Fast Talk: How A Brooklyn Clothing Label Fights "Fast Fashion"

Meet David Gensler, whose Brooklyn clothing company Serum Versus Venom advocates a return to craft. Read on to learn about the value of a well-made belt, what would've happened if Picasso had tweeted, and how Jay-Z could be the next Oprah.

David Gensler is, among other things, the creative director of Serum Versus Venom, a New York fashion label that, according to its site, “proudly stand[s] in opposition of mass-marketed, mass-produced, mass-consumed fashion.” Fashion Week, which is currently underway in New York, seemed like the right moment to speak with him.

FAST COMPANY: What got you fed up with the ways fashion brands were currently operating?

DAVID GENSLER: I was chief marketing officer at Jay-Z’s Roc Brands. It was great, hip-hop was at its apex, and having a partner like Jay-Z is a pretty interesting experience, and in many ways rewarding. But at the same time, the lack of efficiency was overwhelming to me. The amount of money being wasted that could have gone into our profits, it just felt so wrong to me. 

So Jay-Z didn’t live up to his line, “I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man”?

I have nothing bad to say about Jay. But the people he surrounds himself with that manage his brands are just.... Jay could be in the category of Oprah if he just hired a team around him at the level you would find in a global brand.

I never thought of Jay-Z as aspiring to be the next Oprah.

I think he would aspire to have Oprah’s bank account. I want to be Oprah...

Tell me about your clothing line, Serum Versus Venom.

We thought things could be done differently, which is the motivation for most people starting something. We just started from a completely clean slate, just wrote down what we thought was completely wrong with modern fashion, and set that into our DNA. We just thought it’s so easy if you have control of all elements of the brand. We own our own factory. One hundred percent of what we produce is produced here.

You call it a “study into the interconnectedness of craft, utility, and luxury.”

All of the crafts that we know are based around utility. Some guy working in leather was trying to make a bag that will last a person a lifetime. They didn’t make belts to go out of style. They made a belt that could be used to hold up your pants and also pull your wagon. How we value shit isn’t the same as one generation ago. We put value on almost nothing. People in business kind of laugh and say, "Yeah, right, our job is to make a profit." That’s not how people in the past built companies. They were built to last forever. People didn’t build companies and flip them: that’s a two-generation-old concept. Look at our economy in this country. We can’t make anything, no one wants to go work in a factory. My way of dealing with it is to try to make really nice shirts.

I imagine your feelings on Fashion Week are mixed.

Part of it’s good, because it brings the industry together--a competitive industry that is infamous for not communicating and sharing ideas. But if you look at how London and Milan treat young emerging designers, it becomes clear why they’re ahead of us. They realize it’s not about maintaining the status quo, maintaining the existing icons. They have a culture of support, and we have a culture of celebrity.

Some people distinguish between fashion--something new this season--and style, something more enduring.

There’s this idea that, “Oh my God, it’s new, it’s new.” But is it better? No one ever stops to ask the question, "Is the new thing better than the old thing?" I think the generation beneath me, the millennials, came of age right when the digital global society was forming itself, and they became very easy to market to. Hopefully they’ll activate Skynet, and someone will pull the plug on the Internet, and we can get back to being humans.

You’ve said that it would be a shame if Picasso were alive today and had a Twitter account.

People ask, "What stores sell your stuff?" And I’m always like, "Why do you ask?" No one asks, "Where do you get your fabrics?" Or, "Can you tell us why the buttons are like that?" They only judge you by the consumption of the thing. The same thing happens online: No one cares about the ideas of anything, just how many likes you have on Facebook and how many Twitter followers you have. But then the reality of my job is I gotta sit there and fucking set up Pinterest accounts.

[Photos courtesy of Serum Versus Venom]

This interview has been condensed and edited. For more from the Fast Talk interview series, click here. Think you'd make a good Fast Talk subject? Mention it to David Zax.

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1 Comments

  • Kestrel Jenkins

    I truly appreciate the dissection of the meaning of "fashion" and "style", what it means to you as a designer, and your thoughts on how it affects consumers. Style that crosses generations is the most impacting to me personally - it's the stories embedded in those fabrics, materials, and shapes that gets me.