WITH TWO SUCCESSFUL clothing labels and a furniture line, along with stores in or planned for New York, Hollywood, Tokyo, Paris, and London, designer ROGAN GREGORY, 35, and his business partner, SCOTT MACKINLAY HAHN, 37, have created a style empire. And they've done it with a dedication to organic fabrics and sustainable manufacturing that was almost nonexistent in the world of high fashion. Avid surfers and outdoorsmen—Gregory is from Boulder, Hahn from rural Long Island—they made their names with the denim label Rogan, the all-organic label Loomstate, and Bono's made-in-Africa fashion brand Edun, which they helped launch. Last November, their efforts earned Gregory the Council of Fashion Designers of America/Vogue Fashion Fund top prize of $200,000. JOHN BRADLEY caught up with the guys recently to find out how they balance business, message, and the need to get away from it all.
OUTSIDE: How did you go from your outdoorsy upbringings to becoming New York designers?
GREGORY: A lot of what happens in the design world emanates from New York. That's why I ended up here. But I leave the city every chance I get. I love the culture, but I would much rather be in the ocean or the woods. I think that's what makes us unique: We work in New York and we play outside. That's not common among fashion designers.
Your first company, Rogan, was more traditional. Was the goal always to make money first and then go sustainable?
GREGORY: My mom was an environmentalist, and I had visions of saving the world when I was younger. I eventually pursued that through design. Once we figured out the fashion part, we incorporated more of the sustainable fibers. But until we got profitable there was no way.
HAHN: Having the conventional and organic manufacturing experience helped us talk about sustainability through profits, the environment, and social responsibility. We also add the aesthetic aspect to measuring success, because you've got to have good-looking stuff. Rogan calls it "the quadruple bottom line."
GREGORY: It's a unique combination. I can name high-fashion companies that I admire from a design standpoint, and I can think of companies that I admire from a sustainability standpoint. But I can't think of one that does both.
Is it hard trying to get this message out without seeming overbearing?
HAHN: In fashion, you have an overarching theme of quality that you have to offer. But it's important for the consumer to be informed. Are they using GMO seeds? Fertilizers and pesticides? Are you taking care of communities where you're making your clothes? But that's a mouthful when you're selling fashion. You've got the customers for two seconds, and they're buying clothes because their ass looks good. So the idea with Loomstate is to say, "Hey, we've got great things going on behind the scenes, but the product itself is sexy."