Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne have brought a gritty, real-world authenticity to high fashion that, it turns out, consumers have been craving. In the past year, their seven-year-old label, Public School, has nearly doubled its staff and launched in 40 new retail stores around the world and, last February, it debuted its first women’s collection.
Fast Company: Where did your aesthetic come from?
MO: Growing up in NYC and going shopping downtown. [Dao and I would] shop everywhere–Niketown, Yoji [Yamamoto]–but there was no brand that we were wholeheartedly excited about. We were like, “We should just start one for ourselves,” and we designed our first collection in spring 2008. We weren’t just streetwear. We weren’t just high fashion. We were really just everything.
What about New York City inspires you?
MO: It can be something I look at that doesn’t even make sense but acts as a trigger. Like the way a shadow hits a dirty mailbox, and you’re just like, “I love the city. I really want to play with light fabrics or contrast.”
It feels like timing has had a lot to do with Public School’s success, with streetwear becoming so on-trend.
MO: Yeah, timing and good luck. There was a time [in 2010] where we closed the doors for Public School. It was in a moment that was very Americana, and we were just not gonna do that. We stuck to our point of view and it hurt us, but in the long run it brought us here.
When you’re planning a new collection, where do you start? What do you think about?
MO: It starts from a conversation between Dao and me, and what we’re feeling and what our mood is like. It can be a song. It can be a lyric. It can be a painting. It could come from a crumpled piece of paper, like, “Ah! This is so beautiful.” It just comes from anywhere and everywhere.
DYC: Most of my good ideas have come in the shower or on an airplane.
What are some of the challenges of dealing with a brand that’s really taking off?
MO: Learning how to . . . I don’t want to say be hands off, but maybe touch it a little less. It’s been Dao and me for so long. We still want to know all parts that are going on.
DYC: Our company is growing so fast, you rarely have the time to create and design as much as you used to. Now you’re figuring out ways to grow and execute and all those fancy operational words.
How do you stay true to your vision while bringing on new people and trying to grow constantly?
DYC: I guess it’s pretty easy. We have a really clear foundation from where we create, and our references and our inspirations are generally in the same spaces.
MO: We just tell everybody what the truth is, what our world is, what’s the Public School aesthetic and what’s at the core. I think everybody kinda gets it–we’re still such a small team. We always just say team. It’s not a staff. It’s a team.
Where or how do you seek out creative inspiration?
MO: Just keeping your eyes open. For me it comes from everywhere so it’s just keeping your eyes and mind wide open and just being a sponge. It’s funny because it can be something you look at that doesn’t even make sense for why you thought of it, but it triggers something that you’re like, oh! This is what I love the most.
What is one thing about your job that you think would surprise people?
DYC: Maybe at this point spending more time on the operations part more than the time you have to really create and think about, but I don’t know If that would surprise people. Our company is growing so fast that you rarely have the time to create and design as much as you used to, and now you’re like figuring out ways to grow and execute and all those fancy operational words. Managing your staff and coming up with growth opportunities, securing partnerships.
What’s your favorite Twitter or Instagram account and why?
MO: Any of the ones that I follow that are funny. The Fat Jewish, the usual. Fuck Jerry. Any of those things. I actually find social media kinda boring most of the time, so for me to get a nice little hearty chuckle I think is good.
DYC: It’s actually not good. It’s @dashcamvid. It’s just videos usually of these accidents. It’s actually kinda fucked up, recorded from a dash cam. It’s just tons and tons of videos of crazy-ass accidents recorded from a dash cam.
What are some things you do to refresh your mind when you’re in a rut?
MO: I try to take a trip somewhere because automatically my mind starts to come into another place whether it’s a trip to Miami or a trip to Westchester or even a trip to a museum. Leaving the city or going to get dinner or Queens or something is just out of my norm is enough for me to get thinking different.
DYC: I would say travel, or browsing through magazines. There’s something about actually turning a printed page.