Fashion As Sculpture:
Outsider Supply Creates Wearable Art
January 12, 2022

Lucas Ucedo wears the Conceptual Pop III Tee at the Prospect Hollywood. Los Angeles, CA.

“So often, art finds itself in cached-away places, hanging on the walls of museums, galleries, artist studios and collectors’ homes, sometimes on display for a select visitor or audience where all the circumstances align for the viewer and the artwork to be right there in the same place at the same time,” says McKenzie Thompson. “Sometimes art might be tucked away in the vault, or living amongst the pages of coffee-table reads, textbooks, or otherwise hidden from plain sight. Whatever the case, art is not always the easiest to find, especially in a happenstance way. It often has to be sought out with a deliberate effort made.”

“There is nothing wrong with that,” she says. “In fact, there are many things great! All of these traditional milieus are important to the big picture of how art finds its home in society, how discussions arise within the apartment gallery, how expression is elicited from the artist’s mind and brought into the physical world, how fun is had at the art fairs.” And then the pandemic hit. “We could not go to museums or to art parties or fairs. We could not travel like we’re used to, or get together and share. However, we could not bear to simply check out and sit on the sidelines,” she says. “A small group of artists came together virtually to originate a conceptual brand called Outsider Supply. Together, we make art-focused apparel for your everyday life.”

Thompson, a MFA graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago with a passion for art history, knows firsthand that artists approach the world with a natural inclination to do their own thing. “It’s their brave curiosity that has contributed so much, and it is our goal to help spread their ideas, while playfully contributing ideas of our own, in an accessible way, through art-infused clothes,” she says. Celebrating the fact that artists have always been outsiders, diverging from the established path to make a way of their own, the Outsider Supply apparel features the works and ideas of artists throughout history who changed the world through their point of view, with how they saw expression and meaning through their own eyes. Simply put: “The mission statement of Outsider Supply truly reflects our motive and ethos, and that is to ‘Keep The Art Alive’!”

Their debut collection is a nod to art-historical movements, as well as to Swedish avant-garde artist and mystic Hilma af Klint, whose paintings were considered among the first abstract works in Western art history, and includes “an element of spontaneous play, too, where, in our own right, we combined elements of celebrated works to create imaginary collaborations between Andy Warhol and John Baldessari, as well as a game of exquisite corpse played with works by Donald Judd and Joan Míro,” Thompson says. The collection features Japanese-inspired boxy cut tees made with mindfully farmed organic cotton, oversized crewnecks and “sculptural dad hats—with a West Coast vibe that is laid back and artful for effortless style.” All are made to order in the United States and have one unexpected thing in common: “The garments themselves act as a wearable form of art, implicating the wearer as part of the artwork in a conceptual way. One might also call it Relational Aesthetics—meaning the artwork is complete when human beings are present, becoming a part of the work, and activating the piece as they bring it to life,” says Thompson.

There has never been a solid boundary between fashion and art for her, but more of a gradient line. “I truly came into apparel making through a fine art way. First growing up painting and taking photos, then later at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago becoming multidisciplinary, making text art, then sculptures, experiential installations, and from there, garments felt like a natural progression, like a sculpture you could live in.”

Outsider Supply is inspired by the concept of art de vivre, or the art of life. It has been created to celebrate the world’s great body of art, have a positive and inspiring impact, spread notable artistic ideas, and become something that lasts much longer than us, as Thompson puts it. But this doesn’t mean that you have to be an artist or even remotely close to one to wear and appreciate it. Thompson thinks of their customers as “people who enjoy the exterior level of things—what something looks like or how it presents itself—with an appreciation for thoughtful materiality, and who also like to search and find things that carry a deeper meaning. They could love Complex Mag, be culture aficionados, or just people who like what they see, and when they wear our garment, feel good. And of course, we are there for the lovers of design, architecture, fine art, philosophy and people like us, i.e., real art nerds.”

As for Thompson’s personal favorite? “I really enjoy the entire collection, as each piece is its own story of creative play, but I must admit, I do just love wearing our ‘Keep The Art Alive New Wave Crewneck,’” she says. “Maybe it’s the angle of the type or the exclamation point, but whenever I wear it, I really feel good! I feel like I’m plastered with a banner that is chic and carries such a lively mood, full of enthusiasm and happiness that inspires a meaning! It’s like, come on everybody, it will be so fun! Let’s keep the art alive! Come on, let’s do it! Plus the garment is so thick and nice and super soft on the inside, I could really live in that thing most of the time.”

When asked about what’s coming up, Thompson becomes giddy: “Well, I would have to say that I am most excited about what we get to explore and to see what shape that takes. Right now we are designing a new collection about Bauhaus, and it has just been so inspiring. First of all, I love a good artist manifesto, and what they were doing was incredible—so experimental and preeminently influential to the rest of modern life. We also will expand into full silhouettes at the right time, and the other day I found myself drawing a suit and some very cool plaid pants. I mean, wouldn’t it be fun to make the whole entire outfit?”

Published in
Newcity Design Magazine Chicago, Print and Online Editions
January 2022 Issue


Out of the Museum:
These Highlanders are bringing historical artists to the modern world
December 4, 2021

Mira Bhat wears the Conceptual Pop II Tee at the Prospect Hollywood. Los Angeles, CA.

When Allison Waller and McKenzie Thompson met as little girls, who could have foreseen that decades later they would be partnering up for the creative adventure of their lives. Both artists and lovers of art in their own right, the dynamic duo came together in the turmoil of 2020 and seized the moment. The result was Outsider Supply, an online apparel company dedicated to keeping art alive. Quintessentially of the times, Outsider Supply blends the best of many worlds into a successful, hip, conceptual virtual company that will not be bound by traditional ways of operating.

Both Waller and Thompson have always held a lifelong love of art. Waller painted as a child, studied art history at the University of Alabama, went on to work at the iconic Bascom: A Center for the Visual Arts in Highlands, NC, and to become director of the Shuptrine Gallery. For McKenzie, who grew up painting and taking photos but now considers herself a multidisciplinary artist, the career path held a few more twists and turns. She began by studying journalism at Chapel Hill. After becoming disillusioned with the industry, she traveled overseas for a year, where she decided to be the artist she'd always wanted to be. She then studied at The School of The Art Institute of Chicago, where she explored a wide range of disciplines and received her master’s. It was her love of sculpture and 3D pieces that led to her creating artistic clothing.

"I wanted to get back to something I was passionate about and felt free to express myself with," explains McKenzie, who ran her own store in Chicago, making original pieces and sourcing other designers' lines. In 2017 this transitioned into an e-commerce business, and McKenzie brought Allison Waller, her sister Sayward Thompson and their Canadian-based counterpart, Eric Mahoney, on board. Following this, 2020 came along and seemed like the perfect moment to reinvent the business. Ever innovative, the team, united by their love of art, manifested Outsider Supply, bringing historical artists into the modern world. What better way to exhibit work they admired than to see it displayed on comfortable clothing, allowing the garments to become wearable pieces of art?

Outsider Supply offers clothes for both men and women and has a line of hats that simply state the name of various historical art genres. Choose between "Fine Art," "Pop Art," "Romanticism," or "Futurism" and style the kind of art you love. "It's meant to be playful, but it can also be taken to a deeper level if you want," shares McKenzie, who has a clear dedication to liberating art from the confines of a gallery.

Both of these pioneering women talk with passion about the history of art and painters from other periods. One of their most beloved icons is female artist Hilma af Klint, a Swedish artist/mystic whose work is often heralded as being the first abstract representation in the Western world. Hilma af Klint assumed that there was a spiritual dimension to life and created images beyond what the eye could see. She was a groundbreaking female role model for her time. "She never repeated a brushstroke," says Waller in awe, as she explains how they choose which images and artists to highlight.

"We also play with the idea of taking some of our favorite artists and imagining what they would do if they collaborated with each other," smiles Waller. For example, they took the famous polaroid pieces of Andy Warhol and combined them with the Los Angeles contemporary artist, John Baldessari, who was an innovative force in conceptual art. Baldessari's work is recognizable by his use of blocking faces with a circle. "We basically Baldessaried Warhol's pictures! There's a lot of art humor going on here, but we also want to keep our clothes and images accessible to everyone, regardless of their knowledge of art history. These imaginary collaborations highlight our playful nature," explains McKenzie.

Straddling the beauty of Highlands in western North Carolina and the buzz of LA in California, both designers love the East coast but enjoy the eclectic West coast vibe too. Like many of their generation, the Outsider Supply duo are not limited by geography or traditional ways of thinking. Their combining of older art pieces with contemporary methods of representation reflects the out-of-the-box thinking that is able to build this online brand of clothing. Aiming to expand the collection, host some pop-up events and establish an international presence in the near future, Outsider Supply is ready to break the glass ceiling on the ‘starving artist' stereotype and reach their fullest potential.

Published in
Plateau Magazine, Print and Online Editions
December/January 2022 Issue