Into the Unknown: Kelly Slater

Kelly Slater wants to lift the lid on the traditional supply chain and prove that you can actually produce great looking menswear in a sustainable way.
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Kelly Slater wants to “lift the lid on the traditional supply chain and prove that you can actually produce great looking menswear in a sustainable way”.

Is it possible for Slater in a fashion landscape which has become oversaturated with ‘Outwear’ clothing lines to provide a product which achieves the seemingly unattainable and often competing demands of accessibility, environmental and economical sustainable, and turns a decent profit? He has crossed many difficult bridges in his professional surfing career however could this be one beyond even his reach?

Most people recognise Kelly Slater being the greatest competitive surfer of all time wining 11 world titles over career spanning from 1992 until the present moment. He is without doubt not only the greatest competitive surfer in history, but one of the greatest and most accomplished athletes. Now, as his professional surfing career is slowly winding down at the age of 43, he is refusing to (as he always has) ‘not go gently into that good night’, to quote Dylan Thomas . His focus and drive has shifted from competitive surfing to putting sustainability at the front of his new brand Outerknown. But what does ‘Sustainability’ even mean? And can it, by digging deeper into the garment sourcing and manufacturing industry, be achieved.

In short; yes.

Helping Slater is acclaimed menswear designer John Moore and the Kering Group. Together, they are attempting to create a modern surf/menswear brand for surfers who grew up and grew out of wearing surf brands.

However with the relatively high prices listed on their website, is hard to imagine many surfers being able to afford the products. Perhaps the clothing should be marketed as ‘Accessible Luxury Outerwear’.

Regardless, Outerknown has taken major ethical steps in forming this label through partnering with the Fair Labor Association, which evolved out of a task force put together by then President Bill Clinton. It aims to promote adherence to international labor laws. They have also engaged with Swiss company Bluesign, who endeavour to eliminate “substances posing risks to people and the environment from the beginning” within the textile manufacturing supply chain.

Of all the collaborations perhaps the one with Aquafil is the most important. It is an Italian synthetic fibre manufacturer who have established a factory in Julon, Slovenia where the product ECONYL is manufactured. I know when the words Italian synthetic manufacturer and a Slovenian fibre factory are mentioned in the same sentence, the eyes tend to roll...however it is all above board. The owner, Dr Giulio Bonazzi, has guided ECONYL which recycles Nylon contained in waste such as carpets, clothing and fishing nets and transforms it into a new raw material for clothing without loss of quality. Outerknown are using it to produce surf board shorts and good quality jackets. This purposefully pushes the boundary of where and how we can recycle, what at present is a waste resource, and regenerate it into something which can be worn. In addition, ECONYL aids in reducing the impact of fishnets and pelagic plastics that become either caught on reefs or ocean gyres. From an economic position it creates an incentive for fisherman to turn in their nets and keeping them out of the oceans.

A useful definition of sustainability is, to maintain a certain level of economic growth through conserving and enhancing the ecological balance of the earth by avoiding depletion of natural resources. Other businesses like Elon Musk’s energy storage and automotive company Tesla and mountaineer Yvon Chouinard’s brand Patagonia, have shown that lessening environmental impact, while having continued economic benefits is more than possible.

Slater is known for his resolute focus, patience and drive as an professional surfer now that his attention has shifted to Outerknown, my bet is he will be able to achieve much more for others than what he has for himself.