Internet executives have long been lambasted for their shameless boardroom frumpiness and HBO's new comedy series Silicon Valley takes the mockery up a notch. But as crewneck tees, turtlenecks, and those prickly Adidas sandals hit the small screen, Northern California's designers are quietly pointing out that there's more to the start-up uniform than bad decisions. Unsurprisingly, it's all about engineering.
"It's not just nerdy, 23-year-old programmers anymore," says Orondava Mumford, the design director of Alternative (formerly known as Alternative Apparel), which specializes in basic tees and knits. "That guy is in his thirties now, he's grown up a bit. The clothes are still casual, but they’re more conscious."
The word "conscious" is key. Mumford says socially responsibility is far more important to Silicon Valley shoppers than runway trends, and has become a driving force behind what they buy. As a result, many brands that target that part of the country are transparent about their production methods and working conditions. Alternative has a sustainable line called Alternative Earth that uses organic cotton, recycled polyester, and low-impact dyes.
"Those values aren’t a punchline anymore," he said. "They’re embraced and very supported."
Higher production standards have had a subtle influence on the Silicon Valley aesthetic. Champion sweatshirts and Target t-shirts have been replaced with structured hoodies, raw denim, recycled t-shirts, and rich, Peruvian-dyed knits. Dress is still casual, Mumford said, but silhouettes are slimmer and more tailored to ease the transition from meetings with investors to happy hours.
There's also a growing sense of camaraderie between internet and fashion start-ups. As more people flock to Silicon Valley for a shot at success, the hoodie has become a badge of honor.
"It's like, yeah, I started in a coffee shop with a hoodie and a dream and now I'm getting millions of dollars from investors," Mumford said. "When fashion brands come along with the same sensibility, there's a mutual respect. People can relate."