When Zachary Thoeny speaks about his brand, After Always Apparel, he comes across as easygoing and playful — like a friend just catching you up on the average day-to-day.
But, don’t let his laidback energy and sweetie pie curls fool you: Thoeny is serious about crafting high-quality, sustainable clothing and accessories. His self-taught design skills brought him to the runway.
“YouTube is my best friend,” He says.
Thoeny most recently showed After Always Apparel at Denver Fashion Week’s fall Sustainable show. The brand – and Thoeny’s entrance into the realm of custom design – began when he was in college. After hand-embroidering a thrifted bucket hat, Thoeny turned to the internet to learn how to use a sewing machine, quilt, and several other skills he still uses every day.
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Now, the process of creating custom clothing or bags can take hours. But for After Always Apparel’s 1.2 million total TikTok and Instagram followers, it all seems to happen in about 40 seconds.
After Always Apparel rose to viral levels of popularity in 2021, when Thoeny posted himself up-cycling a vintage blanket into a duffel bag. Now, he’s connecting with a wide variety of demographics through his content which shows his design and creation process from start to finish.
His videos are mostly timelapse of the designer crouched next to a vintage blanket or bent over his sewing machine. The result is a streetwear-inspired line defined by boxy sweatsuits and unique duffel bags, made from textured fabrics and bold graphics.
Thoeny began this journey by posting the process of making his first duffel bag. And though this bag was a solid balance of dedicated craftsmanship and unconventional style choices, it was a turning point in Thoeny’s designing method.
Thoeny purchased new materials for this bag from a popular craft store chain. And when he got his receipt, he was shocked at how expensive this new venture was turning out to be. So, he decided to integrate another one of his prominent interests into his design process.
“I couldn’t keep spending $80 for fabric,” Thoeny said. “I was already going to the thrift once a week. Thrifting fabric turned out to be way more reasonable, way more sustainable, and way more realistic.”
Already an avid thrifter of graphic tees and other street style staples, Thoeny began pulling inspiration from his thrift finds, adding cut-up graphic tees to other articles of clothing and hand embroidering around them.
When he finally crossed the aisle from the clothing section into the home goods, Thoeny leveled up his upcycling prowess. Though he hasn’t stopped using graphic tee embellishments, he now uses a more versatile blend of source material, including thrifted blankets, curtains, table cloths, quilts — even kids’ playmats.
As he grew more comfortable behind the sewing machine, After Always Apparel started gaining more recognition. Numerous people reached out to collaborate, and his content reached unexpected demographics.
“The demographic is quite literally everybody,” Thoeny said. “Moreso over the past six months, the interactions I’ve had and the comments I get are people 50 plus saying, ‘Hey, I showed this to grandma, and she loves it.’”
This engagement connects him to the generation that essentially taught Thoeny how to sew in the first place – and a centuries-long tradition that transcends internet trends.
“I started with watching grandmas make quilts, so it comes full circle,” Thoeny shared. “It’s such a cool trending topic now but for our parents, and their parents, it was a necessity.”
Ultimately, Thoeny’s designs reached a more high-end audience.
Culture Experience Fashion Show invited Thoeny to show a collection in their fall 2023 show. It was his first opportunity to create a line that truly defined how he wanted his brand to be perceived.
And because he grew up listening to hip hop, he designed a series of sweatsuits that could stand alongside the styles of ASAP Rocky and Tyler the Creator: boxy and comfortable, yet bold and unconventional.
Though sweatsuits may not seem unconventional, Thoeny’s design process certainly is.
Rather than using patterns, Thoeny seam ripped existing articles of clothing to create two different variations of his designs. Wanting to create something that could easily fit a wide variety of body shapes and heights, Thoeny utilized an adjustable waistband – made from shoe laces – that could fit a wide range of waist sizes.
Ultimately, he wanted to showcase his unique source material without letting complex silhouettes steal the spotlight.
“I wanted to let the materials talk, so I made a couple of variations of a really simple design,” said Thoeny. “And it killed.”
Success at his first runway appearance paved the way for other shows — including Sustainable night at Denver Fashion Week.
Though showcasing his work in fashion shows helped him further establish his brand, Thoeny isn’t necessarily motivated by high-end shows and glitz and glamor. Instead, his mission is rooted in something larger. He’s hoping to inspire future generations to take up his slow-fashion practices and teach themselves how to make something of their own.
“I want people to be curious again. I want people to want to learn again,” Thoeny said. “You have the entire internet at your disposal–learn something new.”
With sustainable fashion slowly immersiving itself in the fashion industry, Thoeny’s brand is almost guaranteed to make waves in how unconventional loungewear is perceived on the runway – and on the street.
But it’s not always that serious — the very origin of the brand brings us right back to Thoeny’s easygoing and sweet-natured aura.
“Anytime anyone says ‘I love you,’ I just say ‘always,’” Thoeny said. “What happens after always?”