can visit our factory at any time, see the working conditions, see how the garment is progressing and do some serious quality control. It lets us iterate and test constantly and since it’s New York the solutions to most problems that emerge are usually just a down the block.
The one thing we might struggle with down the road are some of the newer production techniques, there are things you see in the really technical outdoorwear garments that just can’t get done in New York and if we start needing that stuff we’ll begin looking out of town. We’re also looking at doing some production closer to where the fabric comes from, which of course is also keeping it local, but in a different sense.
SL: Favorite rides?
Outlier: 1st Ave! We do occasionally do some of the NY classics like out to Nyack or Montauk, but on the regular there is nothing better than blasting up 1st from Allen St all way past the UN. It’s wide and clear and fast as hell. Stunning way to start off a morning, especially combined with crossing a bridge from Brooklyn. In the summer time the ride out to Fort Tilden in the Rockaways is also a classic. That’s one to take nice and slow with a basket bike packed with a beach picnic. You wind up at one of NYC best secrets, a proper ocean beach hidden behind an old Army base, and there is no parking for cars so there is actually room to enjoy it.
Tyler: I also love to get out the city and really get into some nice mountain bike trails. Bend, OR has some of the best and beautiful single track that I’ve ever rode. Tucson, AZ at the foothills of Mt. Lemon is also another favorite. So many cactus hazards and fast dirt trails. Love it!