Since gentrification’s taken a firm hold of Williamsburg, artists, designers, musicians have been migrating further into Brooklyn, with Bushwick now fast following suit. With ample space at more affordable prices, convenient connections to Manhattan and enough Stumptown coffee to fuel full-time jobs and moonlight freelancing, it’s hardly difficult to see the attraction. Having come across Bushwick-based brand Highland during a spate of press days, I was eager to learn more about the interestingly anomalous brand. Brooklynite yet not pandering to the ubiquitous all-black Williamsburg uniform, nor mimicking the Americana heritage formula, Highland is definitely something all of its own.
I caught up with the team to talk Joseph Beuys, Utah and Roberta’s pizza…
Male-Mode: What is Highland? Who does the team consist of?
Highland: Marked by function and utility, Highland is a sportswear collection designed for today’s wanderer and dreamer – those people with a thirst for raw and meaningful experiences. Originally formed in Venice, CA in 2009, the trio that makes up the creative force behind Highland consists of lead designer Lizzie Owens, Mike Franks and Cramer Tolboe.
What motivated you to found Highland?
Being raised in Utah, we all shared a love for the outdoors and the freedom that comes from exploration and experiences in the wilderness. By the summer of 2009, having all worked in various parts of the fashion industry both in LA and NY, we longed to reconnect with our roots. Through this we realised there was a real absence of grown-up, sophisticated sportswear in the contemporary menswear market. We knew we had a fresh cool take on what would feel familiar to a lot of guys, a new perspective to add and a past to legitimise it.
What inspired your current Fall Winter collection?
For our FW12 collection, we were really inspired by an art installation titled “I like America and American Likes Me”. It featured the artist, Joseph Beuys, wrapped in felt and confined in a room with a live coyote for several days. We experimented with the idea of vulnerability in nature and the accepted notion of feeling protected through fabric ‘barriers’.
As self-proclaimed creators of ‘utility menswear’, you’re surely familiar with the flippancy with which this term is bandied about, especially with the recent rise in work-wear – both in American and global markets. What does ‘utility menswear’ mean to you?
When trying to define what utility menswear means to us, early Patagonia or The North Face immediately comes to mind. Those brands represented an early version of work wear meets change/evolution/technology, and we’d like to build upon that by merging technical advances to make “work-wear” even more functional, while adding a fashion forward design.
Growing up in Utah during the 80’s and 90’s, those brands truly captured what it was like living in the mountains around that time. Our brand’s aspirational ideal is freedom. Specifically, the freedom of the American West, and we strive to create clothing that transmits that through the function of the style and the fabrication that serves a purpose.
We think like that when developing new styles or finding fabric; the way our details work together to create a piece you didn’t know you couldn’t live without.
Can you describe your experience as designers based in Bushwick? Is it, in your opinion, the burgeoning creative hub it’s often reputed to be?
Our move to Brooklyn came out of the shared sentiment that, to create clothes that inspired others, we first needed a space that inspired us. We always saw Bushwick as a melting pot for young creatives, and luckily, we found our dream space here. If you walk into coffee shops or overhear street conversations, it seems everyone is working on something expressive whether it be music, art or design of some sort.
It’s also convenient and quick to get to our factories but removed from all the chaos which helps us incubate our creative vision. Oh and let’s not forget Roberta’s Pizza, that place really sealed the deal, if we had to name a NY landmark that embodies our brand, it would be Roberta’s.
What’s next for the brand?
We will continue to develop our collections and refine the Highland aesthetic. We are constantly re-working styles we have done in the past and bringing new ideas to the table. Apart from that, we’ve started planning on a fashion week presentation that will hopefully take place in February. It will require a lot of work, but we feel like our brand is far too good to go unnoticed anymore.
Tailoring or sportswear?
Brogues or boots?