Could you tell me a little bit more about your vision for ONU? That phrase you guys use – “Clothing For People Who Do Everything” – is pretty ambitious. How can technical clothing really improve our everyday lives?
JK: *laughs* Well, Paul’s wardrobe has vastly improved since we got started on this. Right, Paul?
PL: Yeah, the company was really built more out of necessity than anything. I’m a creature of comfort, and all of a sudden moved from LA (where the weather is an immaculate 72 degrees all the time) to Taiwan, where it’s not just hotter but also 90%+ humidity. The three lifestyles Justin, Thomas, and I all lead are very different, so we wanted to be able to create clothes that could fit all of our lives without being defined by them.
JK: We really consider ourselves “performers” in the sense of not only how much we travel and move around, but what we demand from our clothes. What we were looking for is something that fit everything. That includes commuting to work, living your life, and then also play afterwards.
We started by saying “work, play, and live” as the three parts of our lives where one, we need to be clothed, and two, we don’t want to change our clothes just to move within those three. If I dress in clothes that make playing basketball easier because I’m going to go shoot hoops later, then everyone is going to associate me with a certain “b-ball” look. I don’t necessarily want to be associated with a certain activity and have to plan out my day so far in advance.
Basically, we started to see clothes as a limiting factor.
Thomas’ story is very interesting in particular because he comes from the perspective of being an athlete and someone who’s like an extreme performance athlete in all regards – but he started making these clothes himself, and that’s how he fell into the fashion design space actually.
TM: Yeah! *laughs* So I used to freelance in New York for a lot of ad agencies, living every year as “hustle for six months, make my year’s salary, then leave for six months.” I would travel and run races or go rock climbing, and through that I realized I didn’t want to carry so much crap because you have so much gear as it is. I wore a lot of merino, but performance cuts aren’t the most flattering. So, I decided to take it into my own hands.
I found a place here in New York that was willing to make patterns and samples for me, and then I would contact different merino vendors from different parts of the world and ask them if they would send me fabric samples. Then, I would make stuff and test it out.
*laughs* Some of the stuff worked, and some of the stuff did NOT work. It’s a little disheartening when you’re in the middle of the jungle and your shirt starts to fall apart. But it’s your shirt, you made it!
Eventually, it got to the point where the clothes I was actually making for myself were good enough that people started asking me for them. It’s interesting – I remember talking to Ricky, the owner of Isaora [another technical apparel brand], and he was like “dude, you should get into business for yourself,” and I told him that I never would. He then told me: “This is how it always starts.”
When we talk about “Clothing For People Who Do Everything,” a lot of the brands that produce clothing that is in our space promise things from their clothing that is simply unrealistic. When people say that it’s “the best t-shirt ever,” I mean, let’s be real: there’s no such thing as “the best t-shirt ever.” All we wanted to do with ONU was apply good design to innovative materials so that when you wear your garments, regardless of what you do, they almost become invisible.
I think that alone provides an opportunity to open doors for people to do more than what they were originally thinking they were capable of. If you know your jacket is waterproof, you’re less hesitant to go out in the rain – but if you have a cotton hoodie, you know you’re gonna get soaked. It’s not just the versatility of the garments and what they’re capable of, it’s that these garments almost allow you to be versatile along with it.
JK: That doesn’t just mean “sports” either. Re-envisioning and redefining performance in everyday contexts is something that hasn’t been explored really well, and that’s a big part of what we do with each of our products.
TM: We want to make sure that our clothing is a benefit to people. If you have a jacket on and it starts to rain and your jacket is waterproof, that’s a benefit in itself because now you don’t get wet and you show up fresh to wherever you’re going. That now gives you the capacity to pack lighter and still look good. You now have one garment that can handle a variety of situations.
Returning to your point about “opening doors”, did you ever think you were going to be on the “creator” side within fashion? Were you artistic when you were younger, or was your foray into design pure necessity from which you never looked back?
TM: I guess art kinda runs in my family. We’re either artists or doctors. *laughs*
I was a designer for a long time for many ad agencies, so I guess designing apparel was never really something I thought of myself doing. But, after you get to a certain point in your design journey, [your design fundamentals are strong enough that] sure you won’t understand the nuances of a new subject, but you can self-teach yourself anything.
PL: While none of us are formally-trained in fashion, we bank on the expertise of fashion designers and fashion production houses because we do know our limitations. We look to buttress our capabilities by working every season with experts in their fields and truly collaborating with them.
And that’s how you end up with incredible pieces like the Laser Lace Shorts, for example.
TM: Exactly. I think it’s also because we have a huge capacity in terms of the technologies we have access to. A lot of the time, designers don’t get access to some of these because of the minimum orders they have to create that give larger brands those same materials. Since we’re doing smaller runs, we don’t have to worry about creating hundreds of thousands of garments, we just have to worry about creating one hundred, so let’s push it.