Nearly five decades later, technical apparel has transformed from curiosity to expectation: “athleisure” dominates sales charts, leggings have usurped denim jeans, and running shoes carved from autonomously-woven yarns cost less than a month’s worth of your afternoon coffee breaks. Our pop culture has eagerly reflected this acceptance of high-tech clothing: from the invisible camo bodysuits of “Ghost in the Shell” to the hidden armors of “Deus Ex”, our decades-old vision of the clothes we wear granting us benefits past just avoiding a “public indecency” charge is now moving faster than ever. Last July, Thomas Moon and Paul Lee decided they could move even faster.
Through a closed-list soirée on New York’s Lower East Side, Moon and Lee launched ONU – “Clothing For People Who Do Everything.” With no official pronunciation (“It’s meant to be pronounced in any particular way that you like using sounds that are native to multiple languages”) and a devotion to making technical clothing that’s as streamlined as it is stylish, ONU is seeking what it means to be truly “adaptable.” While GORE-TEX redefined technical apparel as a genre, with ONU, Moon and Lee want to carve out a whole new category: “EveryWear,” or, high-tech clothing designed for performance, well, everywhere.
Last month, we sat down with Moon, Lee, and Justin Kim – the ONU team – to discuss their vision, their research, and why the future of apparel means not running home to change.
AR: How did you get the concept for the ONU brand? How did the three of you even get together in the first place?
JK: It’s been in existence since June of last year. We launched with a small event in New York City but we have no physical location, so that event was a place for us to have an introduction to the brand.
But, it’s funny that you pronounced us as “oh-new.” [The brand] isn’t pronounced in any particular way – it’s meant to be pronounced in any particular way that you like using sounds that are native to multiple languages and cultures around the world. We are really emphasizing being a global brand that’s as international as possible.
The only way this brand could even happen is through the internet. Paul is working in conjunction with people over in Taiwan, traveling all the time, while Thomas and I are working remotely as well. We’re a “tech startup” in so many ways in addition to being a product company.
TM: When you look at a lot of brands, there’s so much “strategy” in terms of rules you have to follow that at a certain point, it’s almost redactive, right? It defeats the brand and the purpose of it. That’s one of the reasons behind that particular element with the name – we allow people to say it however they want. When we do collaborations with people who do video or photography work with us, we want to bank on their expertise. Otherwise, what’s the point in hiring someone who’s really good at their craft if you’re just going to make them do it the way you want it done. That’s not really a collaboration.
JK: Every single collection is a collaboration and a capsule collection that’s presented as such. The first one we launched in New York, with a launch event in New York, by a designer – Diana Eng - who’s based in New York. We collaborated with her on everything from the bare ideas to the final product. Then the second collection, which was launched just end of January, was launched in Shanghai, by a designer – Christina Liao – who is based in Shanghai. It’s a very international collaboration on all levels.