Mother Karen’s began in 1973 in Salt Lake City, Utah, as a home-grown ski apparel company — creating the original “Powdershirt” as the perfect jacket for spring skiing.
Eventually Mother Karen’s came to stand for something beyond skiing. Both creating and breaking tradition, the classic pullover with color block, raglan sleeves, and the oversized kangaroo pocket is as iconic today as it was more than four decades ago.
Russ Moorehead is the “re-founder” of the brand, and Vanish sat down with him for a special look inside this iconic piece of outerwear that crosses generations and demographics like few others.
“One day my teen-age son asked me what my favorite brand was at his age. In less than a second, I replied, ‘Mother Karen’s.’ I told him it was the very first brand that I had to have. I remember saving up, buying a jacket and wearing it every day until I outgrew it. I then passed it down to multiple siblings who were all thrilled when it was their turn to rock their Powdershirt,” said Moorehead.
He said his son had never heard of Mother Karen’s, so he immediately found one at a cool vintage shop. “When I saw how much he loved it, I decided I wanted to bring it back,” he explained. “We think of ourselves as stewards of a very special project with an almost 50-year history,” continued Moorehead. “We’re drawn to things that are built to last and span generations. Our goal is to take wonderful care of this brand and the growing community that appreciates it as much as we do.”
What does NATURE mean to you, and how does it influence your work?
Nature is always the goal. It influences our work on every level. Enjoying the outdoors is a simple pleasure, so it reminds us to keep things simple when it comes to design. The fewer moving parts, the better. We want to make things that endure, so we’ve made things that last from a quality and style standpoint.
How are you influenced by CULTURE?
To us Culture is about creativity and community. You get the ball rolling, but the community is very much a part of the creative process in building the culture. Mother Karen’s is a brand that people have a very deep connection with. People regularly send us photos of themselves wearing one of our jackets from 40 years ago, or photos wearing a jacket that was handed down to them from their mom or dad. We love that. I think there were couple of cultural forces that played into this. First, in the 70’s and early 80’s skiwear was led by fancy European brands and the country club crowd. Mother Karen’s was a small Utah brand that focused on the true ski bums, powder people. And because of this, Mother Karen’s quickly became a cult favorite throughout the Rocky Mountain ski scene. Our jackets became a symbol to folks that carve their own path. Eventually Mother Karen’s made its way to both the east and west coasts, and our jackets became a favorite among surfers, skaters and BMXers in California as well as a staple of east-coast preppy style. None of that was planned. The community was creative and influenced the culture.
The second factor was a lucky accident. In 1979 Sony introduced the Walkman cassette player. Listening to music became more portable and more personal. Immediately everyone had to have a Mother Karen’s colorful pullover jackets with the big front pocket to carry their Walkman and a couple of mix tapes. The brand became forever connected to music.
What does the FUTURE hold?
We think it’s an exciting time, especially for small indie brands like us. We are always amazed at how open and collaborative other indie brands are in this space. We are inspired by each other, we help each other. There are some really creative people in this industry, maybe now more than ever. As for Mother Karen’s, we are a small team of family and friends. We try our best to make good stuff. We like doing things our own way and sticking up for what’s important to us. We enjoy making things for people that appreciate that. We are thrilled that so many new people are connecting with the brand for the first time and we’re excited to be getting some fun collaboration requests. Our future will include a few of those next year, so stay tuned!