Six years ago, Abe Burmeister searched for a pair of good-looking pants that he could wear as he biked to work. When he couldn't find them, he founded Outlier, a fashion-forward clothing line that's since been embraced by urban cyclists. He's here today to talk about starting that company and to share his tips for commuting on bike.
As part of our Bike Month coverage we're chatting with all sorts of bike professionals (like last week's conversation with a bike lawyer). Before we dive in, I asked Abe a few questions about Outlier and his own commute.
Gizmodo: Tell us about the founding of Outlier.
Abe Burmeister: The very beginning was just about a pair of pants. I had started riding my bike everywhere and realized I needed a better pair of pants. I had three issues, one was that I kept wearing out my jeans every couple of months, they just aren't built for the repetitive motion of cycling. The second was the weather, getting caught out in the rain could ruin my day and nothing I could find really worked. Finally I couldn't find anything that looked good enough to wear to my more formal meetings that I could ride aggressively in. After a lot of failed shopping I decided the only solution was making my own pants, so I went to the garment district and dove in.
Eventually I had a pair of pants that became Outlier's Original Garment, the OGs. I also got introduced to Tyler Clemens who was basically going through the same process only with shirts. We teamed up, up those OG Pants up on the internet and we were in business. That was back in 2008 and it's been a wild ride since then.
What's the biggest problem with the clothes you found out there that are "designed" for bike commuting?
The biggest problem is that they are "designed for bike commuting"! When you do that you wind up with clothing designed to solve imaginary problems. You get absurd reflective bits, bike lock holder and weird pant leg systems that are actually harder to use than just cuffing your pants. We never designed anything for "bike commuting," we design to solve real problems that we identify concretely. Those first pants happened to involve problems that emerged from riding a bike around the city, but we couldn't care less about "bike commuting" as a concept, we are interested in making products that are actually better than what exists already. Our clothes are always great to bike in, but very little of what we do has anything to do with biking anymore.
How challenging is it to design and manufacture clothing in the U.S.?
I think this question has it backwards, it's actually far easier to design and manufacture clothing down the street from where you live than it is on the other side of the world. I live in New York so that's the easiest place for me to do it. When you can visit the actual factories you learn more, can move faster, and scale better. The only thing that's really hard to do in the U.S. is manufacture really cheap crap (although some people do it still). It's far easier to start a company working at a small scale with skilled but flexible manufacturing partners, but that doesn't come cheap. But as a small company it doesn't make sense to compete on price anyway, the big companies will crush you. You can compete by making products that don't exist but that should and that's what we do.
Where does the design process start: Do you find great textiles or raw materials and put them to work, or do you try to solve a problem first?
We start with a problem, always. We're huge fabric nerds so every once in a while that problem is "this fabric is amazing and no one is using it, right" but it always starts with a problem to solve.
What's your own commute like?
It's a whole ten blocks now. Just long enough to justify biking but I often ride a mile or two out of the way just get a bit of extra movement in. I actually miss the old 30-45 minute bridge-crossing commutes, at least on the really nice days...
Top bike commuting tips?
Ride the simplest bike you are comfortable on. Keep your tires inflated and don't take it too seriously. It's not a lifestyle, it's a fun and easy way to get around the city.
Abe will be here taking your questions for the next hour, so ask away!