Brendon Babenzian thinks that consumers have to step up to reach goals of sustainability and ethical production in the fashion industry.
In an interview in the November 22 episode of the Business of Fashion podcast “Taking Greed Out of the Equation”, the former Supreme Creative Director-turned founder of the brand Noah discussed the ethos behind his current project as a reaction to what he sees going wrong around him.
Without mincing words, Babenzian promotes a model of buying and producing clothing that seems antithetical to the frenetic hype-based movement of brands in the wake of Supreme’s “drop” system. However, a deeper dive into what he stands for shows that he has been touting these values for a long time – and is showing no signs of stopping.
Long Island-raised Babenzian gained notoriety for his role as Creative Director at Supreme from 2006-2015, leading the surge in popularity for the skate/streetwear brand that pioneered the use of anti-consumerist symbols, and building attention through limited drops that saw sneakerheads line up overnight to cop the newest limited edition t-shirt, hoodie, or nunchucks.
Starting Noah meant occupying a completely different space in culture. “They’re ideal for gracefully aging former skaters who can no longer wear clothes that say ‘fuck’ on them,” VICE said when he opened his first store on Mulberry Street in Manhattan in 2015.
The brand promoted transparency on the cost of labour, fabric and tariffs to explain the cost of its waterproof jackets, camel hair hoodies, and the odd surf-inspired piece. In a lot of ways, it wasn’t really about the clothes, more the message being told by them. GQ would claim that Noah’s ideal customer was “someone who had a fulfilling life outside of buying new clothes. These days, the message that Babenzian speaks tells the same story.
“We as consumers are incredibly lazy, and we want the government to tell the companies what to do,” he says in the podcast, referring to regulations about ethical production in the industry.
“And then we go cool, I can go back to buying as much shit as I want, because they’re making it responsibly. But that’s not really the answer.”
Analytics from Adobe state that 2019 Black Friday sales ballooned to $7.4B from $1.2B in 2018. Recent studies have shown that the number of articles of clothing purchased yearly from Americans has increased from 12 in 1980 to 64 today, half of which will be worn three times or less.
Babenzian is operating in a world where trends like this are accelerating fast, and although one of his recently released 100% ethically produced cotton made in Canada hoodies sells for $225, it’s still worth listening to what he has to say.
I’m not necessarily sure why this feels right. Maybe it’s the extent of the fashion industry’s ills that was recently explained in the ultra-millennial-friendly Patriot Act episode on Fast Fashion by Hasan Minhaj. Or how easy it is to demonize people who have more money than you and spend it indiscriminately on status symbols, like what Babenzian says during the interview.
“The people who look good with less are obviously more creative people. The people who have to the latest and the greatest from head to toe…they’re just rich.”
There’s no doubt that his brand is doing a good thing. However, he is well on his way to sounding like the aging skater who bemoans the way that the world has changed, and is losing confidence in a different future.
In 2017, Supreme was recognized as a billion-dollar streetwear brand, while Noah occupies a much smaller place in the retail landscape. The brand could be his effort to harness something that he can control and make the changes that he believes in.
Regardless, it’s worth listening to what he has to say.
Listen to the Business of Fashin podcast here.
Read more about the Noah brand’s “hardcore environmentalism” here.