The Makers: Outlier

“We’re fabric nerds.”

Outlier co-founders Abe Burmeister and Tyler Clemens aren’t exactly the type of guys you’d expect to start an active apparel label. There’s nothing overtly sporty or jock-ish about them. In conversation, they come off much more NPR than ESPN. And yet, the two have managed to launch a brand that’s quickly becoming one of the most respected in the industry. Why? Because Burmeister and Clemens have succeeded where no one else has: they’ve made high-performance apparel that’s comfortable enough, and handsome enough, to wear in non high-performance situations. In other words, clothing that’s perpetually appropriate, regardless of where you are or what you’re doing.

Burmeister and Clemens will be the first to tell you, they’re not fashion designers, they’re problem solvers. “Sometimes we start with an item that exists, and say, ‘okay, what’s not working about it,'” Burmeister explains. “Or, sometimes we start with an activity, and figure out all the features based on that. It’s never just, ‘let’s make a shirt.’ There has to be a reason for it.” For them, how a product looks is another aspect of the solution; appearance is as much a part of functionality as water repellency or tear resistance. “Making something that lasts also means making sure it never goes out of style,” explains Clemens. “Essentially, we want to make our version of a Burberry Trench Coat or Levis 501s. Something timeless,” adds Burmeister.

To achieve that end, the pair are constantly experimenting. “We’re always trying new things, as well as tweaking old things,” says Burmeister. “Sometimes a product will have a dozen different iterations before we put it into production.” Their fondness for tinkering is one of many reasons the Brooklyn based duo manufacture their entire line locally in New York’s Garment District. “Our proximity allows for almost immediate turnaround” says Burmeister. “We can come up with an idea and have it prototyped sometimes within a week.” And prototype they do. The Outlier office is full of one-offs and test pieces. We want to “get it right,” Burmeister says. “Then again,” Clemens says with a smile, “sometimes we just find a new fabric that we really want to put to use.”

Burmeister laughs, “we’re fabric nerds.” Clemens nods in agreement, “we weren’t when we started out, but now we are. Total fabric nerds.” Suddenly, Burmeister excitedly calls out, “get some water.” Moments later, with Clemens and myself looking on, Burmeister pours an entire cup onto the leg of his pants. The water rolls off, without so much as dampening the fabric. He looks up at me, a proud grin spread across his face. “Now let’s show him the Honey,” Clemens says. The next thing I know, Burmeister is gleefully pouring honey onto a $400 jacket. Like the water, it slides off without a trace. I can tell this isn’t the first time they’ve done this, and from how happy it’s making them, that it won’t be the last.

The most striking thing about their demonstration, even more so than the resiliency of the fabric, is how well it encapsulates what Outlier is all about: active apparel that you can spend your non-active life in. You can bike and hike and climb in it. But, you can also hang out and goof off with your friends in it too. And no matter what, still feel comfortable, and look good. It’s precisely that kind of versatility no other brand has been able to achieve; NPR plus ESPN. Burmeister and Clemens may not be your typical active apparel makers, but that’s why their brand is so great. You don’t have to be a jock or overtly sporty to appreciate their clothes, you only have to live in them.

Burmeister and Clemens: fabric nerds.

Clemens showing off the side panels on his Pivot Sleeve Shirt.

The majority of Outlier’s fabrics come from Swiss textile-maker Schoeller.

One of their latest Schoeller finds: a state-of-the-art double-sided, four-way stretch nylon.

Inside the Outlier office.

Evidence of a successful season.

The beautiful and already sold out Outlier Anorak.

Burmeister and Clemens with a dissected Thom Browne suit. “Sometimes you have to take something apart to understand how it works,” says Burmeister.

I wasn’t kidding about the water.

Or the honey. Seriously, not a trace.

To check out the latest from Outlier, including the label’s just launched “New Works” collection, visit the brand’s website.

  • Ken

    Another one of my favorites. Very well done, sir.

    • Brad

      Thanks man!

  • David

    Thanks for covering this. It’s hard not be attracted to brands like Outlier and Rapha, who are filling that small niche of making quality performance wear that pass for casual situations as well. The only issue, obviously, is the tremendous cost. Once in a while I’ll get a discount one an item or find them on sale and once it’s in my hands I understand what all the hype is about.

    • Brad

      I hear ya David. The prices can be a bit wince inducing. However, given the rarity and expense of the fabrics, coupled with the cost of making everything in NYC, coupled with how long all the pieces last, I’d definitely say that Outlier is worth it. Even their pieces do take a few weeks (months) to save up for.

  • Danny

    I was walking back to my desk just now, thinking “I have GOT to start riding my bike to work again, but packing a change of clothes is a hassle.” Then I saw a tweet about this post, got online and checked out Outlier. Thanks for the info, and the inspiration!

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  • Jessica Meany

    Outlier rules! Best fabric brainiacs in BK.