It’s weird because I guess we’re sort of a global brand at this point, but it’s really a family business,” says Brendon Babenzian about his menswear brand Noah, based in downtown New York. He speaks with a thoughtful selfawareness uncommon in people, especially people who’ve spent decades as the creative director behind the cult streetwear brand Supreme. He’s 47 years old now, with a wife who plays a big role in the company and a daughter who was only a month old when the first Noah pop-up launched. The Nolita flagship officially opened its doors in 2015.
More than just surf and skate wear for grown-ups, Noah’s mission is to get people to buy less, knowing very well that nobody is ever going to stop buying stuff completely. Already a radical idea for any brand whose very existence depends on purchases, it is even more of a departure from the streetwear industry that Babenzian used to inhabit, with its long lines for limited-edition releases, worldwide eBay resales, and many, many imitators in its path.
On the surface, it’s easy to assume that perhaps Babenzian feels conflicted for having created a monstrosity of reckless consumerism out of the brand Supreme. But ten minutes into talking to him,
it becomes clear he has been priming for the release of Noah his whole life—since he was thirteen years old, in fact, when he began selling cigarettes and magazines at a local surf shop before expanding into skateboards and sweatshirts. Today, he assumes a humble realist’s approach to creativity and apparel, most occupied with being nice to oneself, to one’s friends and family, and to one’s surroundings.
Babenzian remembers that when he left Supreme years ago, “My departure was really more about me needing to do things in a different way for different reasons. I wanted to contribute to the evolution of how people think about products, business, brand, infrastructure, the whole nine, like what a business could be.”
Noah’s philosophy is pretty simple: Make better stuff and people will buy better stuff—and less of it. After years of consideration and involvement with the clothing business, Babenzian also considers his new brand a platform for counteracting the spread of climate misinformation but with a quieter “lead by example” approach rooted in the reasons he got into making clothes in the first place. “To me, it goes hand in hand with creativity because the less stuff you have, the more creative you have to be. I’m much more into people who do more with less.
That’s why I go back to hip-hop and skateboarding from twenty to thirty years ago, before there were whole industries built around them.” He adds with a laugh, “Anyone who walks in with the latest and greatest, that’s easy—that just means you’re rich.”
Before you take that as a jab at hypebeasts, consider this: People are always going to want the shiny and new. It’s human nature, and it’s what our society was built on. But what Babenzian is proposing is another, less guilt-ridden path to earthly salvation. “It’s not so much about looks and trends or the next ‘big idea,’” he elaborates. “We think about individuals being themselves, having a personal style. Once people have a personal style, they rely less on clothing to speak for them. That’s what I find really interesting: people who take normal stuff and, because they’re creative themselves, they can make it look good.”
So what has been inspiring the man who’s inspired so many other streetwear brands lately? It’s not Instagram, that’s for sure. He’s been off the platform for about five months, calling it “one less thing to distract and mess with emotions.” Whatever he’s doing, he doesn’t need to advertise the fact that it’s working for him. Timing, skill, grit—all things Babenzian makes look as effortless as a hoodie.