LOS ANGELES, United States — Fashion loves a second act. Band of Outsiders founder Scott Sternberg, who rose to prominence by designing picture-book preppy wares beloved by Hollywood’s hipsterati before exiting the brand in 2015, is back after a brief intermission.
On April 2, he’s launching Entireworld, a new apparel brand sold primarily direct-to-consumer with prices ranging from $15 for a pair of women’s cotton ribbed underwear and $25 for a t-shirt to $165 for a cotton-wool blend fisherman’s sweater. (The average retail price is $55.) Product will be released based on consumer demand, likely about once a month.
“I was thinking about this before Band even closed, this idea of doing a brand that had a democratic price point and existed outside of the traditional wholesale system,” Sternberg says. “It feels more true to who I am as a designer and a brand architect. It’s more true to these ideas that I have around product design. It’s also quite literally a more direct route to communicate ideas without filtering those through a set of gatekeepers.”
To illustrate his point: a Band of Outsiders men’s button down cost between $225 and $325. At Entireworld, they’re $95 — he no longer has to worry about compensating for wholesale margins. He has spent the last year and a half developing the concept for the brand, sourcing fabrics and working with factories in Japan and China to manufacture garments of “comparable and, in some cases, better quality” than those he produced at his previous venture. “I haven’t been running against the clock of a seasonal market,” he says.
The first range, which will first be available to purchase at the expertly branded Theentireworld.com, could be described as wardrobe essentials, which is not to say basics. There’s a classic ringer tee, a pair of tube socks, a hooded sweatshirt with a drawstring made of shoelaces. Free of bells and whistles, Entireworld relies on Sternberg’s knack for transforming what would ordinarily be standard-issue product into something emotional. (There’s a welcome humour to his take on collegiate fashion.) “To me, there is absolutely no reason to just make more stuff. There is plenty of stuff out there,” he says. “Where can we ultimately offer a product that can replace something that’s just not as good?”
Many of the direct-to-consumer brands that have flooded the market in recent years are less about delivering genuine aesthetic satisfaction than filling a gap or offering a solution. Sternberg sees Entireworld differently. “I never thought of Band of Outsiders as a ‘wholesale’ brand and I don’t think about Entireworld as a ‘direct-to-consumer’ brand. That’s just our business model; that’s how we sell,” he says. “It’s a platform for me and my team to put forward a set of ideas that ties back to a brand ethos.”
The teaser video for Entireworld illustrates his semi-analog approach:
[vimeo 261177552 w=640 h=480]
“When I think of brands that inspire me, it’s Patagonia, Apple, Nike, Life Cereal — brands that became part of the thread of culture,” he says. “I think of those brands, I don’t think of whatever a VC might have invested in last year.”
Sternberg has not raised capital from traditional institutional investors for the new business. Instead, he has collected seed funding from a group of private investors, as well as Japanese supply chain partner Yagi & Co. While he won’t disclose how much money he raised, it must be enough to employ seven people (who have been full time since January 2017) and invest in inventory. It’s a risky proposition, as the wider margins that come with direct sales do not guarantee success — consider Thakoon Panichgul’s failed venture with Silas Chou. Sternberg developed Entireworld’s approach with managing director Jordan Schiff, a former business consultant to Band of Outsiders who previously held merchandising roles at Vince and American Apparel and was most recently the e-commerce director for multi-brand retailer Totokaelo.
It’s a new way of working for the Los Angeles-based Sternberg, who launched Band of Outsiders, named after the Jean-Luc Godard film “Bande à part,” in 2004 after working as an agent at CAA. By 2010, it was generating more than $12 million in annual sales, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal. Along with a strong celebrity following — Sternberg’s Polaroid lookbooks, starring the likes of Michelle Williams and Aziz Ansari, were widely circulated — he attracted top stockists around the globe.
However, in 2015, a year into its partnership with Belgium fashion fund CLCC, the label closed after failing to make payments on a $2.5 million line of credit. (It was revived by CLCC, which still owns its intellectual property, with minimal fanfare in 2016. However, the new creative directors were replaced within the year.)
Of course, the story of Band of Outsiders is not unique. Many of Sternberg’s peers — including Suno and Jonathan Saunders — have found running a small wholesale brand similarly challenging. So, while there is “room” for wholesale partnerships in the business plan, it’s not currently a key part of the business. “In the near term, these partnerships would be considered one-off marketing opportunities, so the margin considerations aren’t incredibly important,” Sternberg says. “Over time and with higher production volume, there are key categories where we will potentially have room to supplement the business with a limited number of wholesale partners.”
When the label does enter multi-brand retail, the approach won’t be cookie cutter. “We’re excited about potential opportunities with the right retail outlets that would enable us to tell our story and contextualise our product in an exciting, engaging way for customers,” he adds. “We see ourselves as content partners, more than wholesale partners, to stores in that regard.”
It feels more true to who I am as a designer and a brand architect.
What is a focus, however, is building a scalable business that will hopefully, eventually, include physical spaces and more product categories, such as women’s trousers or, more broadly, home goods. But Sternberg isn’t there yet. “One thing I learned at Band of Outsiders is that getting too far ahead of yourself… The world is changing so quickly,” he says. “I want to leave us open to opportunities but not to be so arrogant to say that I know where the world is going to be in two or three years. Because if you look back two or three years, it’s markedly different.”
There are certainly customers who will be eager to get their hands on Sternberg’s new brand. In the wake of his divorce from Band of Outsiders, celebrity friends and fans openly mourned its demise. (Actor Adam Scott once told The New York Times that he scours eBay for old pieces.) Given the positive sentiment, some may wonder why Sternberg didn’t try to win back Band of Outsiders’ intellectual property from its current owner instead of starting again from scratch. “It certainly occurred to me to look into buying the IP for a millisecond,” he says, acknowledging that the challenge of raising capital for the new concept was likely greater than it would have been had he positioned the venture as a revival.
Sternberg’s reasoning for not doing so helps to explain why Band of Outsiders struck a chord in the first place, and why Entireworld might, too. “Nothing could have been more appealing than a blank slate,” he says. “After a while, the customer and the market start to expect things from you and you get boxed into this facsimile of the idea of what you are. Moving forward, evolving beyond that, becomes quite difficult.”
“I probably could have gone out and even more easily raised money to both feed the business and buy the IP, but it just didn’t seem necessary,” he sumises. “This brand stuff is what I do. It’s what I love to do.”
Band of Outsiders, Take Two