Chat with Pink Essay
I remember exploring Olderbrother when I came across them on IG awhile back, drawn to their softer take on workwear and their very literal commitment to sustainability. They came back on my radar when I picked up a Bon Appétit x Healthyish at the airport and came across a feature on their brand and process, which featured images of founders Max Kingery and Bobby Bonaparte holding large chunks of chaga mushrooms. Most recently, I’ve been exploring their physical space, one of several small but impactful brands working to turn brick-and-mortar on its head and invite people in to do more than simply shop. Each season, Olderbrother transforms their shop space in Venice, CA, transitioning to both new colors and a new installation that extols the spirit of the season’s collection. I spoke with Max about their space, plants that make music, and the future of the stores we know today.
I love Olderbrother and I’ve followed you guys for a while, and I always enjoyed looking at the store. I’ve never been in-person, but I’d followed it online for a while. I’m curious because the store concept is a little unconventional...
I love that you’re able to ascertain that because it can be so hard to take two steps back and really communicate what’s going on.
We always feel like we’re never doing justice in articulating what the plan is, in the physical space, so I’m glad that some of that fun is echoing through and you’re able to see that we’re trying to break some rules with experiential retail.
Yeah, exactly. And I think what’s interesting about that is though you’re trying to break it down, what’s happening, it’s not too broken down for people. It just presents itself for what it is.
Yeah. I love mysteries, but apparently the people on our marketing team are like, “That doesn’t work.”
Yeah, that’s not very marketing-friendly. But I love it. I think it seems like it’s working.
Can you tell me a little bit about the space from your perspective? What do you think are the essential parts and what feeling do you want people to have when they walk in?
Well, most importantly, we want it to fundamentally change every time people come back in there. So the main goal, and it’s a challenging one, was to look at it more like a gallery. And every season we’re going through and conceptualizing a physical space that tells the story of our collection.
And it goes much further than just picking pretty colors. We’re actually fusing a narrative about plants and connecting it to our imagery. So when version 1.0 was built, we’d done a collection where we had dyed with mushrooms, so we built a mushroom concept store. So all the fixtures were made out of mycelium and the base was this fungi garden in-store. And the whole thing was to connect people and create this experience where it’s like, “Oh, okay, I’m immersed in the story of the product and the story of the season.
Then we dyed everything with saffron just like monks did ages ago, and we built a temple in store—a nondenominational temple.
And now we have this amazing installation which is about the healing that plants can achieve. We built a kind of DIY grow room that’s completely modular and assembled it in there. And then we linked with this really cool company called Plant Wave, which created technology that’s able to read the biometric movement in plants and convert that into musical notes. So you’ve come into this room and you’re drawn into this little corrugated shed and inside that is a grow room where the plants are just thriving and playing music.
It’s a totally immersive experience when you go in there—there are big red fluorescent lights mimicking sunlight and keeping the plants happy. It’s a singular pod that you can fit into and listen to these plants play this beautiful music all day long.
Each exhibit is so different too, but there’s definitely a thread running through them. Where does this desire to have such an immersive experience come from?
I think it’s what propels the brand forward—trying to create meaningful products, right? We’re trying to change the way that people consume things and do it in a more meaningful way. So when you come, it’s supposed to be design, it’s supposed to be educational and it’s supposed to be experiential—the idea of racks of clothes is not enough.
Obviously, we’re a very small company who are working with a very small budget, but every season we try and create these things that all further that experience. We want people to come by and, though sometimes it can feel kitschy, say, “Oh, was this the mushroom store?” And it’s like, “Yeah, kind of.” And then now they come back and it’s like, “Do you know what ashwagandha is? Do you want to hear it play music to you?”
It’s this whole experience that brings people in and connects these things. They can understand there’s an intention behind everything that’s done. And so in the physical space there’s been some amazing opportunities to really connect those thoughts.
When there’s a 3-D element to their experience in finding clothing, they carry that with them when they wear it.
Do you have any dream projects for the space?
Well, I haven’t fully wrapped Spring ‘20, but we chose all these perennials, like chamomile, to make our collection.
The idea of creating things on an impactful level stands out, like that artist in New York who built those tanks of extinct algae that used to be in the Hudson River—Michael Wang.
As we were picking up speed and really felt excited about this idea, it was like all of these different indoor grow rooms were having a moment developing plant music. It was so cool to be on that wave that was occurring everywhere else. There were related themes that were definitely our inspiration in this whole experience and it all popped at the end of the summer. It was really cool to see that all this stuff was having a moment and being able to convey it through our lens.
People want that return, to nature.
Yeah, that’s one of the aspects—you can have it design-forward but return to nature.
We had some outside contributors too. Emma Newbern and Alba Kane were working with us independently, which was really helping us work our idea out in the physical space. They gave a lot of insight, since there were a lot of moving parts.
It’s funny because it always turns into a homework assignment of “Okay, how can we create an environment.” I had to watch over 45 hours of “how to grow pot in your closet” videos to figure it out. It’s funny how whenever you’re trying to execute these things, you always end up in other worlds.