Words by Saehee Cho
Photographs By Justin Chung

Max Kingery, Olderbrother

Venice, CA

Details at Older Brother in Venice, CA

In the current moment of fast-fashion and trend-based seasonal design, Max Kingery, owner and designer of Olderbrother, aspires to make pieces that have a life of their own, pieces that are meant to communicate craft and meaning. The clothes are a manifestation of an ethos that deeply engages with spirituality, consumer responsibility, and a little playfulness for good measure. “Every season is a continued exploration. It’s one thing to just pick pretty colors, it’s another thing to build a process, a narrative, and a store that connects full circle.”
Much of Kingery’s process comes from a natural curiosity and a rigorous dedication to not cutting corners. The line started with a personal challenge, an open-ended inquiry into creating apparel that people could actually bury in their backyards. “The question was; can we make something entirely plant based with no caustic chemicals whatsoever. Then, from there it expanded and then the idea was to create a product that could touch multiple pillars in a meaningful way to create curiosity.”
Kingery opened his first store in Venice, CA with that curiosity in mind. From the beginning, the intention was to create a narrative space that would communicate the layered processes inherent to the clothing. The store launched with a collection completely dyed with chaga mushrooms. “Mushrooms in themselves, not only can heal your body but they are the holy grail of sustainability for a vast number of reasons. In theory, every apparel company could be using fungi in their packaging or growing furniture. You could replace cutting down trees in theory. The idea that we can champion these things that evoke curiosity; it’s a whole new frontier.” Future seasons will focus on healing properties with roots in holy color palettes. “For SS19, we dyed the collection with saffron. That’s how we get these vibrant, almost iridescent oranges. All the colors based within the season have spiritual significance. People will wear sky blue and indigo to represent sky, vastness, masculinity. The saffron represents the cleansing purity of fire.”
In a time when the word “sustainability” has been abstracted to a point beyond meaning, Olderbrother takes accountability seriously; the buttons are made from nuts, the labels are made from tree bark, even the polybags are biodegradable. But Kingery isn’t interested in preaching or condemning less sustainable brands, he’s investing his efforts into creating opportunities for conversation around re-figuring our relationship with our clothes. “The goal of the brand was playfulness and leading by example. That’s where the name Olderbrother comes from. The idea that we can do cool things along the way and as curiosity grows, we can speak to the value of the brand. It’s all about building this experience that changes the way people look and interact with the clothes, giving it more context, giving it more value.”
Imbibing daily objects with meaning beyond their physical form comes naturally to Kingery, having been raised by parents who believed in the magic of assigning sentimentality to everyday things. “My dad always collected things along the way that has intrinsic meaning to them whether it be a pocket lighter, a cufflink, or silver money clip.” His mother, an artist currently completing her graduate work in art theory, gave him the creative edge to not only understand the inherent beauty of well-made objects, but the ambition to make objects that are experiential rather than simply consumed.
Since his teenage years, Kingery has been making things. A tactile, hands-on learner, he started in dye houses, later enrolling at FIDM, only to leave in the first semester to help build a custom denim brand. Denim was his first entry point into engaging more deeply with the process of garment making, introducing him to indigo-dying and concepts of wabi-sabi. “The concept of wabi-sabi was something I could hang my hat on. In general, I think that the attention to detail, context, and the purpose of things has always been an inspiration.” The centered focus on process rather than result informs and acts as a guardrail for the brand. “When in doubt, I take a few steps back and figure out the when, the why, and the how.” Later, the slow-food movement added fuel and a road-map for the intentionality of the brand. “Half the stuff we use are food based dyes. The slow food movement changed the way people interacted with food. I’m drawing parallels with apparel. What you put on your body is just as important as what you put in your body.”
Thinking forward, Olderbrother has every intention of going big. You can almost hear the inspired conviction in Kingery’s voice when he talks about the long-term goals for the brand. “Everything we do now, we can do large scale, because we are sustainable. We’re ready to go all the way. The point would be null if we couldn’t scale up. That was always the intention. We could fill multi-national chains store tomorrow. The goal is to keep going. Every season has been one foot in front of the other to figure out how we can expand on these ideas. Obviously, we don’t have an enormous experiential budget but hopefully one day we will, and then we can go to the moon with that.”

Photographed in 2019 – Venice, California.

Olderbrother