The ocean has given Kelly Slater nearly everything in life, from friendship and spirituality to direction and inspiration.
In 2015, the 11-time World Surf League Champion launched a clothing line to properly show his gratitude — giving back to the sea by scooping out what’s killing it, and turning that waste into a sustainable menswear line called Outerknown.
“I sometimes imagine if all other animals and beings did the same amount of stuff that we do to the earth on their own level, how bad this place would be,” Slater said in a promotional video. “What if every other type of animal was creating as much garbage and crap? It’s pretty appalling, if you think of it in that way.”
Together with designer John Moore, they created a brand that not only reflects their style, but also their values — riding the wave of eco-fashion while educating consumers, and retailers, in the process.
Among them is Matthew Guiffrida, general manager of Flying Point Surf, who stocks Outerknown across the East End — including locations in Greenport, Montauk, Southampton, Sag Harbor and, as of Labor Day weekend, a stand-alone pop-up shop in partnership with SagTown Coffee, located in the village.
“We started late. We weren’t sure it would do too much after the season, but it has,” Guiffrida said of Outerknown. “It’s continued to grow and it’s continued to get traction in the community with people who know what it is.”
The “Outerknown conversation” is one that never tires him, and the pop-up store allows him to have it with zero distraction by other brands, Guiffrida said.
“It’s hard when the stores are full, to really be able to sit there and talk about it,” he said of the Flying Point shops. “It’s important for us to have Outerknown in a separate spot, where you can touch it and we can talk about it. When it’s mixed in, it loses its story. You need to be able to tell the story, because people really get behind it when they hear it.”
For most surfers, just knowing that Slater is a co-creator of the surf-inspired clothing brand is enough to intrigue them, Guiffrida said.
“When you say his name, a person who surfs or knows anything about surfing is instantly interested,” he said. “Then, they start to touch it. It’s attractive stuff; it’s really nice clothing, so it catches your eye first. Then, you tell the story behind how it’s made, and people are sold. It’s like you can’t walk away when you hear what they’re doing to clean up the ocean and make the clothing. You almost can’t walk away.”
It began three years ago, when Slater could not ignore the oceanic crisis churning around him any longer. He’d heard about rising rates of ear and eye infections among surfers. He found plastic floating thousands of miles offshore. He saw hypodermic needles on the beaches of Bali. And after surfing in Malibu, California, he got sick from a sewage spill during a big swell, as did five of his friends.
“I think we need some sort of shift in our awareness and there’s definitely other ways to do all these things that we do,” Slater said in a promotional video, adding, “It’s not one person’s problem. It’s everyone’s problem. It’s not okay to remain unaware. It’s not okay to ruin the natural world.”
Founded on the premise of respect for two of the fashion industry’s most neglected assets — “people and planet,” according to Outerknown’s mission statement — the clothing brand breaks the mold by sourcing organic cotton from conscientious mills, making swim trunks from recycled water bottles, washing in factories that recycle 99 percent of its wastewater, and minimizing their carbon footprint at all costs.
“We created Outerknown to smash the formula,” Slater says on the Outerknown website. “To lift the lid on the traditional supply chain and prove you can actually produce great looking menswear in a sustainable way.”
Their flagship material is a recycled nylon called Econyl, made from recovered fishing nets — responsible for drowned turtles, fish, captured wildlife and, sometimes, a ruined local ecosystem, Slater explained — though the brand also utilizes hemp, wool and plastics. Garment tags and hangtags are water-soluble, which eliminates unnecessary waste while giving a nod to the co-founders’ mutual hatred of branding and logos.
“We’re surfers who grew up with surf brands, but we grew out of logos,” Moore said on the Outerknown website. “And we want to wear clothing that’s made better and looks better.”
The pop-up’s popularity is a testament to that, Guiffrida said, and they are already seeing repeat customers. He noted that shoppers naturally gravitate toward the blanket shirts — made from organic cotton yoke that retail for $145 — as well as the Paz Pants, which sell for $98, have an “awesome fit” and signature logo buttons on the back pocket, made from Oceanworks recycled plastic, he said. The Evolution shirts are reversible, ultra-lightweight and spill-resistant, thanks to the Econyl twill, and also sell for $145 each.
“Customers want it. They want sustainable clothing, they want to do their part and you’re gonna buy a shirt anyway,” Guiffrida said. “You gotta wear a shirt, you gotta wear pants — it’s the law — so you might as well do it while helping the environment. People are on board and, for us, it’s changed our minds and it’s made us work harder.
“We’re actually at a trade show right now in Las Vegas, picking out lines for the fall and that’s a part of our discussion that we have with our vendors and the clothing lines: how it’s made. It’s become important to us, too,” he continued. “For us, it’s been an education. It’s amazing how this pop-up has changed our perspective, as well. It’s been an education and we’re changing the way we do things. It’s exciting.”