It used to be that our purchasing habits were defined not by flashy appeal or hurried necessity but proven design. We made a point of seeking out reliable stuff that we could hang our hats on (if it was an Eames) or set our watches by (if Dieter Rams was involved).
Sportswear was no different. Vintage sneaker silhouettes — the Nike Cortez, the adidas Marathon, the New Balance 576 — and the old-school track gear often worn with them still look as good now as they did then, because form followed function.
Stripped of bells and whistles, the core necessities are given necessary weight.
Canadian apparel company Body of Work doesn't do bells or whistles. It simply makes the world's finest small-batch sportswear, with a far-reaching vision that belies the tiny scale of Dwayne Vatcher and Brittney MacKinnon's homebrew passion project.
"For us it's so much about the craft," said Vatcher, a veteran of Canada's staple athleisure brand, Reigning Champ.
"We approach sportswear from an artisanal standpoint," continued MacKinnon, a former marketing specialist at Canada Goose. "We want to be the best, so everything is bespoke and designed by us — including the fabric itself. We're even grading everything to be unisex, which adds the additional challenge of trying to engineer a product that works for as many people as possible. Specializing is a dying art."
It is indeed. So many brands, especially in the fashion biz, are keen to deliver something for everyone, lest they leave anyone out in the cold (literally!).
Hence why luxury labels make athleisure, sneakers, NFTs, pet gear, home goods, perfumes, electric bicycles, and TikTok videos. If they aren't reaching for every single market, they're presumably missing out on potential moolah.
"This is not the most commercially viable way but we do what's good for us," said Vatcher. "I hope there are people that appreciate it but we aren't trying to go out of our way to translate. Like, if you get it, that's cool but, if not, we hope that over time you develop that appreciation. We're not trying to go mass."
"We can't compare to anyone else. We're aiming for a different consumer altogether, one that doesn't even exist yet, probably. People start a brand like, 'This is who we're targeting,' but we're like, 'How do we create a customer base around this idea?'"
In fairness, the general appeal of Body of Work's painstaking process does gel with some existing fashion niches. They just so happen to be mostly found in Japan.
These are the shoppers so exacting with details that when a Japanese site reviewed a Body of Work T-shirt, it assigned the garment individual rankings for "comfort," "silhouette," and "scarcity" (the T-shirt received four out of five stars).
"We already knew that Japan would be a place that would appreciate what we're doing, something so considered," explained Vatcher. "In a way, Japan has a trickle-down effect where people look at what they're into specifically because they understand quality."
"You can talk all day about how artisanal the fabric and cuts are but you need to translate that to be approachable, like, not so intimidating," MacKinnon said. "As customers ourselves, we understand it's a balancing act."
What that means for Body of Work is a product that's incredibly approachable — basic sweatshirts, toss-on tees — but immeasurably thoughtful.
Body of Work's GOTS-certified cotton is sourced and milled an hour away from the couples' Toronto home and studio so they're able to physically inspect the results before signing off on the production. Dyes are selected to last a lifetime, designed to create idealized fades with wear and wash.
"Even when starting, we were thinking, 'Will we enjoy this in 30 years?'" MacKinnon said. "We're trying to make sure Body of Work has longevity."
"You can't help but hope that people resonate as soon as you start, though," laughed Vatcher.
MacKinnon: "But we're in for the long haul."
Vatcher: "We have to prove ourselves over time."
Body of Work's founders don't cite typical sportswear brands as inspiration; they take cues from industrial designers and Margaret Howell, the patron saint of slow fashion.
In fairness, their performance-wear's organic fibers and old-school shapes are a world apart from the techy newness of most contemporary athletic design. But Body of Work's apparel is still made for getting active, it just takes a more holistic route to that functional finish line.
"It's like, there's the super hard Nike sportswear perspective and then there's poppy "Let's go run!" activewear stuff," said Vatcher.
"We want to create something that could draw in an audience like us, easing them into an active lifestyle, inspiring people through details, creating a new context for what a lifestyle brand can be with this sense of ease and refinement."
All that's to say, what's in a name?
"I don't know if there's clear-cut meaning in the name 'Body of Work,'" reflected Vatcher." I like it being perceived however someone wants to take it."
"We don't want to be prescriptive," MacKinnon said. "On one hand, the phrase refers to an accumulation of what you've done. Tying back to activity, that's part of a journey. The way you live your life reflects your body of work. It's a summary."
"On the other hand, we talk about creating products, these beautiful designs, and an artist would use the term the same way. It's about quantifying the idea of beauty, the things that you surround yourself with that give you joy."