When Recreational Habits first launched, it wasn't meant to be a fashion brand, necessarily.
Yes, its co-founder, Jackie Skye Muller, had worked in fashion — at Barneys New York and Kith, famously. But if her years in the industry taught her anything, it was that she wasn't sure if she wanted to start her own thing. At the very least, she didn't want to be responsible for inventory.
"I told Marlon [Muller, her husband and co-founder] multiple times, I would never start a brand. I never want to have product," she says. "It's too crowded. There's too much noise."
Instead, when Recreational Habits went live last November, it was primarily an editorial site, with a focus on creating content and events that opened up the traditionally predominantly white world of "prep culture" to a larger group of people. There were no clothes in the picture.
Mr. Muller is, by his own admission, "more entrepreneurial" than his wife and often encouraged her to think of ways she could build a business for herself, as opposed to for other people. "She's so talented and she's building these other businesses," he says. "COVID gave us an opportunity to really focus on that creativity and the exploration of what it would look like if we were to do something. It was probably a few months in that we decided to sketch out what the concept of the business would be."
That guiding concept — of honing in on, celebrating and diversifying that preppy, Americana aesthetic — still serves as the foundation for everything Recreational Habits does. The Mullers just realized that clothing could play a big role in achieving that goal.
"As we were doing the editorial side, putting together stories and highlighting athletes of color and all of these things, it became this natural extension," Mrs. Muller says. "It was so difficult for us when we were styling and putting looks together. We couldn't find what we wanted to wear, what we wanted the brand to stand for."
Where Mrs. Muller's fashion pedigree did come in handy was in anticipating — and understanding — an opportunity in the market, which was moving from streetwear into something "a little bit more preppy," she says. It was something Mr. Muller saw coming, too: "Even in my world, I wear suits with sneakers, or I would tend to try to blend the two. That combination, it spans a lot of different things because it's all about blending styles, and we think that the blend is where the uniqueness comes [from.]"
It began with merch: RH-branded sweats, some activewear. By spring, the Mullers had expanded the scope of Recreation Habits to a proper collection of New England-themed ready-to-wear, from oversized button-downs to wear over monochromatic ribbed bikinis to easy silk dresses perfect for evening cocktails by the beach.
Next up: a Summer 2021 capsule inspired by tennis and cricket, followed by a fall line that's all about cowboys and cowgirls. (Of the preparing for the latter, Muller says the two have been listening to Breland, who, he says, "is a Recreational Habits individual because he's an outlier, someone that has gone and pioneered something. And we celebrate that." Other inspirations include the urban cowboys of Philadelphia, a Ralph Lauren editorial spotlighting Black polo players and Ja'Dayia Kursh, the first Black rodeo queen in Arkansas.) Prices on Recreational Habits apparel range from $55 to $200.
"We've combined these different worlds into an environment where we think that it makes it unique, and that's how we differentiate ourselves," Mr. Muller says. "The 'new prep' is really more about growing up and understanding that you can keep culture and sophistication all together. You can wear something cool at the country club, at an event and be unique and not have to look like everyone else. That's really I think [what] we wanted, because we were always that way.... We think that there are a lot of people who are transitioning, growing up, but still come from culture, and they need to know what's next."
The collection is a mix of reimagined Americana staples (think varsity-style crewnecks, quarter-zip pullovers, oversized button-downs), with touches that are personal to the couple, like an initial on the sleeve of a shirt. ("I've always put my initials on my dress shirts not because it was trendy, but because if you had a bunch of white shirts at the dry cleaners, someone would take them," Mr. Muller says. "It became a signature.")
So far, its bestsellers are the Martha shirt and the Ferry short, which Mrs. Muller describes as "perfect for a full look": "I always think that when you wear a full look or matching set, you always just look better, cleaner, more put together."
Recreational Habits has found its first wholesale partner in Southampton's Matriark, which has helped the founders identify who the customer is: "Right now, she's a working woman; maybe she's a young mom who loves to be active and to travel, but also believes in this idea of an inclusive classic American outlook," Mrs. Muller says.
Everything Recreational Habits does goes back to an experience. These not only serve as a starting-point for each new collection, they're also what got the Mullers on this path of building a business together.
"We both like travel and sports, but we recognize that, when we went skiing in a resort of France, [we'd be] the only people of color. That's kind of typical of some of the things that we've done," Mr. Muller says. So, they started thinking about ways that they could expose more people — specifically, people that haven't historically seen themselves represented in these spaces — not just to activities like polo and tennis, but also to the lifestyle that comes with them. The Mullers took this commitment a step further by partnering with he D.C.-based City Kids Wilderness Project, an organization that supports kids through experiential education and outdoor adventure experiences, like summer trips to Jackson, Wyoming, for the launch of Recreational Habits' inaugural collection.
"When we looked at those old Ralph Lauren and old J.Crew ads, I wanted to be those people — I wanted to be on a vacation," Mr. Muller says of the source material the duo keep coming back to when working on Recreational Habits. "These were all images that, while we may have enjoyed them coming up, I didn't necessarily connect with, because to me, those people lived in a different world. The idea of being able to not only create images, but also product that fits that for people, that will feel familiar, it's something that inspired the collection. The idea is to continue that, to promote a new thing, a new event, a new sport going into each season so that when the time comes, we've created this really cool, organic vibe around that time period."
In some ways, Mrs. Muller has been thinking about this mission for a long time. She grew up in Plano, Texas and has memories of dressing up for "rodeo day" at school, but feeling weird about putting on a red bandana and cowboy hat her mom had bought her. "I remember those moments feeling so out of place because I had never seen someone who looked like me wearing a cowboy hat or cowboy boots," she says. "As a young girl, when you're reading magazines or looking at pictures — even now when you're an adult looking at Pinterest or Instagram — if you don't get exposed to those images, you almost can't ever see yourself in those environments... What we would love to do is to be able to shoot content with people of color in those scenarios, in a way that feels very natural and still glamorous. Putting that out into the universe would really affect a lot of people, just seeing those images and being, 'That's cool. That's normal;' maybe if they're a young person of color, 'I could try that.'"
The next step for Recreational Habits comes post-pandemic, when the Mullers hope to host events on behalf of the brand that connect their output with their inspiration. "Experiences are definitely one of our biggest focuses," Mrs. Muller says. The bigger picture includes much more content — and ambitions beyond original photoshoots and ready-to-wear.
"Eventually — and this is something that Marlon and I have as our 10-year goal — we would love to create a movie about one of the Recreational Habits stories that we feel very passionate about," she says. "If you create a movie and it's very Disney-esque, it can really touch a lot of young children in a meaningful way… I would love the opportunity for us to try that, to create a movie that's powerful storytelling, but that also every scene is a very powerful image that can change someone's life."