- Buyer's Guide
Outlier: the Constant State of Experimentation
I walk up to a nondescript warehouse in Brooklyn. A blank facade. No sign of Outlier HQ. A guy rounds the corner wrapped in a perfect black jacket, a Dyneema Ultrahigh backpack slung over both shoulders.
I know I’m close.
I locate the staircase and am greeted by one of the Outlier team. We wind our way up. It’s gray and drab and smells of the street. An eight-person old communal sink is plonked in a communal area. Doors branch off, we keep climbing.
We reach the third floor and we’re buzzed in. Inside is a celebration of organized chaos. Patterns hang or lay over tables. Men and women hunch over new experiments, working needle and thread. The immense skyline of Manhattan swells beyond the glass.
I’m there to get a glimpse behind the scenes and score the scoop on their new releases – and there are many. As far as carry ‘objects’ are concerned, the months ahead will be their most vibrant of the year, with four new drops in total.
If you’re not familiar, the main push of their business is a continuous series of releases. Every Tuesday they add to and adjust their range. Experiments and ideas are given center stage. Each one fights it out to be part of their core offering. A model bold and agile and exciting.
Nearby, buried in Manhattan, is the Garment District, an international hub for sewing and fabrics. And it is this collection of industrial spaces that allows Outlier to build and create the way that they do. A quick 30-minute ride and they’re able to meet their production team, and explore and develop directly with the folk who will be making it.
I meet Abe and Tyler and members of the team. They’re busy but excited. I fondle the sling bag about to be released (since then it’s dropped and sold out within hours) and ask questions about what’s to come.
Tell us about the new Paper Nylon range. We’ve seen the sling. What else can we look forward to?
We can’t give it all away! But we can say that in the fall we did a Paper Nylon Laundry Bag that we love and we’re working on something that sprung out of that project but takes it in a very different direction. The Paper Nylon Cross Chest Bag has already birthed something crazy; it doesn’t use Paper Nylon itself, but we’re calling it the Alien Baby.
“Experiments and ideas are given center stage. Each one fights it out to be part of their core stock.”
It’s obviously inspired your whole range, but why Paper Nylon? What attributes make it so special?
Paper Nylon and Ultrahigh Dyneema Composite both share one commonality, which is that they allow making fabric bags that take on some characteristics of hardshell bags. In particular both these materials are flexible but have very little give. So they can bend and fold, but they hold things in a very stable manner. A lot of contemporary carry is all about cushion and bounce, but we like our bags to carry much more crisply, with a nice balance and fast ease of use.
What is Outlier’s carry style and does this overlap with your personal carry style?
Fast, light and stable. And yeah, they are very similar.
Can you provide some insight into how fabric impacts form? Your latest range of bags uses Paper Nylon, what governed the material choice and did this impact the form or was the form derived from the material?
Paper Nylon is super interesting as it is really crispy in most conditions, but under very high humidity it softens and becomes more flexible. That means we had to be very cautious about putting it into forms where this transformation doesn’t cause any unpleasant surprises. We handled this in a couple different ways, with the Paper Nylon Totes reflecting both approaches. Approach one was to build bags that stay within hand/eye range, so you have some sort of awareness of fabric change as it happens. Approach two was to keep the bags quite open on the top so you don’t get this psychological expectation of water resistance.
“Paper Nylon and Ultrahigh Dyneema Composite both share one commonality, which is that they allow making fabric bags that take on some characteristics of hardshell bags.”
What governs your hardware choices?
Lots of factors but in the end it’s what I call “visceral aesthetics” which is the aesthetics of how something feels when in use. The hardware needs to look and feel good and function well, but the crucial thing is how it feels while in action, the feeling of the mechanics.
You churn out new products at such a breakneck pace; why push so hard? Why the ultra-agility?
We actually don’t see it this way. A typical runway show in fashion might have 40 looks, with an average of three products per look. That’s 120 new products for every show, and fashion brands usually do at least two shows a year, and some do many more. So that’s 240 products a year at minimum. We do about 80, so we’re making 1/3 the amount of what a smallish fashion brand might do. Our pace hardly seems fast at all to us.
Some might not know how very rich the Garment District is in New York City. Can you describe it for us?
It’s a vertical factory ecosystem a couple blocks from Times Square in Manhattan. New York City once made 90% of all the manufactured clothing in America so we are talking about a gigantic industry. The manufacturing side is tiny compared to what it used to be but it still makes billions of dollars’ worth of clothing every year. It’s a chaotic place, fabric being pushed every which way in the streets and it climbs upwards in freight elevators into a meshwork of small factories and specialists. We’d never have come into existence without it.
And how do you collect and collate all of that feedback? And is there more weight placed on some responses compared to others? Or is it all valid on equal levels?
We get data from all sorts of places, from raw sales and returns data to people reviewing our stuff on Reddit, YouTube, or wherever. We also get all sorts of internal information, from lab tests to wearing various iterations on the same form to see how it behaves. Ultimately what we are looking for is for all the data to resonate together in harmony. If our internal experience is clearly different than the reviews we see, or if sales are not tracking with reactions then something is off and we don’t have a hit product yet. But when the internal experience, external commentary and sales all line up then that’s a product that’s ready for prime time.
Can we dig inside your bag? What’s your travel carry quiver?
I travel super light. No bag for daily use, for short trips I’ll often just carry a Paper Nylon Tote Bag (size L) and for longer ones I use an internal variation on our old Ultrahigh Dufflepack. The bulky item that bothers me but I can’t get around is a second pair of shoes. I think wearing the same pair more than a day or two in a row is unhealthy for both the feet and the shoes. Otherwise I keep my clothes in one of our Supermarine Doublebags, have a few toiletries, an iPad and some chargers and that’s it. The less I need to carry, the better.
Outlier’s Paper Nylon Cross Chest Bag released on Tuesday the 19th of February and sold out overnight. They have additional releases coming through March, so be sure to keep an eye on their website for the 1pm Tuesday release cycle.