Fashion: Osmium, with Mark Paigen

This month, Parvati Magazine spoke with Mark Paigen, the founder of Osmium, a Massachusetts-based men’s wear company with a strong set of values.

Parvati Magazine: What makes Osmium different from other men’s wear manufacturers?

Mark Paigen: Our mission is to change the way men buy and consume goods. We are part of a broader “Quality Revolution” – a movement that encourages people to buy fewer items of better quality. We believe that buying durable, American made goods has tremendous benefits for consumers, our economy and the environment. We are the antithesis of Fast Fashion. Our clothing and footwear is designed and built to stand the test of time; durable goods with timeless styling. The average American buys 64 garments a year, mostly inexpensive imports. Nearly all these clothes end up in the landfill; fast fashion is horrible for the environment. If we weaned ourselves from the need to chase trends and invested in domestically produced quality, our country would be a very different place. Osmium offers a great alternative, beautifully crafted clothing and footwear that encourages guys to look twice and buy once.

PMAG: What led you to found the company?

MP: Like many entrepreneurs, I started Osmium because I could not find clothing that felt right. Most of it felt very generic and virtually all of it was made in Asia. I wanted clothing that stood out in a quiet way, the way Japanese architecture catches the eye with perfectly proportioned simplicity. I wanted clothing that was made here and represented my views about doing more with less. Having built a footwear brand (Chaco) in the outdoor industry, I thought I would try something a bit different.

PMAG: You use a lot of natural fibers. What motivated this decision?

MP: Natural fibers are more comfortable and more aesthetically pleasing for everyday wear. I am especially drawn to cotton/linen and cotton/merino wool blends. These fabrics offer the positive attributes of both fibers and are very comfortable. Synthetics have their place in very technical applications, but that is not what Osmium is about.

PMAG: How can fashion designers find a balance between creating/moving a lot of product, and respecting the environment?

MP: The mainstream fashion industry thrives on over-consumption. Trends are designed to become obsolete quickly, encouraging more buying. Cheap factory labor in other countries produces low quality goods at rock bottom prices, encouraging consumers to buy many garments of poor quality. Osmium is part of the slow fashion movement, companies that promote the careful acquisition of quality goods. Apparel that prioritizes style over fashion and quality over bargain basement prices. We believe it is better to buy one quality, domestically made shirt than five, cheap Asian made shirts that will end up in a landfill prematurely.

PMAG: How can consumers find balance between being on trend and keeping their fashion footprint low?

MP: Fashion trends are designed to make what you have obsolete so that you will buy the latest styles. Resisting these extremes does not mean that we have to dress without regard to today’s aesthetics. If we just tempered our approach, and did not jump so quickly and so intensely into each trend, our closets and landfills would both be smaller.

paigenMark Paigen’s first company, Chaco, produced the go-to sandal for outdoor adventurers. After building the brand for 20 years, Paigen sold Chaco to Wolverine World Wide in 2009. He took some time off and sailed to the Caribbean to live with the wind and the waves before returning to the US and starting again in Boston with Osmium. Paigen is an idealist about product. He sees many companies growing faster by selling cheap imports. “Growth can be addicting. It is heady place when your company is multiplying before your eyes. The pressures can be formidable,” says Paigen. “This time around, I will create a business that can sustain its values for decades to come.”


Image of Mark Paigen by Chris Coe.