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Arbor Collective, the environmentally conscious snowboard, skateboard and apparel brand, has been on a roll lately with a strong roster of athletes hitting the streets and slopes on the brand’s innovative and lust-worthy boards and decks. In spite of the brand’s continued expansion, it has been able to stay true to its core mission of creating sustainable and environmentally-friendly products that don’t skimp on the performance or looks. We had a chance recently to sit down with Arbor Collective’s Derek Classen and Joel Woodman. Classen is currently the apparel product manager and designer while Woodman takes care of the art direction for the brand. Sitting down together, they offered us a little insight into the brand, how it started, and the values that keep the company going strong almost 17 years after its founding.
How did the inception of Arbor Collective come together?
DC: Arbor began nearly 17 years ago as a snowboard company. The founders, Bob Carlson and Chris Jensen, were of the first generation of kids raised on environmental media, watching programs with the likes of Jacques Cousteau touting a need to protect the planet we live on. Bob and Chris arrived onto the industry as some of the first guys with an environmental consciousness, and as snowboarders and surfers out in the elements, they undoubtedly had a personal connection to and awareness of those environments urgently needing protection. Born was a brand with environmentalism as its core value. Over the years, the brand has evolved, and in 2000, skateboards were added, and then eventually the apparel department was launched a few years ago.
What is the concept behind the Arbor Collective?
DC: The most basic answer to that question is in the name. A collective is a group of individuals: athletes, designers, artists and friends, who bring together new ideas for the benefit of the Arbor brand, which in turn, seeks to serve those same people who created it. To me, the core concept behind the Arbor brand is best defined as “biomimicry,” that is, discovering the most sustainable production solutions through learning from and emulating nature. As Henry David Thoreau said, “In wildness is the preservation of the world.”
JW: To expand on what Derek said, I think we’ve always tried to steer our creative course toward a style and image that is important and relevant to us, first and foremost, while at the same time appealing to individuals with a similar value system and life experience. A huge part of that value system is about creating products in a more sustainable way, and always looking to the natural world as a main source for creative inspiration.
Where do you find your inspirations?
DC: I find my purest inspiration to be the fusion of the urban and natural experience, which I experience every day while living in LA. I can be surfing in Malibu or Venice in the early morning, then stuck in traffic on the way to work, or hanging out downtown on the weekends. Living and working in Venice, and being sandwiched between the sea and one of the largest cities in the world, provides me with an eclectic perspective and affects the way I have conceived the men’s apparel line. I aspire to make my inspiration evident in every detail of the apparel I design; the lines I’ve conceived are a harmonizing of a rugged outdoorsman style with the subtle metropolitan fashions of a man who can appreciate the cultured city lifestyle too.
JW: More broadly, and to get back to Derek’s point, I derive constant inspiration from my surroundings. We live in a place with amazing cultural diversity and population density that at the same time allows for easy access to the outdoors and a variety of open spaces. With that said, I tend to focus a lot on the simple things in the environment, and aspects of those spaces that share certain qualities. For example, the way light comes through a tree or object on the street and creates an abstract looking shadow. I look at those spaces as having an identity or being personified in a way, and I try to emphasize aspects that appear in both places. From a design perspective, I’m inspired by a time when to do more with less was the norm. I really enjoy the mid-century American aesthetic that was being developed by artists and designers living in Southern California at the time. Which to me means simplicity and a lot clean lines, with an emphasis on photography and text.
What sorts of brands inspire you? Do you keep them in mind while designing your own collection?
DC: Because of our heritage as a snow and skate brand, and as eco-pioneers, Arbor has the unique ability to straddle genre lines. Additionally, our collective represents many unique individuals, all with interesting aesthetics and lifestyle needs. Therefore, as the men’s designer, I’m able to find most of my inspiration in a rare mix of many sources: the demands of the customer, eco-friendly materials, as well as art, history, travel, textures and my own unique fashion sensibilities. If it’s current clothing or brands that have directly inspired me, it’s probably only in random details seen in a store or a magazine and then stored in my mind’s design cache. I aspire to design truly stylish, timeless apparel for the eco-conscious customer.
Is the designing process a collective job?
DC: Absolutely. Joel and I do work closely when conceptualizing the collection, as well as in how we want to represent it in our marketing assets. I also find myself listening to feedback from other members of the collective in order to best design a line that represents and serves all of the collective’s members.
JW: Yeah. I would say our methodology for creating the line is somewhat unique and perhaps a little unorthodox. It really is a collaborative experience in the sense that we’re constantly feeding off one another’s ideas, and sense of style and taste.
Aesthetically, how would you define your brand?
DC: Arbor is a blend of the urban and rustic; it’s a modern spin on the vintage outdoor and surf/skate cultures, showcasing a distinct Venice, Californian influence.
JW: Aesthetically, I think the image of the brand really exists somewhere in the middle between the urban and natural landscapes. The challenge is to find the overlap between the two, or where the confluence exists, and then focus on that as a backdrop and space through which to showcase the product and lifestyle. From a lifestyle perspective, an understanding of the cultural and historical ethos of the California coast plays a big role in what we’re doing now. Being located in Venice allows us the opportunity to immerse ourselves in the board sports, art and music cultures. Essentially, I feel the aesthetic goal of the brand is to define what it’s like to live an urban modern life, while having your soul exist somewhere in the outdoors.
What are the important values seen in each piece from the Arbor Collective?
DC: Each piece is created with style, function and sustainable construction in mind. Our belief is that the eco-solutions implemented into each piece need not only be sustainable, but also must look good and perform well, if not better than traditional fabrications.
What have been some of the greatest difficulties you’ve faced since the inception of the brand?
DC: Speaking on behalf of the apparel department, I’d say finding eco-fabrics to work with at reasonable prices has been one of the biggest challenges. We have been able to develop new fabrics that are not only eco-friendly, but also functionally relevant. We’re now using organic cotton, recycled polyesters, wool, modal and viscose from bamboo. Creating different blends is the key to giving the apparel line depth and texture, but this requires us to custom mill most of our fabric, which is expensive. So when I’m designing a new style, I consider the fabrications that will be involved and how they will stay true to the Arbor ethos while also remaining price competitive, and this is quite a challenge.
Where do you look to take the brand in the coming future?
DC: I’m real hyped for the release of the next two men’s apparel collections, which are already in the production pipeline: the Spring/Summer 2013 and Fall/Holiday 2013 lines. Both of these are going to have a lot of seasonal functional wear incorporating even more detailed design elements, and as true to the Arbor core value, all constructed in sustainable materials for the eco-conscious consumer.