We’re so here for it

By Katrina Froelich

4 · 22 · 2019


From the minds of designer John Moore and surfer Kelly Slater, Outerknown is a clothing line with sustainability as a fundamental principle of the brand. In honor of Outerknown expanding to a woman’s collection, we sat down with Co-Founder and designer, John Moore, to talk sustainability and fashion.

How did you become a designer?


I actually didn’t go to fashion school. I went to art school, and somewhere between the watercolors and printmaking, I knew I needed to find a way to make a living through art. I took a job working for Rick Klotz at Freshjive straight out of school in the mid-nineties which is where I learned how to properly design and make clothing. This was before we used computers to design, and emails to communicate. We had a pattern maker in-house, and we met with our makers face-to-face daily. We did everything by hand back then, and Rick taught me to sketch a hundred ideas for every one item we would make.  This was similar to my art schooling – my professors taught me to produce tons of artwork if I ever wanted to refine my craft and possibly make a living off art.

I was just a weird kid, socially awkward. I had surfing and art. But then design became a way I could communicate and exchange ideas. Design was a way to make friends, express myself through clothing, and travel the world. 25 years later, I’m still at it.

How did you meet Kelly Slater? How has your relationship changed over the years?

Not sure when we first met, but it was about a decade ago. We had many mutual friends through surfing and the clothing industry, and I began collaborating with him on a project around 2011.  We worked well together from the beginning, as we were both at a similar point in our lives where we were more concerned with how something is made than how cool it is. A great black tee shirt without a logo was really hard to find when we met.  Especially one that was made sustainably. So we bonded over this idea of creating clean and uncomplicated clothing, and questioning the traditional means of manufacturing in the process.

I suppose our relationship has evolved over the years in the sense that we don’t need a lot of face time. We have a creative shorthand that we “speak” … he’s on the world tour, and I’m in the studio so we do much of our communicating remotely. He’ll share inspiration with me and the team whenever it strikes no matter where he is in the world, and we’ll go back-and-fourth until we get something right.

Why did you start Outerknown?


I mean, how many reasons can I give you?   When I go into the studio each day, I’m thinking about my children’s future. I’ve been on this planet for a while with the rest of humanity messing things up, and our children are inheriting this mess we created.  That’s not right. The good news is that our kids are growing up with much more compassion and understanding, and desire to change what we’re doing to this planet. Honestly, I’ve worked for massive brands and tiny brands, and I’ve seen firsthand the negative impact our industry has had on the environment and the workforce.  I’ve seen the ugliness of our industry in places like China, but also right here at home in Los Angeles and New York. In a previous role, I took pride in the fact that we were producing clothing in LA, but I was blind to the fact that we were working in sweat shops with horrible conditions and the workforce were being paid below minimum wage. Some of the worst sweatshops in the world are ten miles from our studio. Outerknown is an opportunity to right some of these wrongs, and make incredible clothing we want to wear with a process we believe in so we can leave this place better than we found it.   Today, we’re proud to produce all over the world with the best makers who share our passion for People and Planet. Outerknown makes clothing that feels good because it looks great, but also feels good because you’re making a positive impact on the people and places you encounter along the way.

What makes Outerknown a sustainable fashion brand? What sets it apart from other brands?

We define Outerknown’s commitment to sustainability as making every decision with the highest regard for People and Planet. And we do this by focusing on four things:

  1. Using planet-friendly fibers such as organic, recycled, regenerated, and soon bio-alternatives.  

  2. Manufacturing Fair Trade Certified™ products while adding more Fair Trade styles each season.

  3. We have a completely transparent supply chain which we share on our website.

  4. Most importantly, we advocate for, and support initiatives we believe in. This includes ocean health, reducing waste while cleaning up our seas, and finding solutions to end gun violence.

Why did you start Outerknown?


See my response above about why we started Outerknown. We’re headed down a path where there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish in the very near future. Natural resources are depleting, and global warming is changing the landscape.  Not to mention, people all over the world don’t have the basic essentials they need to live a healthy and safe life. So with Outerknown, we make every decision with the highest regard for this planet we call home, and the people who are building our clothing. Our brand and our products will evolve, but this principle will always be at our core.  And we’ve always said we hope to inspire others to do the same along the way. There are infinitely more brands focused on sustainable innovation today, than when we started Outerknown and this makes us very happy. Keeps us on our toes too.

What are the challenges that you face as a sustainable brand?

Sustainability doesn’t sell clothing. Great looking products sell themselves, so we have to make the best clothing first and foremost. Sustainability is the feel-good bonus round. However, sustainability costs more. Our brand makes a large investment in terms of money and resources every step of the way. So the biggest challenge is finding the balance between communicating sustainability and making epic clothing that people want to wear.  All this being said, it’s easy to focus on the hurdles, but we prefer to focus on the little wins. Last year, we sold out of Kelly’s APEX trunk because it looked awesome, fit great, and performed in the water. This year, we were able to deliver the same APEX trunks Fair Trade Certified! That’s a great leap forward. Being a sustainable brand means constantly learning and evolving to have better products made in more responsible ways.

How does Outerknown’s focus on the environment shape your design process?

The environment and our design approach are intrinsically connected. Outerknown’s always thinking about the health of this planet and protecting our precious natural resources, and when we’re not working, we spend all of our time outdoors. Our team is a bunch of outdoor enthusiasts, ocean lovers, passionate stewards of the earth, and we also love fashion too.  This last part is key - we believe you shouldn’t have to sacrifice style for sustainable practices. Function. Form. Responsibility. These all need to become one through our design process.

What influences you in your life and design?

My kids, and their future.  But also observing those around me.  I get most of my inspiration watching people walk past me on the street.  

You just launched a woman’s collection, let’s talk about it. Were you always planning to have a woman’s collection?

Yes, Women’s was always part of the plan. It just took some courage to actually give it a go. (laughs) When we launched in 2015, we were actually working on the women’s piece, but we decided to shelve it for a while so we could get the right suppliers in place, and work out what it truly means to build clothing sustainably.  Over the last few years, our supply network has matured and our understanding of how to build products with the utmost respect for people and planet has grown exponentially. I can say with a lot of confidence that we’re all pretty happy we waited until now. It’s worth mentioning that we were mostly men in the business when we launched Outerknown, so it made sense to focus on what we knew best at the beginning. Now we’re almost 40 people (a majority of women) and they all played a role in bringing Outerknown Women’s to life. 

What were the differences between designing for women vs men?

Ha! Men are simple creatures; give us a hug and we’re happy. Same thing with our clothes - we wear a uniform every day. The same five pieces done in slightly different ways.  When we’re designing for men, we’re generally thinking how easy can we make this? How many ways can you build the same flannel? We’ve got three years of men’s history now and we know what works. If a guy loves our Outerknown’s Blanket Shirt, chances are he’s going to love our Moleskin Shirt too!


Outerknown Women’s is more nuanced.  Our assortment is tightly edited, but also has a ton of personality just like the women who inspire us. With just 17 pieces in our initial collection, we’re celebrating simple pleasures like the perfect tee and our forthcoming Solstice Fleece Crews, but also effortlessly cool items you can’t get anywhere else.  We’re selling S.E.A. SUITS (our version of the one-piece boiler suit), Canyon Dresses with hand-blocked floral prints, and a lighter-than-air gauze shirt we call the Costa.   The details, materials, and nuance of color and drape are essential to the success of each item. The finishing must be soft, and a perfect fit is mission critical. We know the Outerknown Woman will shop every brand before they make a decision to buy from us, and they aren’t just looking to add to their uniform, they are looking for something that gets them excited. Something special. We can connect the dots with what we do well in Men’s, but Women’s needs to stand on its own too.   We’re enjoying the challenge.  

What was your inspiration behind this collection?

We’re inspired by kind, compassionate, and intelligent women of any age.  Women who are changing the world, and using their platforms for good every day. Jane Goodall is pinned up all over our walls, and so is Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez as well as teenagers Melati & Isabel Wijsen in Bali.  Their allure and style comes from their drive and enthusiasm to leave this planet better than they found it. Women like environmental activist and Trash is for Tossers blogger Lauren Singer and activist and founder of Female Collective, Candace Reels, who we are honored to work with.  These are the badass game-changing women who we’re thinking about when we’re designing Outerknown Women’s.