These Highlanders are bringing historical artists to the modern world
by Kim Henry
When Allison Waller and McKenzie Thompson met as little girls, who could have foreseen that decades later they would be partnering up for the creative adventure of their lives. Both artists and lovers of art in their own right, the dynamic duo came together in the turmoil of 2020 and seized the moment. The result was Outsider Supply, an online apparel company dedicated to keeping art alive. Quintessentially of the times, Outsider Supply blends the best of many worlds into a successful, hip, conceptual virtual company that will not be bound by traditional ways of operating.
Both Waller and Thompson have always held a lifelong love of art. Waller painted as a child, studied art history at the University of Alabama, went on to work at the iconic Bascom: A Center for the Visual Arts in Highlands, NC, and to become director of the Shuptrine Gallery. For McKenzie, who grew up painting and taking photos but now considers herself a multidisciplinary artist, the career path held a few more twists and turns. She began by studying journalism at Chapel Hill. After becoming disillusioned with the industry, she traveled overseas for a year, where she decided to be the artist she'd always wanted to be. She then studied at The School of The Art Institute of Chicago, where she explored a wide range of disciplines and received her master’s. It was her love of sculpture and 3D pieces that led to her creating artistic clothing.
"I wanted to get back to something I was passionate about and felt free to express myself with," explains McKenzie, who ran her own store in Chicago, making original pieces and sourcing other designers' lines. In 2017 this transitioned into an e-commerce business, and McKenzie brought Allison Waller, her sister Sayward Thompson and their Canadian-based counterpart, Eric Mahoney, on board. Following this, 2020 came along and seemed like the perfect moment to reinvent the business. Ever innovative, the team, united by their love of art, manifested Outsider Supply, bringing historical artists into the modern world. What better way to exhibit work they admired than to see it displayed on comfortable clothing, allowing the garments to become wearable pieces of art?
Outsider Supply offers clothes for both men and women and has a line of hats that simply state the name of various historical art genres. Choose between "Fine Art," "Pop Art," "Romanticism," or "Futurism" and style the kind of art you love. "It's meant to be playful, but it can also be taken to a deeper level if you want," shares McKenzie, who has a clear dedication to liberating art from the confines of a gallery.
Both of these pioneering women talk with passion about the history of art and painters from other periods. One of their most beloved icons is female artist Hilma af Klint, a Swedish artist/mystic whose work is often heralded as being the first abstract representation in the Western world. Hilma af Klint assumed that there was a spiritual dimension to life and created images beyond what the eye could see. She was a groundbreaking female role model for her time. "She never repeated a brushstroke," says Waller in awe, as she explains how they choose which images and artists to highlight.
"We also play with the idea of taking some of our favorite artists and imagining what they would do if they collaborated with each other," smiles Waller. For example, they took the famous polaroid pieces of Andy Warhol and combined them with the Los Angeles contemporary artist, John Baldessari, who was an innovative force in conceptual art. Baldessari's work is recognizable by his use of blocking faces with a circle. "We basically Baldessaried Warhol's pictures! There's a lot of art humor going on here, but we also want to keep our clothes and images accessible to everyone, regardless of their knowledge of art history. These imaginary collaborations highlight our playful nature," explains McKenzie.
Straddling the beauty of Highlands in western North Carolina and the buzz of LA in California, both designers love the East coast but enjoy the eclectic West coast vibe too. Like many of their generation, the Outsider Supply duo are not limited by geography or traditional ways of thinking. Their combining of older art pieces with contemporary methods of representation reflects the out-of-the-box thinking that is able to build this online brand of clothing. Aiming to expand the collection, host some pop-up events and establish an international presence in the near future, Outsider Supply is ready to break the glass ceiling on the ‘starving artist' stereotype and reach their fullest potential.