“Sweatpants Forever”—the recent New York Times Magazine headline proved that a drawstring has tremendous potential to scandalize. On August 6th, the magazine’s cover story detailed the unraveling of the fashion industry, accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The narrative centers around Scott Sternberg, founder of Band of Outsiders and Entireworld, and the trials and tribulations of his direct-to-consumer and ultra-popular sweatsuit (you know the one).
In the story, writer Irina Aleksander laid bare how the fashion industry perpetuated its own brokenness, walking the reader through how exactly the wheels fell off. The revelation of how industry stakeholders are teetering on the edge of their own margins rings familiar: the parallels to Gabrielle Hamilton’s well-circulated April 2020 NYT Magazine story about the future of her restaurant Prune, and of New York’s restaurant industry at large, are manifold. In both cases, the pandemic has necessitated an internal reckoning. Aleksander’s story prompts questions of how these brands, and their backers, can shed the bad practices they’ve long relied on, and forge a new and better path ahead. A dissection of a system mid-crumble is bound to leave the reader in search of solutions—at least that’s how I felt while reading it.
The onus is on everyone—the producer, the customer, and the seller—to create, consume and distribute more thoughtfully. I’ve been thinking about the utopian fashion brand as one that sits at the center of this Venn diagram: it’s environmentally sustainable, the range of sizes it offers is reflective of the population, it delivers a quality product destined for longevity in the buyer’s closet, at an affordable price point that stills allows for the company to be profitable and for the company’s employees—from the factory to the corporate headquarters—to be treated ethically and compensated fairly. It sounds like a pipe dream—is it actually?
I’ve found glimpses of optimism bubbling on a smaller scale. I had ordered an OOKIOH swimsuit sight unseen in the mail and, happy with the fit and quality of the underwired Como top and the high-waisted Dominican bottom, had been pleasantly surprised by a rare swimsuit success story. That’s why my ears perked a little when I heard the brand had collaborated with stylist Rachael Wang, and even more so when I read more about it: striving toward the center of that utopian Venn diagram, the collaboration struck me as an example of what fashion’s future could look like. Released in the last days of July, it’s a ten-piece capsule of two one-pieces and eight separates, made from 100% post-consumer waste, recycled nylon and water bottles in this case—Wang has long been a vocal advocate for bringing sustainability to the fore of the conversation in fashion.
The swimsuits, sold in white, black and olive, evoke the same classic sensibility of the trend-proof Eres swimsuit, but for half the price. 10% of the proceeds go to Intersectional Environmentalist, an organization founded by environmental activist Leah Thomas. The suits, available in sizes XS-XXL, are packed and shipped with recyclable and compostable materials, and manufactured ethically in a woman-owned Los Angeles factory, as seen here:
There’s always room for improvement, but this value-driven collaboration leads by example in the midst of an industry on the brink of collapse. It offers a peephole into the possibilities of the future, but compounded with the stories of “Sweatpants Forever” and Gucci’s break with the traditional—and obsolete—fashion calendar, the question lingers: Will fashion seize this moment of shakiness to yield real action? Will necessity be the mother of reinvention?