New York Times Turmeric Feature

By Hillary Moss

To prepare their newest goods, the designers Bobby Bonaparte and Max Kingery bought turmeric in bulk — 15 pounds, to be precise; their Los Angeles workshop continuously smelled of simmering curry in the weeks before they headed into production. They were perfecting the marigold hue that features prominently in the spring/summer 2017 collection for their brand, Olderbrother. “Turmeric is a known natural dye, but making it stable, so that a garment can see sunlight or go in the washing machine, takes a while,” Kingery says. He likens the process to cooking (although not all their ingredients are edible), another inexact science. For example, they created a black indigo because Kingery made a mathematical error. “We really stumbled into that one,” he says.

Bonaparte and Kingery came together as business partners just as serendipitously. They met in 2013, after their fathers happened to be seated next to each other on an airplane. It turned out that both Bonaparte and Kingery had grown up in Portland, Ore. “We were exposed to eating natural and organic foods at a young age, and everything was local — we picked our own apples and berries, and we were taught to ask where these things came from,” Bonaparte says. The two had attended the same school (albeit a year apart, and they weren’t friends), and had pursued careers in fashion: Bonaparte launched a small and modestly successful Japanese-inspired skate-wear line, Lift Label, in eighth grade; Kingery, a fashion school dropout, did full-package apparel development and production in L.A. and custom denim tailoring, and had collaborated with Yasmin Sewell on a conceptual pop-up in London.

They founded Olderbrother in September 2014 on a set of what they call no-brainer principles — among them, that the wares would be entirely eco-friendly. “That was next step, in a way,” Bonaparte says. “We watched the slow-food movement take hold and it felt like, hey, we’re thinking about all of this stuff that we put into our bodies, now let’s think about what we put onto our bodies.” That means that along with natural dyes, Bonaparte and Kingery’s “slow clothing” counts on eco-conscious textiles, like Cleaner Cotton from California’s central valley or, in their latest collection, Washi, a Japanese fabric made from rice paper. The new range also includes more tailored silhouettes, like a blazer and pants — again, no small feat as the items are gender-neutral. “Every single one of these aspects has posed difficult challenges,” Kingery says, “but we can’t see ourselves making products any differently.”

Their output is story-driven, too, they add. Bonaparte and Kingery’s “Hand Me Downs” line, which consists of unsold merchandise redyed indigo and then distressed and patched, plays on the idea of an older brother passing on his clothes to a younger sibling. And their spring/summer 2017 collection of T-shirts, shorts, overalls, trousers and coats, recently shown to buyers in New York, is called “Summer Camp,” and is inspired by their own memories there. “It’s an incredible moment in someone’s life,” Bonaparte says. “You have time on your hands to explore and create, you’re able to find yourself and be sure of, and proud of yourself” — to come of age, as Olderbrother certainly has.

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