Hibiscus, turmeric, mushrooms, wood bark – they’re not just farmers market pickups. These and other natural elements have been the ingredients for unisex fashion brand Olderbrother’s color palette since its initial launch in 2015. The former Portland, now Los Angeles-based label approaches its clothing with one goal in mind: to create environmentally conscious apparel that can be buried in your backyard and leave zero impact.
For the Fall/Winter 2021 season, co-founders Max Kingery and Bobby Bonaparte were inspired by fermentation and the concept of transforming through the unseen microbial world. The Olderbrother team aimed to accomplish a DIY return-to-earth aesthetic while exploring the healing, creation, and restoration aspects of fermentation. Garments are colored using plant-based dyes and crafted completely in-house in Los Angeles.
“We’re not just making pretty color. We develop all of our processes, our recipes in-house and just experiment, experiment, experiment,” Kingery, who also serves as designer, told the Financial Times. “Our processes are 99.9% natural. We don’t use anything that you couldn’t drink.”
The use of natural dyes that are ultimately not harmful to our bodies nor the planet has been a cornerstone of Olderbrother collections, which include madder root, coffee beans, iron oxide to name a few. Fall/Winter 2021’s exploration of fermentation has helped the brand develop new practices that it intends on instilling into future work while perfecting its established process. “The fermented dyes are new: kakishibu, beet kvass, and indigo,” Kingery told FUTUREVVORLD. “Other than that, this is more so an expansion of previous silhouettes but more refined and tweaked.”
Materiality is also an important aspect for Olderbrother. The brand champions the use of eco-conscious materials like organic cottons from Japanese farms, unique blends of wool and woven rice paper, and linen from flax fields found in the cooler climates of Japan. The “Fermentation” collection and lines of previous seasons sport solid colors and different fabrics as opposed to prints. This is because Kingery is adamant of having a more timeless aesthetic and has found eco-limitations to printing in a meaningful way that aligns with the brand.
“Fermentation felt like the next logical step in exploring regenerative materiality. Returning to wholistic concepts of how you could grow and dye your clothing in a kiddy pool,” said Kingery. “This collection is just dipping my toe into the power of what different fermentation techniques can achieve. Tuning into the microbial symphony!”
Standout Olderbrother pieces for the Fall/Winter 2021 season, which use no polyester or petroleum, include biodegradable, cruelty-free Puff Coats and Vests that are hand-dyed and sun-cured using fermented persimmons, fermented persimmon, kakishibu, beet kvass, and indigo. Each outerwear piece, including the brand’s newly developed Parka, is hand-waxed and stuffed with renewable tree fill. Panel jeans also feature the waxed treatment.
Recycled Italian cashmere pieces like cardigans, sweaters, and scarves bring a soft, relaxed feel to the collection. Simple workwear like Chore Coats that use organic cotton pile in replace of traditional Sherpa, Zip Jackets that feature deadstock 1970s YKK aluminum zippers, and heavy yet “soft like a bat’s belly” hoodies help round out the “Fermentation” offering.
For the in-person experience, Olderbrother outfitted its Venice, CA shop with a “Shelter” installation made in collaboration with bioartist Maru Garcia that explores the materiality and transformative process of fermentation. In the store sits a 7 x 13 ft geodesic half dome made out of SCOBY – bacterial cellulose panels and kakishibu stained wood. SCOBY stands for Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast and is the same culture used for the production of kombucha.
“We saw a store as a portal to bring people into what we’re doing. It’s kind of like the idea behind a farm-to-table restaurant, using each seasonal concept as a way to re-envision the shop and tell a new story,” said Bonaparte when explaining its rotating in-store installations to T Magazine in 2018. Past installations include displaying a bed of fungi for Olderbrother’s Fall 2018 collection that used chaga mushrooms as one of its natural dye materials.
In other natural material news, mycelium manufacturing innovator MycoTEX received funding to bring mushroom material innovation to scale.