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Herb Sundays 88: Abe Burmeister
A deep exploration of Herb by the Outlier clothing brand founder
Abe Burmeister (born in NYC) is the founder and creative director of Outlier. Beginning with a single pair of pants in 2008 and growing into an international direct-to-consumer brand focused on making high-quality, technically-minded clothing of all stripes. Prior to starting Outlier, he cofounded a digital animation studio and ran Abstractdynamics.org, an early blogging network focused on music and radical cultural theory, where he hosted the likes of pop critic Sasha Frere-Jones (Herb 37), philosopher Reza Negarestani and the late political theorist Mark Fisher.
In 2001, realizing all this work was done on a laptop/cellphone, he reduced his life's possessions down to a single carry-on bag. Cycling to work, he would inevitably shred his clothes, which was the aha moment for the brand. He got obsessed with creating a better pair of pants that both looked and performed better, ahead of most major brands moving into “active wear” in general. In 2008 the barista at his local coffee shop connected him to future co-founder Tyler Clemens who was working on similar issues with shirts. Within months they had incorporated and began bootstrapping Outlier into existence.
In the late-early days of Ghostly, say 2006-2010, heroes were hard to find. The idea of the major music industry as a visionary space continued to flicker out, and the indie music space had become increasingly difficult, with digital sales not rising fast enough to surmount falling CD sales and the vinyl revival still yet to come. I usually inhaled the classic ‘70s and ‘80s British indie label stories and historical tomes to hype myself up, but soon realized this was a poison of sorts, as these eras had long passed and could not be replicated, special as they were. To console ourselves, we gorged ourselves on books like Small Giants (if this sounds very Herb, then yes it is) and learned to find influence outside of the music business in companies like nearby Ann Arbor food brand, Zingerman’s who developed a community of intertwined small businesses and a company philosophy which felt worth mimicking.
Clothing, both old school and “streetwear” has always been a part of my inspiration set. While it has some darkness (like music, film, etc) it can be a dynamic and creatively-led world when done best. The 2010s provided ample inspiration in these spaces as well as the startup-y world of new challenger brands to look at for concepts. In recent years, we’ve been witnessing the paint peeling off the venture-backed “DTC” businesses as a panacea of ambition. While the construct of serving very specific needs appeals, the rapid scale needed (which was only financially feasible in the early days of marketing on social media), and often messy public display of founder feuds/antics has started to wane as an imitable idea itself.
Outlier is indeed a DTC brand in that it doesn’t involve retailers (I do miss the pop-up events though) but its trajectory is much more serene, or at least it appears so. The brand has never been the hottest thing around, but it never has tried to be really. It just does what it does, week after week. Outlier functions how ideally all small companies (labels, magazines, DAOs, etc) should these days, both with mystery and accessibility: In short, like a club. It’s fun to see Abe and Tyler pop up on IG live to share a new product and its subreddit boasts a very engaged 18,000 people actively co-creating (see last week’s Herb 87 for more on that) the brand through modifications, fit questions, and feedback.
Outlier could easily be self-serious, which it can turn to also if needed, but it also is fairly radical and fun too. Their campaigns and products share a good deal of whimsy (i.e. The Fuck It Hat is a crucial entry in the catalog) and use their online runway shows (already a send-up of the concept) and photography to a more daring and joyful effect than most po-faced fashion brands which rely on aloofness in place of character. Unlike jokester / born-to-die brands like MSCHF, humor is baked into the product at an atomic level. Brand soothsayer Ana Andjelic shared in her newsletter last week that the war in culture was won indeed by the “Spectacle” and while Outlier doesn’t appear, I’d argue they do their thing to balance ir/reverence nicely:
Without a certain lack of respect, brands turn into a dogma. “Waves of enthusiasm for a given product,” writes Guy Debord, resemble “moments of fervent exaltation similar to the miracles of the old religious fetishism.” Without humor and nuance, brands trivialize the original intention behind their references: bootlegging, subculture, subversion, critique turn into the mainstream, ready-for-sale. What was once an act of subversion and social critique becomes buttery leather.
IT’S 12:21 PM on a Tuesday, and the new coat from Outlier is going live.
For the obsessed fans of this technically minded menswear house, Tuesday drops are always a big deal. This one is bigger than most. The Shelter From the Storm is Outlier’s first breathable waterproof shell. That’s the kind of thing that, if you care about it, you care about it a lot.
The jacket, in Outlier parlance, is an “experiment,” a limited-release garment that indulges every bit of the otaku flair for which Outlier has been known since Abe Burmeister and Tyler Clemens founded it in 2008.
Which means: The textile isn’t anything so prosaic as GoreTex; it’s Neoshell, two kinds of nylon sandwiching a polyurethane membrane that, as Outlier’s website puts it, isn’t “extruded like traditional garbage bag ‘waterproof breathable’ fabrics, but is instead electrospun using a nonwoven process.” It’s black, unlined, and its seams are sealed with pale-colored tape, which gives the inside a sort of Mondrian look.
The pockets close with magnets. The flap that protects the top of the zipper (and hides a secret pocket) seals with a precise little snap sewed onto a smaller flap, so you can fit a finger behind it. The cuffs close with ratchets instead of velcro. If you undo the two-way side zips, the bottoms lock together with “block tapey,” a nubbled rubber alternative to Velcro that grabs like Bristle Blocks.
High-tech fabric. Hidden pockets. Five different closures. And styling that makes the half-dozen Outlier employees modeling the jacket for Instagram look like a CIA cyberninja team from the year 2043. Or maybe a well-dressed tribe of antinationalist crytpocurrency cultists. This is Outlier, Outlying.
Burmeister is a mystic of sorts, a merlin of merino, a psychic wanderer at the edge of culture and commerce. You can’t really pin him down, which I value. The work is about experimentation but the goal is to find universal truths, which gives the product a long lifetime ahead. I’d love to discover more labels/brands/groups like this to inspire and champion (send me some of course).
In classic overachiever fashion, Abe has blessed us, Herb Acolytes with a declarative text on the subject of his new playlist. The last time we got to Scrooge McDuck in such riches was Piotr Orlav’s (whose ‘stack is smoking rn, btw) treatise on Herb Life in Herb 54. Please Read along and enjoy. When you heard the “beep” you can turn the page.
Like a herb (by Abe Burmeister)
“I went to high school in NYC circa 1990, so being a herb was a serious offense. So like a herb, I took this part of the assignment way too seriously. What’s the herbiest mix possible? In the end, my final conclusion was half Beatles - half Drake, but I don’t quite have the skills to pull that one off. The operative phrase of this whole series is “like a herb” so a true herb mix by definition can not be good but the herb knows where the action is, they just don’t know how to get down, a mix that gets close to the herb gets you dangerously close to something good.
A herb is not a nerd, with obscure knowledge that the normies just don’t get. The herb wants to be down but doesn’t know how. The herb was me with my cassingle of MC Hammer’s U Can’t Touch This in my Walkman realizing I could never tell anyone I actually enjoyed it, lest I be branded a herb for life. (FWIW it’s aged well enough to work at weddings but not well enough that I could put it in the mix).
The saving grace of it all is there is nothing herbier than not understanding the assignment, so hey this is the herbiest shit I could pull together and still listen to repeatedly.”
Ciccone Youth - Into the Groovey
A record so herb-y Sonic Youth couldn’t release it under their own name. Originally released with Mike Watt in 1985, it somehow got padded with the absolute worst Sonic Youth outtakes and released as an album three years later, it serves as one of the clearest demarcations of just when rock completely lost touch with the dance floor. As a bonus, it also features one of the most auspicious samples ever, and while not quite fully cleared it even got the “do not sue” sign off
Pop Will Eat Itself - Can U Dig It?
Even the early Designer’s Republic album art can’t save this from being a proper herb anthem
Das EFX - They Want FX
The absolute pinnacle of herb. No one has ever blended so many corny af jingles in one song and made it sound so good
The Beatles - The Word
Real herbs just listen to the Beatles (and maybe Drake)
Van Morrison - I’ve Been Working
Working like a herb
NBA Youngboy - How Ya Know
Nothing herbier than being the biggest artist on YouTube
Big Moe - Barre Baby
Honestly, I’m not sure this really makes the herb cut it sounds like it could
Hank Williams - Kaw-liga
Kaw-liga definitely was the original herb
Desmond Dekker - Fu Manchu
Fu Manchu got canceled decades before it was a thing and for good reason. Herb-y as fuck to write this song but it’s Desmond Dekker so it sounds good somehow
Lil Wayne - 6 Foot 7 Foot
Nothing herbier than sampling Day-o. Plus “real G’s move in silence like lasagna”…
Enya - Boadicea
Real herbs think it’s Lauryn Hill humming
Renegade Soundwave - Last Freedom Fighter
The last freedom fighter? Fucking herb
Catarina Barbieri - Fantas
You couldn’t cook up something herbier than “classically trained meets Berghain” but to Barbieri’s credit this shit sounds good
Van Morrison - Rave on John Donne
Van Morrison is my herb kryptonite but the truth is I mostly just listen to late 60’s early 70’s obvious stuff like an herb and that doesn’t make for a good mix tape. But yeah if you can find Van going all spoken word you know you are ready to herb out
Rolling Stones - Heaven
The true herb goldmine are the mid 80’s Rolling Stone sessions where they’d record some new song Mick Jagger wrote only to realize 18hrs in it was some new song he’d heard while partying the night before. This one is more like Keith Richard’s trying to copy John Martyn or something but it definitely doesn’t sound like the Rolling Stones
Toots & the Maytals - Take Me Home, Country Roads
A reggae cover of John Denver, that’s a herb power move right there
Van Morrison - Haunts of Ancient Peace
Sam’s only feedback on this whole mix was “more Van Morrison”. Like an herb
Shai - If I Ever Fall In Love
New Jack Swing but make it a cappella, a peak herb song from the peak herb era
Fishbone - Bonin’ in the Boneyard
The herbiest shit is the stuff you don’t realize is herb-y until years later
Abe always brings deep cuts across the board, from early Young Thug mixtapes to obscure fabric intel, so I asked him for books too to give you seedlings some additional nourishment:
Diane Ackerman's A Natural History of the Senses
Manuel Delanda’s A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History
Paul Hawken’s Growing a Business
“end of the day nothing beats being outside doing shit, most of what I learned was from the garment district and trade fairs.” - AB
From The Field: Summer Bummer Edition
Oakland’s Space Ghost delivers a dreamy set for the Music From Memory label:
Jason Diamond’s Substack included a tasty sophisti-pop summer mix (or what the Captured Tracks shop calls ‘Sweater Funk’) of The Style Council, Sade, and more.
“there’s a crispness to it during a time of the year when everything is damp. But that doesn’t mean it’s stiff; quite the opposite.”
For Ghostly’s The Lot Radio show last Friday, some of the team and I assembled to celebrate Julie Byrne’s new album in Greenpoint. I opened with a song from it, then followed by some dance music. I will post a Buy Music Club link to some of the songs here but I don't have time this morning. I also contributed to a new Substack bycalled Enjoy Music.
“The thinking behind Situationist détournements goes like this: every day we are bombarded by adverts, images, songs or videos. They are part of the spectacle of the system, distractions that keep us numb and alienated. Importantly, we get these whether we want them or not, for it is almost impossible to live in the modern world and not be subject to this bombardment. They are a form of psychic pollution, one which is forced on us by capitalists. As we cannot escape from this onslaught, the Situationists argued, our only honourable response is to fuck with it.” - JMR Higgs