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Outdoors gear can seem like an arms race: either you’re chasing summits with hyper-technical capital G gear, or you’re in existential peril.
That’s why Earth Studies (formerly it Vanishes) is so disarming. If anything, it’s peaceful.
Founded in 2018 as an urban hiking club to encourage a new, slower pace to outdoor experiences, Portland, Oregon-based it Vanishes—which in 2021 rebranded as Earth Studies—self-describes as Experimental Outdoorism™. More recently, after a few very limited, very GORPy product drops, the outdoors-minded apparel line has grown into the sort of cult brand outdoor cool kids’ savor. It’s no surprise why. The garments are tasteful. Their functions are subtle. And they’re designed for use outdoors—but look damn good in the city, too.
What’s been called “a brand for people who love the outdoors but aren’t outdoorsy” is much more than a shrug at the idea of an upper bound. Directed by established designer Rob Darmour, a lifelong appreciator of nature and born and bred Oregonian (and current Creative Director of Portland-based Tanner Goods), the brand and its guiding mind find outdoors gear to often be overpowered, and more aesthetically-driven casual clothing lacking function.
Earth Studies proposes a middle ground: contemporary, archive-inspired functionwear meant for those of us not named Jimmy Chin.
“When we started our hike club, I wanted to do coffee before hikes,” says Darmour. “We’d plan out trips—legitimate hikes in their own right—then show up with a camp stove, a Chemex, and a playlist of ‘70s Parisian funk. Folks would get out of their cars and start stretching, like really getting ready to go. Then they’d come over. We’d get them a coffee. And they’d just enjoy the moment. You could feel people shifting their focus from ‘we have to get to the top’ to ‘we can be present.’”
An Earth Studies coat may not take you up Rainier. But that wasn’t your Saturday plan anyway, was it?
While the brand’s down-to-Earth take on outdoors performance certainly explains part of its cult status, there’s a simpler reason why it's on the radar of clothing cognoscenti like Blackbird Spyplane’s Jonah Weiner: the apparel looks really great.
“I’d grown up stomping through rivers, hiking beaches, and visiting local farms. To gain exposure to a world of cultures and perspectives through my career was transformative.”
The archetypal Earth Studies garment is the MS-104 Field Jacket, a boxy, raglan-sleeved utility coat. Fixtures channel ‘90s snow gear (peep the see-through toggles and webbing-cinch hood). The pattern itself takes design cues from S.T.S. space suits. Scattered throughout, the sorts of design touches that convince even the casual wearer they’ve got something special—for example, an exploded tonal contrast that seems to dance its way across the front.
“As a kid in the late ‘80s, I’ve had a fascination with space suits, flight suits, and the more NASA end of military design—where it’s more about research than defense," explains Darmour. "We try to use natural fibers in natural hues to bring in something that doesn’t feel so manufactured to something that’s otherwise geometric and brutalist.”
It’s an inspired design. The kind that comes from a reverence of the past, but also, a frustration. Partially, it’s a reflection of the moment—of the deepening crossover between gear and streetwear, indoors and out. But more than that, it’s a reflection of its designer.
Darmour grew up in Portland, surrounded by forests under Mount Hood’s watchful eye. His relationship with nature remains a blissful one. “The culture I grew up with was really focused on being outside in a way that’s not like the magazine covers. It was about a trip to the local hiking spot,” Darmour says. “You didn’t think of it as ‘outdoor,’ like an ‘outdoor trip.’ It was just Saturday.”
Winters were spent at the ski hill and summers exploring the region’s many evergreen forests. Other pursuits filled the months between. If the natural world alone didn’t pique his interest in technical design, Portland’s other force of nature certainly played a part.
“There’s a couple big sportswear companies out here,” Darmour says, almost modestly.
In 2006, he accepted an internship at Adidas US, his first post-graduate post and the start of a now 15-year career. He began as a graphic designer working on apparel, then transitioned into apparel design proper. After six years at the Three Stripes, he joined the Swoosh and began working on the brand’s innovative Nike Sportswear line where he combined influences of modern menswear and streetwear with an emphasis on performance and functionality.
“What I really appreciated about Nike was what this big experience it meant in a humble, homegrown kind of sense,” says Darmour. “I’d grown up stomping through rivers, hiking beaches, and visiting local farms. To gain exposure to a world of cultures and perspectives through my career was transformative.”
“As I went through my career, I saw the relationship between sport, which is such an active and focused thing, and the world of art and design,” he reflects. “You could create really beautiful work that also spoke to both ends of the spectrum, and that really excited me.”
His experiences in the apparel design world took him all over the world, including to the factories and fabric mills responsible for much of today’s most functional clothing. It was these visits that showed him something wasn’t working right.
“I discovered that a supplier I was working with was sitting on $2 million in fabric, just sitting there and doing nothing.” Darmour was astonished. “How much have we created at this point that doesn’t need to exist? How much is sitting there that’s now just waiting to be thrown out?”
He saw that established factories and mills had millions of yards of perfectly usable fabric just laying around. For some reason or another—changed order sizes, accounting quirks, you name it—these materials were mothballed. The factories labeled them “deadstock” to denote that they were sellable inventory, though no future use was forecasted. And still, with millions of yards available ready-made, new fabric was constantly being produced.
Here was a textbook case of wastefulness: why burn the fuels and run the machines when you already had more than enough? It felt irresponsible. Even wrong.
"it Vanishes represents looking into the shadow of ‘living in the moment.’ Nature is never the same two days in a row... enjoy this moment, let it go, and then be present to the new thing."
Seeking a change of pace, Darmour made a move and began his own consulting practice. Future adventures would take him to Vancouver, B.C. to work on the more lifestyle side of functionwear, before finding his way back home to Oregon.
“I wanted to shift gears in my career: to bring the same sense of creative commitment and design ethos that there is in sportswear to the world of outdoors,” Darmour explains of the vision. “Then I wanted to create a culture around what I’m doing with my creative practice, and forge a really good connection with the people who are making our products, and make everything out of deadstock.”
In 2018, Darmour joined Tanner Goods as Creative Director. The following year, he introduced the first it Vanishes collection, with Tanner as launch partner and exclusive retailer.
Every it Vanishes garment is made from deadstock fabric cut and sewn in Los Angeles. The brand currently offers four flagship silhouettes—the aforementioned Field Jacket, two pants, a pullover pile fleece—in addition to a burly cross body bag and of course, a reusable face mask. Each is made from deadstock fabric dyed according to Darmour’s direction, giving it new life without any net new milling.
Because working with deadstock means using what’s available, each it Vanishes release is essentially its own new product line. And since the brand is still growing, those lines tend to run thin, with just a few units produced in each size. The upshot: each of the brand’s high-design outdoor lifestyle pieces is limited by nature. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.
Darmour: “The name ‘it Vanishes is part product and part outlook. On the product side, it represents the idea that because each of our collections is made from a specific pull of deadstock fabric, each will be its own thing. And once it’s gone, it’s gone.”
“But in a bigger sense, it Vanishes represents looking into the shadow of ‘living in the moment.’ Nature is never the same two days in a row. Each moment as a human being is its own moment, and it will disappear. Do good still—but don’t worry. You can enjoy this moment, let it go, and then be present to the new thing.”
With a justifiable price tag, a clouty cult following, and fresh collaborations coming soon—including one rumored for spring with your favorite outdoors and design publication wink wink—it’s no surprise that releases vanish quickly, each “sold out” tag on the brand’s webstore a sign of deadstock put to use.
Compared to the billion-dollar behemoth that is the outdoors industry—with its warehouses of unused fabric and pursuit of performance and profits above all else—it Vanishes may seem like a drop in the bucket. But as the brand grows, its philosophy spreads. And when you step outside of the outdoors performance arms race, success starts to look a little different than whose logos are flying atop the seven summits.
“For me, the idea is to be an inspiration for more people—and more businesses—to go out and work with deadstock. It may be counterintuitive for me because that means we’d have fewer and fewer resources to pull from. But that’s kind of the point.”