“We want to find our own path, we don’t want to follow what is expected,” Trent Bush told me from the foyer of his new brand HQ, a second-story office space above Boulder’s Pearl Street Mall. “Everything we are doing is really focused on the wearer’s performance. We have a no-rules mentality.”
“The outdoor industry follows a similar vein,” Bush says. “From its marketing to the way they look, outdoor apparel brands are really similar, with the brand name being the only point of differentiation. Even so, there are plenty of great brands, but we wanted to come out and do something that doesn’t fit the expected mold. You have to do something new, otherwise there’s no point.”
And Bush should know. He is an outdoor apparel pioneer, a visionary, a materials expert, a brand builder, an artist. Growing up literally immersed in the fledgling outdoor industry of the 70’s and 80’s in Boulder, Colorado, Bush rebelled against that life by letting skateboarding, snowboarding, and skate culture consume him. Then, he and his brother Troy (also a renowned apparel designer) launched their own streetwear and snowboard apparel brand called Twist in 1989, and it took off to a global level. “We were making everything by hand,” says Bush. “Not even with starting points in fit. Back then you could still make apparel in Boulder, there were actually production facilities.”
When Twist introduced sunglasses in the early ‘90s it was the only brand in the Sunglass Hut chain allowed to use its own branding. The duo was hand picked by Jake Burton to come to Vermont and design Burton’s apparel and accessories, in what Bush calls “our own little design agency, like internal outsiders,” where they created the brand Analog. After leaving left to start his own snow and streetwear brands, transitioning later in his career to focus more on technical outdoor apparel, with VP of product jobs at Fenix USA, (Fjallraven, Brunton, Primus) and Mountain Hardware, and most recently as VP apparel for Black Diamond Equipment.
“Artilect is not a typical outdoor brand, it’s a performance brand that excels in the outdoors. We grew up in the outdoors, but we did it in a time of revolution. A time of punk rock and skateboarding, of hip-hop and digital advances that led to a hyper-speed evolution of our environments,” reads the mission statement he penned himself. “We get out there, we get deep and we have the time of our lives, but it’s not about that alone. It’s about the destination and the journey. It’s also about getting lost in an unfamiliar city, discovering cultures and living new experiences so that we can look back on our time fulfilled with everything we’ve done and everyone we’ve met along the way. Equal parts art and intelligence, Artilect is an apparel studio backed by deep experience of the past, with a laser-focus on the future.”
The artwork at the front of the Artilect brand, seen below, is by Evan Hecox. “He started with us when we were kids,” says Bush. “He went on to Chocolate skateboards, Beautiful Losers, Nike and Adidas with co-labs, he’s of a stature and has been with us since the beginning.”
“At heart I’m more about technology and innovation and performance. We’ve made a concerted effort to go away from action sports to do performance innovation in a bigger way,” Bush explains. To find out more for yourself and see what limited products you might be able to get your hands on, visit www.artilect.studio. And now here’s the exclusive Vanish interview with Bush…
// What does “nature” mean to Artilect? How have you taken a different viewpoint on outdoors?
A core belief of the brand is that we are never more alive than when we’re outside. I think the different approach we’re taking is we are going to define outdoors for anyone. If you are outside, you are outdoors. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the most remote wild place, or exploring a new city. In either case, there is a sense of wonder and experience that can feel exactly the same. ARTILECT was created for these types of people. I have this idea of being “Alive in the world”, as a participant, not a spectator. We want to support those experiences, regardless of where they happen.
// How have your past projects led to this moment? Why is it necessary?
It’s funny because I guess I didn’t realize just how much my past has prepared me for launching this brand. I can look at different points along the way, all the way back to my family and Frostline when I was a kid. I have had the amazing fortune to have a front row seat to the beginnings of not just the modern outdoor industry, but also the birth of broader market revolutions that have really shaped who I am and what I stand for, which is conveyed in ARTILECT itself. Throughout that time, and in every situation, there has been a thread of DIY mentality and a deep desire to avoid conformity at any cost, especially if it comes at the expense of innovation and progress. The outdoor industry has actually been pretty stagnant when it comes to innovation, which probably sounds a little sacrilegious, but I think it’s true. Compared to many other industries, like electronics or cars, it just hasn’t kept pace.
The outdoor industry has stayed very neatly in its own bubble for a generation, and the same basic fabrics, functions, and technologies have been used since the 1970’s. Of course there have been advances in things like manufacturing processes and fit, but where’s the true innovation? My necessity to create ARTILECT is very much like it has been throughout my entire career. When I thought there was a better way to do something, I have gone all-in to try to do it myself. In working with some major brands over the years, I have also been able to see how they work and the motivating factors and driving forces of each. If I didn’t think I could do something truly different, there would be no point. The only way to ensure that happens is to take a different approach. If I hadn’t had such a broad range of experiences over the decades, I don’t know if I would have quite the same viewpoint and motivations I have now. Every one of those experiences are integral and crucial to making sure ARTILECT is different, not because it is a conscious decision to be different just to be different, but because it’s just the natural next step on my path.
// How has the pandemic either helped or hurt this launch?
I don’t know if ARTILECT would actually exist in its current form without Covid. The pandemic was the catalyst to sit back and really think about what I was doing and why I was doing it. Having some forced time to get off the road I was able to reflect on all of my experiences and my own needs. It allowed me to reconnect with my business partner Corry Taylor and his amazing team, and created the right set of circumstances to be able to execute in a 24 hour a day manner leveraging technology to communicate with teams all over the globe. Prior to the pandemic, everything was so “business as usual” with tradeshows, sales meetings, factory travel, etc. etc., and the pandemic has pushed us forward many years in our ability to connect.
What we did in 6 months probably would have taken 2 years if the pandemic hadn’t happened. That said, of course I would have much preferred the pandemic had not happened. It has been so devastating for so many people and the loss of life has been staggering. The only positivity I see is that for the people who I get to work with on a daily basis, it has hopefully helped to bring something a little brighter to look forward to. I know it has brought more meaning to my life and the way I view everything. I hope the world emerges trying to find more meaning in their lives too.
// What does CULTURE mean to Artilect?
Culture and experience are totally connected. Culture emerges from shared experiences, and I like to look at experiences as a whole of an activity, not just the activity itself. This was another lesson I have learned along the way. I always try to explain the distinction between the activity, and the culture. This is something I learned very early through my skateboarding and snowboarding roots. Skateboarding is an activity, but skate culture is so much more. It is the art, the music, the people, the places, and everything else that surrounds it. If you look at a brand like Vans, they wouldn’t be such a strong cultural-phenomenon if they just sold shoes to people who skateboard. By embracing the culture as a whole, they are able to affect magnitudes more lives than if they were just focused on the activity. That is where I am coming from with ARTILECT.
Yes, of course we are there to support activity-focused performance at the highest level possible, but we exist to support the entire culture surrounding it. Especially in the modern outdoor era where it isn’t all about “getting away from it all”, but more about the total experience, and the people you experience it with. These are the bonds that connect people and experiences, and a culture will start to emerge. I want to support those people, and support the emerging culture, bringing as many people along for the ride as possible.
// What are your current sources of inspiration, from what worlds and industries? Who influences you?
Most of my primary sources of inspiration are far outside of the apparel industry. Looking at what has been happening and advances in technology and innovation in other products and brands is much more interesting than what happens in the apparel or outdoor industries. I am especially interested in the net benefit of combined technologies as they relate to performance outcomes. If you look at what something like how an electric car can perform compared to old technology, there is almost no comparison. Through the thoughtful application of innovation and technology, the total experience can be transformed and have better outcomes for the driver and for the planet in terms of performance, safety, and sustainability. I believe apparel systems can do the same thing, and we are designing our products in the same way, with the user at the center of everything we do. I believe in taking a systems-based approach, utilizing complementary technologies and a unified fit/function approach from the skin-out, to support the human machine to perform better.
// Who should pay attention to this brand?
ARTILECT is for anyone who needs absolute performance, but doesn’t feel like there isn’t currently a brand in the market that speaks to them. There are already a huge variety of brands in the performance apparel/outdoor space, but they are all in a very similar “outdoorsy” vein. Today, people come to the outdoors or are seeking adventure or new experiences in a totally different way than earlier generations. While they may have done some of the traditional outdoors activities in their past, they are coming from a very different point of view than where their parents (and their parent’s brands) have come from.
ARTILECT is for people who have an openness to explore new innovation and technologies, not just conform to the same materials and components that have defined the performance apparel market up to this point. ARTILECT is for people who understand that their best performance gains may not be found in just paying attention to their equipment, but that their best gains will come paying attention to their own body, and in how an integrated apparel system can support their ability to perform at their best. We have launched the brand to be absolutely inclusive to any activity, and to any gender. If you need performance, we want to support you.
// What does the FUTURE look like from where you are sitting?
It’s honestly really exciting. We are working on so many breakthrough technologies in all areas of fabrics, insulations, trims, and construction methods right now that it is a super fulfilling to see a lifetime of work come together. By throwing any type of preconceived rules out the window, and only focusing on solving problems, we are able to really work with our suppliers to bring new ideas and innovations to market. These are relationships built over decades of the idea/build/test/refine/repeat cycle working with some of the world’s best suppliers, developers, and designers, all working together towards a common goal of improving the user experience. While most people seem to think most things have already been done in performance apparel, I firmly believe most things HAVE NOT been done in the space.
// Is there optimism in what you are doing? What problem are you solving?
I’m so optimistic that we can make a difference. We’re taking on the challenge of supporting a user’s unique differences and needs in their specific physiology to perform at their best. I’m optimistic we can do this in a way that does not impact our future environment, and we can bring a new level of durability and longevity to a product’s lifecycle. I know I don’t really have a go-to brand in performance apparel that I relate to, with performance needs above and beyond the action-sports-brand side of things, but with a level of design aesthetic that isn’t relegated to just the hype-driven collabs by outdoor, athletic, or fashion brands that don’t actually perform. Why do I have to choose one or the other? Every other product category, from phones to cars, offers amazing innovation and technology-driven performance, AND incredible design. I think outdoor brands have always played it way too safe in trying not to offend their narrow base. I believe there are a lot of people just like me out there, who truly need both. That goes right to the core of our name and our mission, which starts out with the words “Equal parts art and intelligence”…That’s what ARTILECT is to its core.
// What else do designers or followers of the apparel and materials world need to know about Artilect that might not have already been said?
ARTILECT started with next-to-skin layers, but the same level of innovation and performance we are bringing through things like our alignment with the Nuyarn technology in the current line will be matched in every other layer we create. So much of what we will be bringing to the market will be new because it has never been seen before. I truly hope they steal the “no-rules” mentality of ARTILECT and really start pushing innovation. I hope they put in the time, the effort, and the energy to try to do things differently, and focus on new ideas from outside the industry instead of just looking within- You can’t just go to OR or ISPO and expect some type of innovation outcome by looking at what already exists from other brands. You have to live it to create it, and it takes time. It also takes a pretty solid knowledge and experience base to ensure they aren’t testing their new ideas on consumers. A lot of the things we have been working on are based on decades-long relationships, and my hope is that some of these things actually do become somewhat standard to move the performance apparel industry ahead as a whole.
Since we are launching in 2021 with Covid-driven communications, we can be much more decentralized and put our resources towards the product and brand, and not to overhead-heavy areas that past brands were forced to build. Because we are private, and not VC-backed, we are not in a position to need to rush faster than the technologies take to commercialize to support growth needs. Since we’re not crowd-funded, we have a much broader base of connections and deeper experience, plus a broader product offering than if we just came to market with one or two good ideas. Because we fully believe in traditional retail distribution, and in the power great retailers have built through creating their own communities, we feel we can teach them our beliefs and how our products can help their customers to perform better.
// Will there be a fashion/lifestyle play here or are you focusing on performance alone?
ARTILECT is broken down into ARTILECT Systems and ARTILECT Studio. A/SYS is our activity-focused apparel systems; and Studio is where we take those innovations and technologies and implement them to support a wearer’s everyday performance.
I am a big believer that there can be more of a need in everyday situations than there are in the backcountry. If you’re heading out for the day backcountry skiing or splitboarding, you pretty much know you will face sun, cold, wind, snow, internal heat and moisture, and need to manage a combination of those conditions. I have lived in cities where the hot/cold cycle of getting to work from your door to the coffee spot to the train to the office can be really severe, with 80 degree temperature swings along the way walking inside from the cold temporarily, and not wanting to take everything off, only to walk back out into the cold a few minutes later sweaty and starting to stink, only to get really cold because you’re wet. The technologies we are working on are perfect for these types of scenarios. Again, if you’re outside, you’re outdoors, and we can help keep you performing at your best, with a high degree of style at the same time. I have worked with so many brands where words like “style” are somehow a bad thing, or where the counterpoint to being outside in performance situations is perceived as sitting around a campfire, when that’s just not the reality for a lot of people.
// How will you grow?
Our equation for growth is actually very simple: Create a comprehensive systems-based performance apparel system leveraging technology and innovation for THE WEARER’S BENEFIT. If we focus all of our energy and attention on creating a superior user experience with both transparency and sincerity, then we feel we will be rewarded with growth. If we start making decisions from any other viewpoint or with any other motivation, we won’t deserve to grow.