Three American Outdoors Brands for an English Summer
With the great outdoors beckoning, fusing technical wearability and style becomes ever more important. We run an eye over some of the best finds from over the pond
Article by Nicolas Payne-Baader
It has often been remarked in jest that a nation bereft of good weather is filled with a populace obsessed with outdoor activity. The idea of summer: long balmy evenings, nights spent sleeping under the stars and barbecues are of course aided by the perfect and unending sunshine. However, the English summer is nothing if not a fickle mistress and one must be properly attired.
The unfortunate thing about outdoors brands has historically been a complete lack of anything resembling something you would want to wear outside of a campsite or a shoot at a stately home – twin extremes. However, over the last few years there has been a greater melding of practicality and wearability. This has been helped by an influx of American brands hitting the UK bringing with them a different aesthetic and a more varied offering. Seeing as the most traditional British outdoor staples have their roots in hunting and fishing it tends to have a colour palette limited to green, brown and more green and being best utilised when you have a nice fire -preferably in a hearth – to dry everything off next to at the end of the day. It’s a poorly kept secret that the keenest of shooters wear German brand Schoffel instead of their English competitors.
The US has always had a different approach to the great outdoors, a more egalitarian approach and a greater profligacy of land in which to roam. There is more space devoted to national parks in the US than there is space in Wales. But recently with consumers of all walks of life having a galvanised interest in tech and practicality, whether that is the welt of their shoe or the water resistance of their jacket, a whole new genre of brand has emerged which melds the two.
Traditional outdoors brands have, effectively, become more interesting, developing upper ranges within collections such as North Faces’ Purple Label, first pioneered in Japan and now available here as Black label. Brands like Penfield have collaborated with skate giants Stussy and venerable Columbia have earned their streetwear chops working with Kith’s Ronnie Feig. There certainly seems to be a change in the water.
This particular embracing of outdoors wear certainly shows a new era emerging but the UK does have some previous form. One only needs to look at the work of Massimo Osti, creator of C.P company and Stone Island who pioneered technology in casual clothing. Osti studied military uniforms and the fabric development therein to develop brands which where technology and design are seamlessly fused. Look at the demographic that first consumed Osti’s clothing: mainly, or at least most notably, football casuals. These are a fairly similar demographic to those who now consume streetwear, the practicality of a garment that will keep you warm and dry on a damp Wednesday night in Stoke, a damp street in Kilburn and an inclement hike up Ben Nevis is all the same.
With this in mind we wanted to cast around for a few of the brands you may not have heard of who offer clothing with the requisite ability and good looks to see you through as many rained off barbecues, damp festivals and mis-advised camping holidays as you care to go on.
Originally coming to note for its skate wear the brand was founded in 1992 on the East Coast of the USA. At the time the skate as well as surf wear scene was largely identified by its West Coast movements, however Element significantly shifted the focus and became known for its ethical production, good clothing and successful skate team.
Although it still works in skate wear and produces decks the company has used the knowledge it procured from its roots and the basic task of keeping skaters dry to re-examine its focus and export it to more outdoors clothing. One of the first HQs of the company was in Atlanta, Georgia and it is the southern farm belt that has leant it much of the inspiration for recent collections and the general feel of its offering, including a slightly perplexingly farmyard lookbook for SS16.
However, with their years of experience have come knowledge and with it their credentials are hard to beat. Next season also sees their first collaboration with hi tech British outdoors manufacturer Griffin Studios on their most hardwearing and technical outerwear ever. For immediate consumption and an inevitably inclement summer their lightweight jackets like the Alder and the Dulcey offer proper water resistance without making you look like you’ve wandered away from your climbing group.
Another American import Penfield has been going since the mid-1970s. Originally from Massachusetts, it is one of the quintessential American outdoors brands, as wholesome as apple pie. Their technical ability should not be underestimated either. Recently bringing over one of the designers from the esteemed shooting wear brand Schoffel to beef up the practicality of its outerwear, Penfield is also more design conscious than many of its rivals with colour palettes based on the lobster boats of New England and more jacket shapes and weights than you can shake a stick at.
Alongside its classic raincoats like the Vanleer and the Gibson, Penfield have also sifted through their archives to produce a new coach jacket straight out of a Norman Rockwell illustration and more modern super lightweight jackets like the Cranford. They also produce their fleeces at the same factory as Patagonia but sell them for two thirds the price. They also do a spork if you’re going to be truly outdoors about the whole thing…
Hailing from Seattle, one of the only cities in the world to claim more miserable weather than London Manastash has been going since 1993. With almost everything they do made in Japan the quality is unparalleled. Also appropriately for a city where half the population are weed smoking retired hippies the clothing has a very strong sustainable streak with many items made of hemp or recycled fleece.
They can sincerely make items like their Bushman vest, which is effectively an old school fishing vest, look incredibly cool and covetable. Their O.D Layer Jacket is also a fantastically well put together, inspired by Americana garment but executed in the way only Japanese brands seem to know how. Fairly hard to find but worth it when you do there isn’t a brand on the market with as much town country crossover as this lot.