Streetwear has pulled from plenty of subcultures over the years. Brands consistently reference hip-hop through graphics, styling and its brand ambassadors. Surfing and skating have been key pieces of the streetwear ethos since Shawn Stussy came onto the scene back in the ‘80s. The world of graffiti also has strong ties to the community with names like Kaws or Futura contributing to streetwear. But there’s one subculture you might not immediately think of when it comes to streetwear: bodybuilding.
In fact, many people might consider today’s weightlifting bro wearing a stringer tank top and carrying around a gallon of water to be the polar opposite of the typical streetwear kid. But Jason Thome, an industry veteran of 15 years who also currently oversees entertainment and influencer relations at Converse, is hoping to give “meathead” gym rats something a bit more stylish and break that stigma through his streetwear brand Yeah, I Work Out (Y,IWO).
“It seems to be resonating for a lot of people, because it's really interesting when you look at who likes the brand. We're sold at Dover Street Market and Mr Porter. And so we have this streetwear fashion consumer,” Thome tells Complex. “But then we have actual bodybuilders, and power lifters who are like, ‘Whoa, that's really dope.’ Because there's really not anybody else in that world of bodybuilding, or lifting culture that's making cool stuff. It's all skulls and crossbones.”
Y,IWO was founded in 2018 and is largely inspired by the golden era of bodybuilding: think Arnold Schwarzenegger, California’s famous Muscle Beach in the ‘80s, and colorful pages of retro fitness magazines. One look at the brand’s Instagram or lookbooks and this becomes immediately apparent. Despite the heavy West Coast influence, Y,IWO is actually stationed in New York City. Thome considers it a small but passionate collective that extends across major cities like New York, Los Angles, Chicago, and London.
Thome wanted to provide a new spin on streetwear by fusing two of his hobbies, fashion and weightlifting. He marries both of these worlds on Y,IWO’s Instagram, which features everything ranging from lookbook images with young kids in Coney Island to grainy photos of bodybuilding icons like Robbie Robinson posing in statue-esque fashion.
“I love that era just because there's so many visual references that are amazing, like the typography, Muscle Beach, and that was this moment in time that was pretty unique. There was just this ultimate freedom,” says Thome. “I'm not a bodybuilder, but I've always lifted since I was probably 16 or 17. You can call me a meathead I suppose. But I'm also into art and music. [The brand] is a blend of a lot of things that I love.”
The product is made up of streetwear staples. Think classic logo hoodies or T-shirts adorned with phrases like, “Pump Iron Today.” Other graphics Thome refers to as the “Big Three” illustrate signature workouts like bench pressing, squatting, and deadlifting with accompanying phrases like “Getting Shit Off Your Chest” or “Squat Till You Puke.” The illustrations are done by Brett Lenger, an artist from the ‘80s who was responsible for a lot of the graphics used on workout gear at the time. Thome actually tracked him down after seeing his name credited on a vintage workout T-shirt he owned. Lenger also helped design the “Black Power” T-shirt that Y,IWO released earlier this year as an homage to Black bodybuilders. It raised funds for various self-care initiatives for Black youth.
To truly represent the bodybuilding aspect, Y,IWO also offers its own takes on traditional weightlifting attire like thin stringer tanks to show off your muscles of quad-length nylon shorts ideal for maximizing movement during workouts. Some of its best offerings to date have been its ongoing “Club Sweat” capsules with Ric Drasin, another iconic bodybuilder from the golden era who was actually responsible for sketching the iconic logo for Gold’s Gym (another entity Y,IWO will be releasing a collab with in the future). The graphics are references to Drasin’s defunct label, Big Boy Clothing, from the ‘80s.
Y,IWO isn’t currently available at a vast number of retailers, but its unique source material has captured the attention of some pretty important ones including Dover Street Market and Mr Porter. Dover Street Market allowed Thome to create build outs at its Los Angeles location made to mimic the colorful interior of a gym in the ‘80s. While COVID-19 has put a halt on certain plans, Thome says he would love to expand on this in the future for more immersive pop-up spaces in various cities. He’d also love to work in some official capacity with Schwarzenegger, who he calls the “patron saint” of bodybuilding.
“So much of the world of bodybuilding and lifting culture is pretty lame. I want to create something that is cool for people. And I don't think it needs to be fancy, it doesn't need to be this uber expensive streetwear approach,” says Thome. “I would love to change the culture. And it's interesting too, if you think back to the late '70s, early '80s, bodybuilding was primetime. Mr. Olympia was a big deal. Arnold [Schwarzenegger] was a big deal. In the '90s, and early 2000s it's not as appealing. I want to bring things back a little bit.”