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Reuben Oliver is Bringing the Sustainability of Knitwear to Contemporary Menswear

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Reuben Oliver

"We're a contemporary menswear brand trying to make better decisions," Reuben Gladstone smiles to me as he begins to introduce his brand, Reuben Oliver. Born out of a desire to bring the sustainability of knitwear into a more accessible context in menswear, Reuben started the brand with his friend Charlie Schwartz in 2019. I spent a recenr afternoon with the two founders to hear a bit about how they got started, the influences pushing the brand forward and what's to come.

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The Beginnings of Reuben Oliver

“I had an idea for a brand for a very long time,” Reuben tells me as he dives into the genesis of the brand—taken from his first and middle names. “Charlie was the first person I reached out to when I started it,” he tells me. The two are family friends; Reuben's parents are from Long Island and that's where Charlie grew up. At the time when they first dove into the brand, Reuben—a Parsons School of Design graduate—had been working at brands like Theory, Rag and Bone and Alice and Olivia. Charlie arrived from a background in sports, and now runs all operational aspects of the brand and partnerships. Reuben “handles everything else,” in Charlie’s words.

Reuben Oliver—the brand—is rooted in a desire to both center sustainability and incorporate some of the various production techniques Reuben—the man—has encountered globally during his life as a designer. “I always really gravitated towards natural materials—synthetic materials always gave me skin irritations. And from a sustainability perspective, I really just wanted to wear those types of fabrications and I didn't really see them in the context of what I want to wear and the brands I want to shop for,” he explains.

I get excited about creating a new frequency and seeing other people in that as well.

- Reuben Gladstone

“That's one element,” he continues: “And then the other one is, I grew up in Israel and have traveled the world, and I was starting to see so many different fabrications and textiles and manufacturing techniques that really weren't being used in the US, so I thought there was a massive opportunity to introduce these techniques in a context that I thought was really readable for the consumer here.”

All of these catalysts swirl around an ever-constant inclination towards bringing something new into fashion. In Reuben's words: "I get excited about creating a new frequency and seeing other people in that as well."

A few years ago, when the brand was starting, knitwear was not a growing category in the menswear space—despite its current presence in men’s fashion. Reuben was a lover of the product early on for a few reasons: “From a sustainability perspective, there's a lot less waste than traditional fabrics. Because all the in between of what you're cutting goes to waste. But in knitwear, you're literally only sewing what is in the garment. Also in terms of efficiency in different body types, knitwear is a lot more accessible to different body types. You can have a large and it can look really good on a small body type, a larger body.”

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Reuben Oliver

Despite not being a major mover in menswear at the time, knitwear was a “rising category in women's wear four years ago,” Reuben explains to me, adding: “I was seeing all these amazing things being done with jacquards and all these different knitting points. So I was like, ‘Why is this not being done in menswear?’”

They launched the brand during COVID, and their first piece was a cable knit set—a great piece for the time as it was “an elegant way for people to feel comfortable, but also look presentable in a corporate environment.”

The response to the first set was clear; people—including numerous celebrities—loved knitwear and wanted to see more of it.

The Manufacturing

Another important aspect of the brand is their manufacturing process; pretty much everything is produced in Peru, where Reuben has what he describes as an “ecosystem” there. “Not only do we produce the garments there, but my designer is there—I have a technical designer. Our photographer there shoots for Bazaar Latin America, Vogue. All my models are from there. So there's an ecosystem of the fibers being from there, the production being there. The photography shot there."

When they were figuring out where to produce their clothes, Reuben and Charlie were disillusioned by how every brand seemed to be manufacturing in Europe or Asia. At a trade show, “I was blown away by the immense history with weaving fabrics and also knitwear specifically in Peru. When I got there, I was like, ‘Wow, this is a new frequency that I'm not seeing across the board.’” And so the country became their hub for production, and a major cultural influence for the brand. “I really wanted to be able to introduce what I'm seeing [in Peru] to America, because I think there's a massive shift that needs to be done. There are so many talented artisans and manufacturers there that really aren't being presented in the right way.”

We're a contemporary knitwear brand bridging the gap between formal and comfort, but being as transparent as possible in the way that we make our clothes, the people behind making our clothes, and the story of how they got to where they are today.

- Charlie Schwartz

In addition to their DTC business, the duo have started doing some white labeling for ultra-high end clients around New York and the surrounding area. They recently produced the uniforms for The Surf Lodge in Montauk. This is one of the many initiatives led by Charlie, who also helps host events for the brand and build the community around their goal of creating a more sustainable fashion landscape.

“Since day one, our main goal—in addition to the clothes—is trying to build this community to try and raise awareness around sustainability," Charlie says. "What really is sustainability? It's building that community together to really showcase not only the beauty of countries that have given so much to the world through natural resources, but also building a community so that there's a better world in 20 years from now and so the generations to come are all wearing sustainable stuff and understand where it's being made and the people behind it and where it's being sourced.”

When I prod about the moments of seeing celebrities in their clothing, after naming a few exciting sightings (of which there are many), Reuben answers: "It's even more cool when we see people in New York City than celebrities, just walking on the street. It's interesting to me to see how different people style it and their interpretation of the brand.”

The Future

As for the future, the guys have a lot in store. From more white labeling, to a potential fashion show and tangible retail venues for Reuben Oliver, there is a world of possibility. “I think we're creating product that requires another layer of interaction. Knitwear, it's a lot easier to understand it once you feel it,” Reuben explains.

That said, the two are also continuing to look outside of knitwear. “We started off the brand with these knitwear being the focal point, but it's a lot more wearable when it's complemented with certain other things so we're thinking about ways to expand into certain cut and sew pieces that really complement it.”

Their next collection, which releases at the end of December, will introduce some more non-knitwear components.

We conclude by talking about the best part of running the brand to date. “I just am addicted to the feeling of having an idea and bringing it to life in whatever context,” Reuben explains.

Charlie echoes the sentiment and adds some thoughts on community: “Being able—over these past four years—to meet all different kinds of people from all different ways of life, and how we all connect on one thing, and it's wanting to learn. I think that's what this message has been in the world for the past four years, is bring this peace, bring this mental health, humility, together to find peace in this world and to look good while doing it. And feel comfortable while doing it.”

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