Scott Sternberg is a Los Angeles–based designer whose brand, Entireworld, uses mostly recycled materials to produce essential casualwear. Before launching Entireworld in 2018, Sternberg founded the irreverent label Band of Outsiders, and ran it from 2004 to 2015. He can often be found around Los Angeles with his dog, General Zod. Here, he discusses how self-isolation has impacted his life and his team of 10 employees at Entireworld.
I just started self-isolating on Saturday, really. I think leading up to then, I was just my sort of normal, slightly antisocial, hermit self. We closed the office on Friday, and I started hunkering down. I am a completely neurotic Jew who was buying food for my freezer, pasta, and rice like three weeks ago, so I didn’t have to go through any of that emergency grocery shopping. Everybody was laughing at me, telling me I was ridiculous at the time—my parents were even telling me that I was ridiculous—but I’m all set on food and supplies.
I’ve mostly just been spending time with my dog, General Zod. He is always with me. He comes to work with me and has been the office dog for years, at this company and the last. I think his vibe right now is, “Where are all my work friends?” Also, it’s very awkward social distancing your dog because he has more friends than I do in the neighborhood. We’ll go out on walks and nobody’s quite sure what to do. I mean, does he smell another dog? Do I let that person pet him? I’m not sure. I’m like, “I don’t care about me, all I care about is Zod.” But again, back to the neurotic Jew, I can’t help but think, What if a person who has it coughs on his hand, pets my dog, or pets his own dog, and it rubs off on Zod?
At this point, Zod has had his back and beard rubbed with a Purell wipe so many times! [laughs] His groomer is coming next week and I need to take the groomer’s infrared temperature before he cleans the dog! [laughs] It’s just a rabbit hole—and my hands look like I’m 82 years old, with the 20 seconds of washing, and then I always Purell after I wash. So Zod is getting a little confused with all of that, but he’s very happy that I’m right here, right now. He’s had lots of snacks.
I think we’ve created this unspoken rule in Los Angeles that hiking is okay with proper distance. Saturday I went on two different hikes, one with Lisa Love and her daughters, and the other with an old friend. It was lovely, everybody respectfully keeping their distance, but very happy. One of my neighbors across the canyon is Sasha Spielberg. She plays piano, and she’s a wonderful musician. We realized the other day that if we scream, we can hear each other. Last night, I brought my amp out and was playing guitar as she was playing electric piano with her amp on her patio, and we were trying to jam but we could only hear ourselves playing. That did not work out very well, but I guess we’ll have plenty of time to workshop this.
There has also been relentless FaceTiming, which is funny because we have all gotten into this place in the last couple of years where communication has become less and less active. First you texted people, then it became emojis, and then it just became double clicking and hearting or thumbs-upping messages. For me, communication has completely pivoted to FaceTime. It was disarming at first and then it became really fun. There are these filters where you can make yourself look like a sketched animation like in Waking Life, the Richard Linklater movie. That’s the key, because then I can look like shit but feel free to connect.
Regarding my business, I can only speak for myself, but I think there was this shift in really understanding what self-isolation and social distancing were actually about. I think for a while the understanding was that it was about protecting yourself. After the message was passed down through several media sources, it became really clear that this is something we all have to do for each other. Mid-week last week, I started telling employees who I thought were vulnerable to stay home, and then by Friday morning it was like, “This is our last day here, let’s wrap this up.” We’re playing it as it goes.
We have quite a different type of business: It’s not a collection business, it’s a direct-to-consumer business, so in a way, the stakes are even higher. We own all of our own inventory. We’re completely reliant on ourselves to get it all done. There’s really one big job per person at the company: customer service, marketing, content. I’m the only designer at this point. It’s scary, obviously, because this is make-or-break for us, but in another way, because we’re so small, it’s very fluid, and we’re such a tight team. We all just got on a Google Hangout today, made a protocol plan, and are staying in touch.
The reality is that this completely shifts what all of our jobs are and really puts it all into focus. Typically if you’re doing anything at the company, whether it’s design, production, marketing, or content creation, you’re looking not only at what this week or next week looks like, but you’re looking three to six to eight months out—especially if you’re designing. At this point, because the future is such a black hole, we’re all laser-focused on right now and how to adjust everything we’re doing, from boring business stuff like budgets and expenses to outward-facing things like how we talk to everybody, how we can get people shopping, and what the right language is to speak to that.
On Instagram, I just wrote a letter really quickly and posted it. It was clear what we had to do: We pragmatically needed to do a promotion. We can’t have our sales slump right now. We’re a small, tiny business, and that would be a killer. How could we do that in a way that’s not opportunistic, that’s not marketing? I thought it was just a matter of taking a quick selfie of me and my dog and just writing a note, not forcing it and not editing it. The immediacy of it seemed really important, and we’ve been selling some sweatsuits, which is good. Fashion serves a purpose both in terms of how we present ourselves to the world, identity, and all of that, but it also can make us feel warm and cozy, and that’s real and meaningful too.
As a business, we’ve been aware of [the coronavirus] since it started in China in December. We produce all throughout Asia. Most of the fabrics we use are in Japan and Korea. Some of the garments are made there, other pieces are made in China, Vietnam, and India. We knew about the virus before Chinese New Year and it felt like something so far away was already affecting our business. It was already affecting our financial planning and our inventory planning because everything was going to be late. It was already clear that how we were going to be developing for fall of this year, because we’re a season closer to deliveries than a collection business, would be changing.
Fashion is such a global industry that whether you’re producing in Italy, in Asia, anywhere, things are going to change. Everything is going to shift. It’s scary, but there is also something beautiful about that. I’ve been doing this for more than 15 years and have worked with every type of factory in every country you can imagine. What’s cool about working globally is you see that we are connected with hardworking people around the world. Whether they are factory owners, artisans, factory workers, or customers, they are exactly like us, just trying to do exactly what we’re trying to do. They love our product, they love being in fashion, and they hold the same sort of values that we hold around it.
If nothing else comes out of this complete mess, what a clear picture we will have of how interconnected the world is, how much we rely upon—and need to rely upon—each other. That is certainly one reason I started this brand, and it is certainly something I think about all the time. I think that it would just be really nice to not have a global pandemic to have to remind us of how interconnected we are. How do we take this into our everyday lives after this? I don’t know, but that’s what I’m pondering on. Maybe it’s not a very good ending thought, but it’s all I got.