Last week Euan Makepeace spoke with Patrick Liberty, co-founder of Akomplice, a clothing brand based in Colorado. They discussed how the brand is driven by its manifesto, characterized by the love inherent in each individual moment, and about influencing eco-socio-political change through clothes.
Brothers Patrick and Mike Liberty launched Akomplice 16 years ago with no industry experience. Back then they never could have imagined going on to collaboratate with brands like FILA, Asics and Nike and hip-hop icons including Raekwon and MF DOOM.
“There was never the intent to make a whole bunch of money, work with a whole bunch of rappers, athletes and brands. There was a humble desire to see our friends just wearing our stuff,” Patrick said.
Fashion was never the avenue Patrick saw himself going down. The idea to produce clothes came from his brother, who wanted to print his designs onto t-shirts.
“My brother started designing and telling me, ‘I want to make a clothing brand that has a message and a meaning behind it.’ I said that sounded like a horrible idea and that we should just focus on our music.”
But the more exposure Patrick had to Mike’s designs, the more he found himself adding his own input. Coupled with his desire to do something different from the crowd, Akomplice became the ideal project for the brothers, only 18 and 20 at the time.
Patrick found it easy to get behind the conscious ethos that his brother wanted to drive the brand.
“I’ve always been an environmentalist. But, to be fair, the brand is 16 years old. When it originated, it wasn’t about being eco-fashion it was about expressing beliefs, whether they were political, social or environmental.”
Launching around the start of the Iraq war, one of their first pieces was a shirt with an American soldier printed on it and a message behind it reading, “Death for Peace?”. The idea was to provoke questions around the value in killing others for peace.
Despite always having the eco messaging in its products – they first produced t-shirts using organic cotton in 2006 – in the last few years Akomplice has taken a deep dive down the eco-fashion rabbit hole.
“4 to 5 years ago, we found out how dirty the fashion industry was and how the production was so harmful for the environment. I thought to myself, ‘oh my god, I’m in one of the worst industries for the environment that there is. I’m either going to quit or I’m going to change the production to be as eco as possible’.”
This shift changed how Akomplice sourced its materials drastically.
“We could easily do organic cotton from India or China and that would keep the price down, but the ‘U.S. Made’ label is really crucial in the big picture because it really cuts down the carbon footprint.”
Akomplice stays true to its character when collaborating with less eco-centric brands too. Its collaboration with FILA in 2018 saw the release of FILA’s first ever shoe to use a hemp canvas.
“Hemp is a far more sustainable fiber than cotton and has so much less impact on the land and the water and so forth. I think what we’ve done since taking this deep dive is starting to push our partners.”
As well as using its collaborations to push for a sustainable future in fashion, Patrick and Mike launched the Monkey Wrench Gang in 2013.
“It’s based off the book, “Monkey Wrench Gang” by Edward Abbey and the theme is protecting the environment at any means necessary.”
“We’re in an environmental genocide right now. People are going to look back at this time and you’re going to watch movies about it and just cry and cry and cry.”
As always though, the brand isn’t exclusively focused on the environmental message. A few weeks into the COVID-19 pandemic, Akomplice sent out an email to its community offering guidance and a list of resources that people can access to help during these trying times.
“There are a lot of resources out there right now, but people aren’t really aware of these resources or weren’t looking into them or felt like they didn’t qualify.”
“I was calling all my friends in business and asking if they’d signed up for things. I was telling them this could change the game and be the difference between staying in business or out of business.”
It is in this compassion that Akomplice continues to reflect the attitudes of its roots.
Punctuating the email is the Malcom X quote, “When ‘I’ is replaced by ‘WE’, even Illness becomes Wellness,” a fitting reminder that this current crisis requires all of us to act responsibly, together.
“[The quote] just shows the bigger picture for humanity in the long term. The U.S. has a really strong ‘I’ mentality, which our version of capitalism breeds.”
Akomplice’s next endeavors continues to support its environmental mission through a partnership with Zumiez on the “Stand-Up Project.”
“We chose to sell at Zumiez, because Zumiez founder (Tom Campion) protects the arctic. Like, literally meeting with Obama, lobbying to protect the arctic.”
“We created a collection for this project that we are really happy with. It engages on multiple levels about how people can make their products carbon neutral and that’s coming out very shortly. This is something that we need to see chain stores doing because if not we’re going to be in trouble.”
The fight for climate justice is still in its early stages for Akomplice, but its innovation allows the brand to shift with the times and keeps it relevant.
“If there is anything I could put across in this interview it is; we wrote our manifesto and it was what we believed in at the time. It’s really taken ahold of what Akomplice is. It’s the love inherent in the individual moment that has allowed us to follow the love always and stay current.”
You can shop Akomplice HERE or check HERE to find a local stockist. You can also learn more and stay up-to-date by visiting their website akomplice-clothing.com or following them on Instagram and Facebook.