I chose the color black because that’s what designers wore. Or at least my muses. For someone who knew nothing about designing a physical product or creating fashion, I thought that at the very least I could feel like I was Rei Kawakubo or Alexander Wang.
In college, I was a history major. It’s not a degree that has given me any tangible hard skills that I would find useful today and at the same time it is the one piece of formal education that has shaped me the most. During my junior year, I wrote a research paper on the neoclassical architecture of Germany prior to the Second World War. Before going any further, I would like to make a point that the atrocities of this period are beyond speakable. In high school I was fortunate enough to make a trip to Eastern Europe to visit the places where such horrors took place. It gave me perspective. In today’s era of cancel culture, I think it’s important to be able to separate certain wrongdoings from other, more sincere intentions. For Germany during this period, it was their views on architecture.
Like the period of Classicism that came before it, the designers of this time believed that architecture should leave a lasting impression on its subject. An impression of awe and splendor that comes from a feeling that you are a part of something larger and greater than yourself. Objects that are minimal and uniform and symmetrical and tasteful in their aesthetic values. Values that extend to ideas like solidity and posterity. The tall, uniform columns of the Pantheon in Greece. The White House. Landmarks that have stood the test of time in a way that modernism can not and will not, be it in architecture or fashion or design.
In a way, the people who adopt a daily uniform seem to be seeking something similar. Yes there is an argument to be made about saving mental energy for tasks that are more valuable. But there is always more than what meets the surface. Take the well known story of how Steve Jobs wore the same turtleneck and pair of jeans everyday. Lesser known is that he commissioned the iconic designer Issey Miyake to create a custom design specifically for him or that he initially wanted all Apple employees to adopt a work uniform after being inspired by a Japanese company that had adopted this ethos. The same can be said about the wardrobes of Mark Zuckerberg or Anna Wintour or the person you know from work who initially comes off as a bit too extra when he tries to pull it off. What architects and politicians and aristocrats of the old sought to achieve with architecture, the businesswomen and creators of today are doing with the uniform that they wear. The buildings have become the builders.
For me, what started as a way of quieting my imposter syndrome grew into something more. My daily uniform provided me with an identity and its strength and consistency empowered me to do the work that I needed to do. This followed me whenever and wherever I would go. At first I experimented with different versions of the all black uniform. I had always liked wearing white shoes and am guilty of skipping a puddle or two in order to keep them fresh and sparkly. So I was able to find something that felt a bit more unique in pairing a black shirt or hoodie with black pants and white socks and white shoes. Over time, I found the perfect black hoodie from Uniqlo (one with outer pockets that are slits in the fabric instead of the ones that protrude like your average hoodie). I discovered my perfect pant from a fabric market in Hong Kong. White shoes were interchangeable, but they had to be white and with white socks only too.
As my personal uniform solidified into the only type of clothing in the closet of my small bedroom in the shared apartment of my San Francisco neighborhood, I began to subconsciously share the same ethos and ideas into the product that I was creating. A backpack that was more than just a backpack.