An Interview with Adsum Founder Pete Macnee
Since 2015 Adsum have been making clothes that sit somewhere in the sweet spot between sportswear and outdoor gear—combining technical and functional details, with a comfortable, casual flavor.
Based in Brooklyn—and heavily influenced by the East Coast of the USA (and the weather that comes with it)—their gear works just as well in the heart of the city as it does out in the sticks.
This season they’ve worked with us on a small range of clothing built for everyday life—taking cues from our extensive archives to make everything from photo-print climbing pants to reversible bucket hats. We caught up with founder Pete Macnee to find out a bit more…
You started Adsum in 2015. I know you’d worked in the clothing world for a while, but what was the initial spark that made you want to make your own clothes?
I was looking for ways to grow—I was interested in doing stuff that the people I was working for were doing—which was manufacturing clothing in NYC. I just wanted to try my hand at it—design things the way that they made sense to me. It went from being a side-project to, “Okay, I’m going to make some clothes and figure out how to sell them.” We got our first wholesale account with a store in Japan quite early on, and that made me think that I might as well make a brand and keep things going. It was kind of serendipitous—I definitely didn’t say, “I’m going to start a brand now.”
Was there anything in particular you were trying to do differently with Adsum when you started out?
This probably sounds stupid, but the clothing I was interested in was generally clothing that is difficult to manufacture—things like technical outdoor clothing. I wanted to figure out how to make down jackets and taped-seam rain jackets. I suppose deep down it was a passion project—making clothing that I wanted to wear. I wanted the clothing to be timeless—stuff that makes sense as much as it does today as it will five years from now.
It does feel like there’s a fairly natural continuation over the years with Adsum. New designs are added, but there’s core things like your trousers or shirts which have been around since the early days.
I still wear stuff from back then—I don’t know what that says about me. Saying that, I do hope the jackets we make this season are better than the first ones we made. That’s something we care about a lot—we set the bar, and we want to raise it every season with really everything that we do. That’s part of the fun.
Growing up playing soccer, rugby, tennis and hockey, the clothing and equipment which was a part of those worlds were always a big influence on me.
These designs change and evolve as the brand evolves—we may have jumped in and wanted to build the heaviest sweatshirt early on, but then through development and production we end up at a different place to where we started. Maybe we want to make something that’s mid-weight and a bit more wearable. Or if we look at shirting, it used to be about how dense or crisp an Oxford cloth could be, but there are lots of nice fabrics you can make a button-down shirt out of. And that’s just us evolving and not being too set in what we think we know. You’ve got to keep an open mind.
What are the main things you look at for inspiration?
That’s kind of simple—sports and outdoor. Sports were always a big part of my life. Growing up playing soccer, rugby, tennis and hockey, the clothing and equipment which was a part of those worlds were always a big influence on me. And then the outdoors were also a big part of my life. Those two things are a constant in Adsum, and they always will be. They’re kind of where my head goes when I think of clothing.
But then from there inspiration can come from all sorts of places. Being based in Brooklyn there’s a lot of really interesting people doing cool stuff—whether it’s art related or sport related or food related. You end up meeting people and it rubs off on you.
Your clothing is a lot more relaxed than what most people would class as sportswear or outdoor clothing, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be worn for a run or up a mountain—it’s legit gear.
We just wanted to keep things casual. We’ll look directly at stuff—how a jacket is built—looking at the sizing and whether or not it’s been overbuilt. And then we’ll try and bring it back to be a bit more casual and everyday. I think things can be over designed and overdeveloped.
You can spin out thinking about fabric, and how it needs to be ‘20k waterproof’ or the best of the best, when in fact it maybe doesn’t need to have a super-high waterproof rating. Maybe if it’s less then the fabric will be lighter, or it’ll be easier for the factory to sew. Less is more a lot of the time when it comes to design.
We want to work with the best fabrics and the best mills in the world, but we still want to be approachable. Sometimes when you go too far, it goes to a space where it’s unobtainable for customers, and for ourselves. That’s something that’s always in the back of my head.
How did you approach the collaboration with Gramicci? What was the process behind coming up with the clothes we’ve got?
We’ve been talking here about how some of our designs are restrained or pulled back… but for Gramicci we pushed it with the color palette and the reference points. It was such a cool opportunity and we were really taken aback that they would be interested in collaborating with us. We looked at the brand and the heritage—looking at the old marketing campaigns, and that’s what sparked what we did.
The cargo pants aren’t too baggy or too slim—they’re super-functional and super-wearable everyday pants. There’s the sage colourway, and then an all-over print of black and white photos that were used in marketing years ago. They’re punchy, but still really wearable—if you squint and look out the corner of your eye they kind of look like a camo print.
With rock climbing there’s that rebellious nature—you’ve got to be pretty intense to be doing it.
We also made lightweight Taslan shorts that I’m really excited about—Christian [Adsum’s art director] made a mountain logo design that riffs off some old Gramicci art that he found. There’s a reversible tulip hat, which is something we’ve never done before. There’s wire in the brim so you can roll it up and tuck it in your back pocket. And then there’s the pigment dyed t-shirts and a full-zip sweatshirt. It’s a nice little range of clothing which I think touches all the things we love about Gramicci.
With the photos we wanted to do something that linked the climbing element of Gramicci with New York City. I was thinking about climbing, and how you can relate it to NYC and Manhattan… and I ended up thinking about window washers, as they’re up there high up with all those harnesses, so we wanted to do something creative with that.
Growing up in Canada I imagine Gramicci and the West Coast outdoor brands had a very different feel to what was local. There’s a different flavor to the California gear.
Yeah—I was super drawn to the West Coast lifestyle. I skateboarded as a kid so I saw what was going down on the West Coast—it always really appealed to me. If you look at the environment and the weather, there’s a clear difference, and I think that directs how the outdoor clothing was designed and built. And with rock climbing there’s that rebellious nature—you’ve got to be pretty intense to be doing it. It’s not like LL Bean and fishing.
Looking at the stuff you made with Gramicci, and the regular Adsum clothes too, there’s a lot of references or details which come from vintage pieces, but you’re not doing straight up remakes. Is it important to do something new?
There are some things that we create that are from scratch, but a lot of times there’s a clear reference—there might be an original garment that we look at and say, “How can we make this better?” That’s just part of the process. It’s one of the things that I love about clothing design.
Is it almost like sampling—taking a colour or a pocket from an old design and bringing it up to date?
Yeah—playing with the pocket positioning or the size or the welt shape—that’s the hustle right there—that’s what makes it fun and interesting. Sometimes you hit it and you make something better than it was, or a fresh new version of it. That’s what we’re always trying to do.
Sometimes there’ll be a song where someone is copying how someone else used to sing or how they wrote songs, and I’ll hate it, but then other times I’ll like a song because of where it’s coming from. And maybe it’s the same with clothing and what we’re doing. I hope that people look at the stuff that we’re designing and see that it’s more on the loving, appreciative side. I’m not saying that I own a pocket shape or a color reference, but we try to take care of them and make them make sense for people who are into them.
It definitely shows. Change of subject now—but how important is New York to Adsum? It’s hard to describe, but the clothes have a very East Coast feel.
We’re very lucky to be in New York. It’s a really cool place to be able to work—there’s a lot of cool stuff going on that you can almost take for granted. It can be a love/hate relationship sometime—but it’s probably one of the best cities in the world. The seasonal element here is part of the brand too—whether it’s a super-cold winter or a hot summer—we want to make clothes that work in those situations.
New York maybe isn’t seen as an outdoorsy place, but you’re not far from some pretty amazing scenery. Where do you go to get away from the city?
It can be tricky as there’s so much traffic and congestion—but you can go to Long Island which is very cool with great beaches, and then there are beautiful parks in Upstate New York, Connecticut and New Jersey. If you want specifics, I love going to the Adirondacks, or Vermont. They’re both far away, but there’s nothing like them in the world.
How far are we talking?
Vermont is four hours away. But if you wanted to stay a little closer you could get up to Beaver Kill—there’s great fishing there and it’s just two hours out of New York. Comparing New York to where I grew up in Toronto—if you drive two hours out of there you can be in the woods, but if you drive two hours out of New York it’s a different ball game. There are more bears, more wildlife and better fish—it can get pretty rustic.
It feels like a lot of people are finally realizing the importance of the outdoors now, with more and more people into hiking or climbing or riding bikes. Have you felt that in New York too?
Yeah—definitely within my friend group I hear more and more of people getting out of the city. I think it’s happening all over. Ten years ago I was so focussed on things that were going on in the city—I just wanted to be right in New York City—but things change, and getting some space or distance from a city is really enjoyable. I think that’s happened for a lot of people.
Definitely. Wrapping this up now, have you got any words of wisdom to pass on?
Try and enjoy everyday—just try and have fun and don’t take anything too seriously.