Y,IWO: Heavy-Duty

Jason Thome talks about the golden era of weightlifting and capturing the nostalgic essence of meathead culture in a brand today.

Key Takeaways

  1. Drawing inspiration from old bodybuilding books and magazines, the Y,IWO inventory consists of printed black tees, tank tops, terry cotton sweat shorts, and bright nylon squad shorts.
  2. "We’re bringing it back to the classic, with tanks and muscle pants and shorts because everything today is so overdesigned and high-tech and doesn't really need to be."
  3. "For good or bad, there are not as many gatekeepers anymore. Sometimes it’s great because more people can launch their own projects but it can also water down the creativity."

When you think of workout gear, the rise of athleisure in recent years might send your mind to tight black silhouettes and clean, plain basics. Jason Thome, founder and creative director of athletic label Y,IWO (an acronym for "Yeah I Work Out"), however, wants to take you back to America’s peak bodybuilding days in the seventies and eighties. Between red striped spandex shorts and t-shirts with slogans like "Squat 'Till You Puke," and "Pull Up Or Shut Up,” Y,IWO (pronounced yee-woah) gives the world of streetwear a throwback to America’s fitness boom, “where workouts were serious, results were legendary, and livin’ was easy.”
 
Drawing inspiration from old bodybuilding books and magazines, the Y,IWO inventory consists of printed black tees, tank tops, terry cotton sweat shorts, and bright nylon squad shorts. They also often collaborate with illustrators and other creatives, including artist and bodybuilder Ric Drasin and Gold’s Gym. A tribute to the original lifting bros, Thome himself is a weightlifting enthusiast and New York-based marketing veteran, currently balancing the brand with an entertainment and influencer marketing role at Converse. We spoke with Thome about the golden era of weightlifting and capturing the nostalgic essence of meathead culture in a brand today. 


LAURA PITCHER: Y,IWO has been gaining recent traction. What made you want to launch this brand?

JASON THOME: It was born from a personal love of lifting culture and iconography. If you ever look at old bodybuilding magazines from the seventies and eighties, you’ll see things you haven’t really seen in modern culture at all. There are references from surfing and boxing and skating from that era, but I felt like bodybuilding was sorely missing. Because it’s such a cool and iconic era, I wanted to combine my love for lifting culture during that time with design elements like really heavy-duty typography and illustrations of muscle guys on the beach.

LP: It sounds like you saw a gap in the market to fill. Is it a stray from athletic classics or a return to the classics?

JT: We’re bringing it back to the classic, with tanks and muscle pants and shorts because everything today is so overdesigned and high-tech and doesn't really need to be. If you look back at the most classic images of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Franco Columbu, they’re just wearing short shorts and tank tops on the beach in 1979 in Venice, California. Y,IWO is all about the fact that you don't even need a shirt to work out. You just need your body.

LP: What is it about bodybuilding culture in the seventies and eighties that you find so captivating?

JT: It’s considered the golden age of bodybuilding because it was all about aesthetics and symmetry. It wasn’t about monster steroids—I mean they were on steroids and stuff—but Arnold and those guys were featured at the Whitney Museum as works of art. It was a moment of time where bodybuilding was new and people hadn’t really seen that.

LP: You have a professional day job. How do you balance the two?

JT: I’m very busy with that and work on Y,IWO in the evenings but some other members on my team handle the back end. Then there’s CALA, who we work with. They're an instrumental part of our business. We come up with the concepts, designs, colors then we sit down when we're ready to create a new collection to tweak them as a team, then once we’ve come to our final designs, CALA cost everything out for us and work as our production partner to make everything come to life.

LP: What about the illustrations? How do you bring those to life?

JT: In that era, punk rock illustrations were all done by hand. Everything was cut and paste, like an old flyer and we love that. We really wanted to always have the hand-drawn element as part of the brand so we work with a number of different illustrators. There’s a guy called Brett Lenger, an '80s era lifter and artist, who drew the big three for us. In lifting culture, there are three main lifts and we had him draw a series of three shirts. Then there was Ric Drasin and our partnership with Gold’s Gym. We did a whole showcase of his work at Dover Street Market.


LP: You’ve been in the industry for over fifteen years. What are the biggest shifts you’ve noticed?

JT: I guess the democratization of fashion. For good or bad, there are not as many gatekeepers anymore. Sometimes it’s great because more people can launch their own projects but it can also water down the creativity. There’s a lot of random stuff out there or even exact copies of designs because everyone can get involved. On the plus side, there are also more ways to promote yourself (like Instagram) and online platforms mean that any designer can figure out how to do it remotely now. 

LP: What should we be expecting from you and Y,IWO in 2022?

JT: More collaborations. We have a new Gold’ Gym collaboration coming in the fall, and our collaboration with Ace Hotel continuing. Also, some other surprise ones.