Oi Polloi

Interview: Max and Bobby from Olderbrother

Published: Tue Mar 28 2017

Olderbrother is a fairly progressive clothing company hailing from Portland, Oregon.

This lot aren’t afraid to do their own thing. For starters, all their stuff is unisex, and can be worn (in theory) by anyone. And It’s all made in the USA. They put a lot of thought into dyes and fabrics too, and use things like turmeric and rice paper for added visual flavour.

Olderbrother is sort of like the younger brother of Tender, if that makes any sense. It’s also what we’d imagine people would wear in utopia… if that makes any sense? That logo is decent too.

We talked with the founding fathers (who aren't actually brothers), Max (on the left), and Bobby (on the right) to find out more... 

Okay, first things first, what is Olderbrother? 

We are an “older brother.” 

Where does the name come from? Do you lot have older brothers? Is it something to do with being influenced by cool older brothers or something? 

It came from the universal idea of the ideal older brother. They didn't have to be related (or male), just a person that we looked up to and felt supported by. So yeah, cool older brothers. 

How did Olderbrother start? 

We both grew up in Portland, Oregon and from a young age we asked questions about where our food came from. Who was growing it? Where did it come from? Were chemicals used? We were very intentional about what we put into our bodies. 

We’re grateful to our fathers who introduced us. As soon as we connected, we bonded and immediately began sharing ideas about how clothing could be made differently. 

We emphatically agreed to take the same level of consideration of the slow food movement and bring it to clothing with our own light-hearted spirit. 

You lot use some pretty mad dyes, can you explain some of the stuff you lot do to get your colours? 

Haha yeah, we like to keep it interesting and challenging. It’s a pretty crazy and often unpredictable process. The most minute variations in temperature, pH or dilution can throw off entire runs, sending a luscious red into a spotty, puke-y toned brown. 

But, actually, that’s one of the things we love most about the process. The wabi sabi aspect of it. We’re often surprised with ‘happy accidents’. We celebrate that every piece contains slight imperfections that make them unique. 

We dye with plant-based dyes like indigo, roots, coffee, turmeric and many more. So, each season, it takes weeks of daily testing to make sure we can hit colors. Like, the ingredient amount to dye a polo is different than to dye a t-shirt. 

Various factors contribute to how we choose which dye. But, it often boils down to asking ourselves, “what do we want to play with this season?” 

You use rice paper too. What’s going on with that? Are the clothes edible? 

While the clothes are not edible, they can be buried in your backyard to decompose naturally.  

We source a majority of our textiles from Japan. On a visit to one of producers, whose family has been in the industry for generations, showed us a new type of fabric he was working on--combining washi (Japanese rice paper) with various other textiles. 

We’re stoked on any textiles that are moving in the right direction in terms of sustainability. It’s exciting to read about people developing new textiles — growing fibers in a petri dish, making leather out of pineapples, etc. 

I know you are also pretty passionate about it being eco-friendly. What lengths do you go to with this? 

All the way. It’s priority for us. Our latest push is to make everything pH neutral. 

Every aspect of the garment and production is considered. Here’s a short list: our buttons are made from real shells or nuts, our tags are biodegradable, our poly bags are 100% recycled. 

As we evolve, we learn. Like one of our next steps is to move away from any poly wrapping (even recycled) and move to 100% recycled paper, wax paper and cardboard. 

The dream is to have our own biodynamic farm where we can grow all of our dyes. 

Do you think it’ll ever get to the point where this stuff is normal? 

It happened with organic food via the slow food movement. So, yes, we are optimistic. 

What was the hardest thing to make? 

Naturally dyeing wool was definitely the trickiest one so far. 

I might be wrong, but from the outside there’s a bit of a desert commune look to some of your stuff. Is this intentional? You lot ever fancy joining a kibbutz? 

Funny you should mention that. We are accepting recruits now. 

There's a bit of a 'youthful' look to your clothes, if you get what I mean? You lot got any funny stories from growing up? 

I can remember one warm summer evening picking wild blackberries. Reaching up to grab the juicy blackberry at the top... just out of grasp…. 

Swaying on tiptoes, the entire cluster of berries toppled and fell splat on the front of my shirt. After the initial surprise and guilt of staining my shirt, I unleashed a devilish grin and began to smash more berries creating a sugary psychedelic tie dye. 

What were you into back then? What music were you into as kids? What clothes did you wear? 

Skateboarding. We both loved to skate and wore pretty normal clothes. Spitfire tees, jeans and Vans

We came of age during the mp3 revolution so we had access to pretty much everything. 

Maybe a weird question, but why do you think childhood is such a powerful thing? Stuff that happens then can stick with people for years. 

It’s a time in our lives when everything is new. With eyes unjaded, every experience feels fresh and exciting. Everything is simpler, free. 

When you’re in it, you don’t really appreciate it. When we grow up, we idealize it.

For us, it’s an opportunity to celebrate these shared moments and rekindle our childlike wonder. 

It seems these days there’s a bit of a fork in the road… people are either ultra-healthy organic guys or living the fast food dream. What do you think is going to happen in the next 20 years? What will people be eating? What will they be wearing? Is there a wrong and a right way to live? 

We feel it’s about a balance. 

What do you get up to outside of making clothes? 

We both love running, eating delicious food and wellness practices. 

Are you lot into films and stuff? Seen anything decent lately? 

Huge film fans. Love auteurs like Akira Kurosawa, Yasujiro Ozu, Wes Anderson and Stanley Kubrick. Recently, really stoked on Moonlight. 

Always fun to revisit 90s favorites from our youth like the TMNT trilogy, Cool Runnings, the Big Lebowski, Home Alone, Happy Gilmore and the Ernest movies. 

Some good stuff there. Last question... you lot are from Portland. What’s it like up there? Any recommendations for stuff to do? 

Top recommendation: visit in the summer!  

Come see sights like the Columbia River Gorge, Japanese Garden, Rose Garden and hike on Mt. Hood. The Japanese Garden is opening up a brand new expansion designed by Kengo Kuma in April including a tea house. 

For shopping, check out Frances May, Stand Up Comedy, Una, Lowell and Canoe.

Food-wise, or top favorites though would be Chef Naoko, Murata, Biwa, Nong’s and Broder. 

For drinks we like Angel Face, Pepe Le Moko and Expatriate. 

Our favorite coffee joints would be Courier, Heart and Barista. 

For Japanese tea check out T Project, Behind the Museum Cafe, Tea Chai Te and Tea Bar.

Sounds good. Cheers for this. See the Olderbrother stuff here.

Portrait by Josh Rothery, clothes shots by Adam Hindmarch.